What Is Codependency?

We will be covering what codependency is and how you can spot the signs. 

The term codependency has become a “buzz word” of sorts, and one that we hear thrown around a lot. It is a term that refers to dynamics within our relationships, and is broader than what many understand it to be. Codependency can affect many relationship types such as romantic, friendships, family, and even work. Although codependency has yet to be recognized as an official mental health condition, it’s acknowledged by many therapists. They find it helpful to use the idea of codependency to improve understanding of their client’s relationships and themselves. In this article we will cover in detail about what codependency is and how to recognize the signs.

What Is Codependency?  

Initially, the term was used to describe people living with or in a relationship with someone struggling with addiction. Now, it’s defined as an excessive mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual dependence on a partner, friend, or family member. This reliance can become extreme, and therefore make someone feel responsible for another’s actions or feelings. This ultimately shifts their perception of themselves and diminishes self-esteem. In essence, it is an addiction to relationships that are often one-sided and emotionally unstable.

Signs of codependency  

The following includes some of the most common symptoms, but not all are required to identify as codependent.

Low self-esteem and self-worth.

Comparing thoughts or feeling like you’re never good enough are signs of low self-esteem. An example of this could be where someone may appear as if they think highly of themselves, but underneath lies inadequacy and feeling unlovable. As a result, a lack of self-worth is often accompanied by guilt, shame, and perfectionism.


Being helpful and caring for others is normal, but codependents don’t feel like it’s a choice. For example, they may feel as if they need to say “yes” all of the time because saying “no” causes anxiety and stress. In addition, they’ll often go out of their way and neglect their own needs to serve others.

Poor boundaries.

Codependent people tend to have loose boundaries- where they take responsibility for others’ problems or blame other people for their own. On the other hand, their boundaries can be too rigid-where they withdraw or close themselves off.


As a result of feeling threatened or defensive frequently, a codependent person will react to everyone’s thoughts, feelings and opinions. For example, they tend to change their own beliefs to please others and feel threatened by any conflict or disagreement.


Caring and empathizing with others is normal, but a codependent person will feel urged to put others’ needs ahead of theirs to save or fix them. If that help is refused or it becomes clear that their support isn’t desired, they may feel rejected but continue to try.


We all need to have a sense of control in our lives to feel secure. In codependency, a person will take this to the extreme and feel a need to control people around them to feel okay. They may also violate the boundaries of other people by bossing them around or manipulating people.

Dysfunctional communication.

Codependent people find that communicating their thoughts, feelings, and needs is challenging because they often don’t recognize them. Other times, their needs are well known but aren’t upfront about them due to the fear of disappointing or upsetting someone. This can make communication in any relationship confusing and dishonest.


Codependent people spend less time focusing on themselves and more time anxiously thinking about others. They may endlessly worry about specific situations or obsess over how they’d like things to be.


Fear of rejection and abandonment can quickly turn into loneliness and depression. Someone that’s codependent can have trouble recognizing or ending unhealthy relationships, and as a result feel stuck in their situation.

Intimacy issues.

The same fear of rejection contributes to the inability to open up and get close with another person. On the other hand, a codependent person may fear losing their autonomy in a relationship, deny the need for closeness, and appear emotionally unavailable to their partner.

Painful emotions.

Constant stress created by codependency can lead to painful emotions. Feeling trapped by getting too close with another person or a fear of making a mistake creates low self-esteem and anxiety. As these feelings progress over time, they can lead to anger and resentment.

Low level of narcissism.

Codependency and narcissism share the same need to feel loved and needed but have different approaches to achieving that goal. They struggle to understand who they are and rely on others to define their identities. As a result, they heavily depend on the opinions of other people.


The most significant barrier in addressing the issue and seeking help, codependent people deny their vulnerabilities. Their focus remains fixated on someone else, so their awareness and need for use remain hidden. Accepting anything from people, including support, is difficult, so reaching out for it becomes another challenge.

Consequences of codependency 

The reality of these issues can be more severe than you think. Overtime, codependent behaviors become self-destructive and habitual, meaning we repeat them without giving them any thought. Alongside the crippling anxiety and stress experienced daily, unresolved codependency can lead to substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, and physical health issues- such as high blood pressure, headaches, and heart problems.


Getting help 

If any of the listed signs sound familiar, you may benefit from working with a therapist. With their guidance and support along the way, they can help you:

  • Understand your dysfunctional patterns in relationships.
  • Learn what healthy relationships and healthy supports look like.
  • Define and set personal boundaries.
  • Identify your own needs and define the line between your responsibilities and those of other people.
  • Improve your self-esteem and self-worth by showing you how to value yourself.
  • Healing from codependency and freeing yourself from shame takes a significant amount of awareness, effort, and reflection. Although the process can feel unsettling, it is possible to heal and leave those painful feelings behind. Be kind to yourself as you work through years of learned behavior.
  • It can help improve mental health as it has a focus on positive psychology and recovery.


About the Contributor

Mandy Paysse

Proofed and Verified by: Erica Aina, LCSW

Erica is the Clinical Supervisor and one of many therapists at Elliott Counseling Group. As the Clinical Supervisor she supports clinical growth, oversees protocols, and provides mentorship, monitoring, support, and supervision to therapists. As a therapist, she specializes in trauma work, depression, children/teen issues, and crisis management.


We offer medication management, therapy, and counseling services in Champaign, Urbana, Mattoon, and throughout Illinois with Telehealth. There are no long wait lists and we are accepting new clients. We would love to see if we fit your needs well. Contact our client care team to get started.