A healthy relationship can enhance our lives, providing support and companionship throughout both joyful and difficult times. But when a once-healthy relationship becomes codependent, both parties may be negatively affected.
Codependency occurs when one person sacrifices their own interests, free time, and opinions in order to serve the other person and ensure that their needs are met. By contrast, the other person will happily allow the caretaker to make these sacrifices and will often encourage this behaviour until it is seen as normal.
The cycle continues with one person needing the other, who in turn needs to be needed.
This relationship dynamic can occur between friends, romantic partners, and family members and will often damage the caretaker’s career, self-esteem, and other relationships.
What is the difference between dependence and codependence?
It is possible to confuse dependence for codependence and vice versa. Although they may seem similar, they each create opposing relationship dynamics and can be the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship.
Dependence refers to one or both parties in a relationship relying on the other for support throughout various stages of life. If one person suffers the death of a parent, for example, they may become dependent on the other person for a period of time while they recover from this loss.
It is possible to be dependent within a healthy relationship, as some degree of dependence is often necessary to form a close relationship. However, both parties should feel safe and able to express their emotions and needs while continuing to pursue their own interests outside the relationship. 
By contrast, codependency involves one person acting as a caretaker for the other. They may sacrifice other relationships and individual pursuits, dedicating their life to ensuring that the other person is happy.
The caretaker does not consciously recognise their own feelings and needs, pushing them down and believing that the other person is more important. Meanwhile, the other person enjoys having their needs met and will often take advantage of the caretaker, either consciously or subconsciously.
While it is possible to be dependent within a healthy relationship, the same cannot be said of codependency. It can lead to a number of problems for both parties and result in an unfulfilling and unhappy relationship that is ultimately unlikely to stand the test of time.
What causes codependency?
Many of the problems that we face as adults can be traced back to our childhood experiences, and codependency is no exception. 
As a child, you may have been taught that your thoughts and feelings were not important, or simply held little weight compared to those of others.
This belief may have been learned unconsciously through your parent’s actions – physical, emotional or sexual abuse can result in codependency as the individual may attempt to suppress their own feelings, or simply being told that you were selfish for attempting to express your emotions and needs.
Dysfunctional and chaotic home lives can also play a role in the development of codependency. If one or both of your parents suffered from an addiction, you may have felt a sense of responsibility towards them from a very young age.
This can be carried forward into adulthood, and you may find that you often enter into relationships with people that need to be taken care of or who may even be addicts themselves.
How does codependency relate to addiction?
Codependency is often seen within relationships that involve one person who is dealing with an addiction. They are the person who needs, while the other person is the one who is needed.
This relationship dynamic is unhealthy for both parties, as the addicted person often does not receive the appropriate help for their addiction while the other can completely lose themselves in the relationship and focus solely on the addicted person’s wants and needs.
The caretaker may have grown up with a similar family dynamic, in which one or both parents suffered from an addiction of some kind. They learned to take care of and placate that parent in order to keep them happy, often enabling their addiction and making excuses for them to the detriment of their own happiness.
This pattern may be repeated in future relationships as an adult, and professional help is needed in order to break the cycle of codependency and teach healthy relationship behaviours to ensure that both parties are having their personal needs met on a regular basis.
Codependency can also be an addiction in itself, known as love addiction or relationship addiction. This is often characterised as the inability to be alone, often jumping from one relationship to the next or continuing to stay in unhealthy relationships despite the frequent hurt caused.
What are the symptoms of codependency?
The symptoms of codependency may not always be obvious to the casual onlooker, and the codependent person may even be praised for their devotion to the relationship along with their apparent selflessness.
Far from being positive, codependency can result in an unhealthy relationship for both parties and the symptoms will often worsen if not appropriately treated.
Some of the most common symptoms of codependency include:
- A relationship dynamic that involves one person who needs and another who is needed
- Being aware that the relationship is unhealthy and/or that the other person is hurting them, but continuing to stay in the relationship
- A sense of low self-esteem, feeling that they are not good enough
- Finding little happiness in activities outside of the relationship
- Feeling guilty when expressing their own emotions and needs
- Sacrificing other relationships, career and responsibilities in order to keep the other person happy
- Having trouble trusting their own judgment, worried about making the wrong decisions
- Feeling as though they are unable to live without the other person
- Doing things for the other person that make them feel uncomfortable and conflict with their own personal values
- Planning their entire life around the other person
- Feelings of anxiety around the other person and the relationship
- Keeping quiet about their own unhappiness in fear of upsetting the other person
It’s important to note that you do not need to display all of the above symptoms in order to be diagnosed with codependency. They also do not apply solely to a romantic relationship – codependency can form between siblings, a parent, and child, and even close friends.
Am I in a codependent relationship?
Due to the nature of codependency, it can often be difficult to determine whether you are engaged in a codependent relationship. It may be helpful to take a step back and look at the situation objectively or ask a trusted friend or family member for their honest opinion.
If you can relate to some of the below statements, you may be in a codependent relationship. This does not necessarily mean that the other person is a bad person, but the relationship itself may not be healthy.
- I have difficulty making decisions and often question my judgment
- My mood reflects the other person’s mood – if they are unhappy, I am unhappy
- Other people have commented on this relationship and have questioned whether it is unhealthy
- I feel guilty when I express my emotions and needs, or if I attempt to stand up for myself
- I often feel anxious when I am around the other person or when I think about the relationship
- I feel as though the other person’s happiness is my responsibility and that it is up to me to make them happy
- I get a lot of my self-worth from the other person and their opinion of me
- I often keep quiet when we have an argument in the sake of keeping the peace
- I do most of the work in the relationship, both physically and emotionally
- I often enter into relationships with people that I think I can take care of or fix
- I have a fear of being abandoned or being alone
- It is important to me that the other person is happy – their needs are more important than mine 
It is not recommended to self-diagnose yourself with any condition, including codependency. Our team at OK Rehab can guide you towards a professional diagnosis and treatment plan that can help you recover from codependency and learn to navigate relationships in a healthy and assertive manner.
Recovering from codependency
It is possible to break the cycle of codependency and rebuild a healthy relationship with both yourself and your partner, family member, or friend.
Individual therapy will allow you to trace your thoughts and beliefs around relationships back to the root cause of the issue, often found in childhood. Your therapist will help you to explore these issues and provide a new perspective, challenging negative mindsets and helping you to come up with effective coping strategies.
Couples therapy can be extremely helpful for those in codependent romantic relationships. It provides an opportunity for both parties to share their thoughts and emotions with the guidance of a trained therapist, airing any grievances or past resentments and allowing each person to clearly see how the other is affected by the current relationship dynamic.
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