Five Main Symptoms of Co-dependence

Co-dependency is defined as an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner or other person. It can often be triggered by past emotional trauma such as an abusive childhood, domestic violence, sexual abuse, grief, extreme bullying, traumatic loss, abandonment, or other major life disruptions.

The traumatic life experiences can cause a person to feel insecure and fear being hurt or abandoned again, this causes them to emotionally rely on someone in their life to the point that they cannot find ways to cope without that person.

These unhealthy addictions to a certain person can often lead to other addictions, for instance to drugs or alcohol, as well as the breakdown of relationships, mood disorders and even physical illness.

The core symptoms of co-dependence

If you believe that someone may have developed co-dependency towards you or someone else, there are a few characteristics to look out for. The core issues surrounding co-dependency are:

1. Self-esteem issues

Self-esteem varies between co-dependent people and can be extreme on both ends. Certain people have incredibly low self-esteem, while others have very inflated self-esteem and believe that they are important above all else. They can sometimes feel so terrible that they hate themselves, or sometimes feel that no one is quite as perfect as they are.

2. Difficulty with their sense of self

Many co-dependents often have difficulties pinpointing their own wants and desires. This is often because they spend a lot of time trying to please another person and often take on the needs and wants of others as their own. Many times, co-dependents don’t have hobbies of their own and follow along with the hobbies of other people.

3. Black and white thinking

Co-dependents tend to have an ‘all or nothing’ approach to life and have difficulties being moderate. They often don’t see a middle ground and see things as either good or bad. Everything happens in extremes. They can often fluctuate between feeling worthless or better than everyone or feeling too vulnerable one day and invulnerable the next.

4. Neglecting their own needs, including personal hygiene

This often stems from a troubled childhood where their needs and desires were shamed or ignored. The feeling of guilt and shame carries through into adulthood and they associate negative emotions with wanting or needing anything. This could present itself as someone depending on another person in every aspect of their life, but it can also show as being against dependence, to the point that they seem as though they want or need nothing.

5. Boundary issues

Boundary issues also stem from an abusive childhood, and the co-dependent often takes on the boundary issues of their caregiver. If their caregiver had no boundaries and gave the co-dependent no privacy, they tend to grow up with similar issues of pushing boundaries, often making the people in their lives uncomfortable.

Similarly, if the co-dependent was neglected, they tend to have internal walls built and will be unwilling to share much of their thoughts and feelings with anyone. This also stretches to maturity. Some co-dependents may act immaturely, whilst others can be controlling and rigid.

How a child might develop co-dependency issues

There are several issues that can heavily impact a child and cause them to become co-dependents. The most common of these issues are abandonment, neglect, and enmeshment.

1. Abandonment

A child can be physically and emotionally abandoned by a parent or caregiver. If one or both parents are not physically present in a child’s life, the child could feel as though they have been abandoned. However, a child can still feel abandoned even if both parents were physically present. Withholding affection or neglecting the child’s basic emotional needs can also lead to abandonment issues. Children who face abandonment issues often grow up with trust issues or control issues.

2. Neglect

A child is neglected when their basic needs are not met. Basic needs include food, shelter, clothing, and medical attention. This could happen because a parent is not willing to provide these basic needs or is unable to. A child who has been neglected may grow up to struggle with addiction issues, depression, and anxiety, eating disorders or anger issues.

3. Enmeshment

Enmeshed families are inflexibly close and overinvolved in each other’s lives. There are often little to no boundaries to the extent that there is no clear sense of self among family members. An enmeshed child can often only show emotions that the parent is comfortable with, and as a result they can become emotionally numb. People who have grown up experiencing enmeshment often have difficulty maintaining healthy adult relationships.

How to tell if you are co-dependent

You may feel like you are overly dependent on someone in your life. A co-dependent relationship is an obsession of sorts. If you have trouble being without a certain person or making decisions without first speaking to that person, you may be co-dependent.

You might be co-dependent if you can relate to any of the following;

  • You fall for people if you feel you can ‘save’ them.
  • You feel responsible for how others act.
  • You like a quiet life and go above and beyond to keep a relationship.
  • You have abandonment issues and prefer not to be left alone.
  • You feel responsible for your partner’s happiness.
  • You try to gain the approval of others.
  • You have difficulty adjusting to change.
  • You often doubt yourself and have difficulty making decisions on your own.
  • You have trust issues and cannot trust others easily.
  • Your mood changes based on the moods of those around you.

How to heal a co-dependent relationship

Gaining control of your co-dependency will not be easy, but it is doable. Co-dependency is a learned behaviour, meaning that it can also be unlearned. Unless you deal with your issues of co-dependency, you will struggle with meaningful and healthy adult relationships.

There are some healthy steps you can take to begin your journey towards overcoming your co-dependency.

1. Be honest with yourself

Sit your partner down and explain that you have identified a co-dependency within yourself and want to heal from it. They will likely support you through it as it will make the relationship much healthier for both of you.

2. Be honest with your partner

It may be difficult to be honest with your partner at times as they are the person that you want to please all the time. However, it is important to be honest in a relationship. Don’t be afraid to express your wants and desires. Your partner will want you to be happy so will not mind you being honest.

3. Consider counselling

Counselling would be beneficial, either on your own or together with your partner. Talking through what led to you becoming co-dependent will help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way. A counsellor can also point out some co-dependent behaviours that you might not be aware of.

4. Establish boundaries

Co-dependent people often have boundary issues, and it is likely that some of these have developed within your relationship. Take some time with your partner and close friends and establish healthy boundaries with them. This way you will know what is and what is not appropriate.

5. Seek out a peer support group

It can be helpful to speak to other people who are going through the same issues you are dealing with, and also people who have managed to overcome the issues. CodaUK [1] has a comprehensive list of online and face-to-face meetings in a range of areas.

6. Stop thinking negatively

Your negative thoughts can be overwhelming at times, but you need to try to stop them in their tracks. If you begin to feel that you don’t deserve something nice, or that something bad is happening, try to push out those negative thoughts and tell yourself that it is likely your co-dependency issues that is causing them. Know that you deserve good things.

7. Take care of yourself

While you are trying to overcome your co-dependency issues, you may feel selfish if you do something that is just for you. It is important to remember that you need to take care of yourself, and your relationships can only improve if you both have healthy interests outside of the relationship.