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Co-dependency is a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviours learned by family members to survive in a family that is experiencing great emotional pain and stress.

  • It is a dependency on people - on their moods, behaviours, sickness or well-being, and their love.

  • Co-dependents look strong but feel helpless.They appear controlling, but are controlled themselves.

  • Co-dependency is a learned behaviour that can be passed down from one generation to another. 


It is an emotional and behavioural condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Co-dependent behaviour is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behaviour.

What is Enmeshment?


A description of a relationship between two or more people in which personal boundaries are permeable and unclear. This often happens on an emotional level in which two people “feel” each other's emotions, or when one person becomes emotionally escalated and the other family member does as well.

Who Does Co–dependency Affect?


Co-dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or drug dependence. Originally, co-dependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person. Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals. Today, however, the term has broadened to describe any co-dependent person from any dysfunctional family.

What is a Dysfunctional Family and how Does it lead to Codependency? 

A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied. Underlying problems may include any of the following:

  • An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.

  • The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

  • The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.


Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.” They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited Attention and energy focus on the family member who is ill or addicted. The co-dependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs to take care of a person who is sick. When co-dependents place other people’s health, welfare and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.


Actions of Co-dependency: Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine - and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.

They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is having trouble, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. A wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a truant child; or a father may “pull some strings” to keep his child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behavior.

The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the co-dependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.” When the caretaking becomes compulsive, the co-dependent feels choice less and helpless in the relationship but is unable to break away from the cycle of behavior that causes it. Co-dependents view themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in the love and friendship relationships.


When working with families facilitating interventions and case management. It is important to remember that using the terms of co-dependency language can be very triggering for families and clients. It is very clear that co-dependency is part of the cycle of addiction within most family systems.

  • Co-dependence is the pain in adulthood that comes from being wounded in childhood and leads to a high probability of relationship problems and addictive/compulsive behaviour.

  • It is a combination of immature thinking; feeling and behaving that generate an aversive relationship with the self (self-loathing), which the codependent individual acts out through self- destructive, unduly self-sacrificial behavior.”

  • Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine - and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.

  • It is more important to help family members and clients self-identified their codependent behaviours by looking at their family history and attachment trauma.

  • There are many reasons for family members that are attached to co-dependency and enabling behaviours that may be a deeper trauma attachment or loss that increases addiction behaviours.

  • It is vital to start the process of professional support services to start the treatment of untreated family members.


Relationship Addiction

They have no sense of self or feel they are of value and so they must continually be in an intimate relationship to feel that “high” much like an alcoholic with liquor. When in a relationship they typically turn into a chameleon being whatever that person needs them to gain acceptance.


Are placed on what people think of them, self-explanatory. They will apologize for things they cannot control; a co-dependents goal is to figure out what a person wants and to give it to them. They develop remarkable abilities when it comes to reading people’s wants and needs. So that they can project that image of what the person desires.


Co-dependents really feel that people would not want them around if they were not giving something so their goal is to make themselves indispensable. Usually they take the approach of “if I do this for you, then you can’t get rid of me.” giving gifts, doing favours or care taking in one form or another.

What Do You Think?

A question that you will often hear from a co-dependent. They do not believe or trust enough in their own perceptions and so must go to many other sources to have their opinion validated. If it is not, then they will change to the opinion of whoever is around them at the time hoping that the agreement will in fact make a positive impression on the other person.

Lack of Boundaries

As part in parcel with their chameleon behaviour, co-dependents have a habit of lacking emotional boundaries. They will often feel whatever the person around them is feeling. With a co- dependent, it is as if the person does not know where they end and the other begins.

Center of the Universe

Co-dependents are self-centered but in a much unique way. If there is a problem, they will bring it back to them as if it is their fault. They are often seen meddling in other people’s business this again harkens back to their lack of boundaries. They like to create dramas where they are the hero and can come to the rescue. They come from the belief that they can and should be able to fix any issue which arises.

Emotional Walls

Due to a co-dependent’s need to help and take care of others they neglect themselves, which in turn causes them to become out of touch with their own feelings. When a feeling does emerge, it is often in an intense and explosive way that the people around them will feel. They will then go about trying to “fix” the damage done and rebuild their image. They have become so out of touch with their feelings that oftentimes they cannot determine their own wants and needs when left to their own devices.


Most people lie to get themselves out of trouble and a co-dependent is not much different. They lie to others to get themselves out of uncomfortable situations, or out of confrontations, they also lie to themselves when it comes to their feelings. The lies that a co-dependent will tell us are “with our best interests in mind” they are the lies that they tell to keep us from “being hurt”.

Control and Judgement

This condition appears to run in different degrees, whereby the intensity of symptoms is on a spectrum of severity, as opposed to an all or nothing scale. Please note that only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of co-dependency; not everyone experiencing these symptoms suffers from co-dependency.

Fear of Abandonment

The co-dependent personality needs to be involved in every aspect of their significant other’s life. If they are not the co-dependent perceives it as abandonment.

One thing that the co-dependent craves is control, this disease arises from a deep seeded fear. They build an illusion around themselves and try to control all the variables to keep that illusion in place. When they begin to realize their lack of control, it can cause the co-dependent to lash out and become more judgmental. It is a disease, before turning to a typical therapist you may want to read a little bit more about it.

Questions to Identify Signs of Co-dependency:


Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?


Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?


Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?


Have you ever felt inadequate?


Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?


Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss? 17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?


Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?


Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?


Are the opinions of others more important than your own?


Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?


Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?


Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts? 


Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?


Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?


Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?


Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?


Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?


Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?


Do you have trouble asking for help?