What Is Codependency?

What is Codependency?

It is currently impossible to provide a unified description of codependency as many researchers and authors have all come up with different descriptions and characteristic. No unified framework to accurately define the concept of codependency exists to date, which has prevented codependency from being included in the DSM.

Our research resulted in successfully categorising as many codependent traits as possible and is based on scientific studies analysed within a thematic literature review. However, the understanding of codependency differs in that we do not see or treat codependency as a disease or debilitating life-long condition, but rather an expression of the conditioned mind.

It is for that reason we use the label to describe a way of thinking, behaving and relating for purposes of change and empowerment rather than a disempowering label that confines us to a victim mentality and can serve as an excuse to reinforce codependent conditioning.

The categories are very broad but all symptoms and traits listed are associated with the same theme.


What is Codependency?


Codependent Symptoms, Traits and Behaviours


1. Physiological or Psychological Distress Symptoms

Codependency is often comorbid with classified mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, PTSD or suicidality amongst others. It would be a misunderstanding to see  labelled mental health disorders as coexisting alongside codependency. Any emotional or psychological distress experienced is usually a symptom of codependency.

A healthy human expresses themselves freely from a base of self-acceptance and self-worth. Codependency is shame-based, stifles and inhibits. When we experience depressed or anxious moods, when we try to avoid our emotions and ourselves with substances, we are trying to escaping our experience of living within the restraints of the codependent mind.


2. Hidden Self

  • low self-worth
  • self-esteem issues
  • shame/ shame-binding
  • narcissism
  • self-criticism
  • excessive feelings of guilt
  • fear of failure
  • lack of trust in oneself or intuition


3. Dependency

  • victim-mindset
  • learned helplessness
  • fear of abandonment
  • fear of rejection
  • fear of making mistakes
  • indecision
  • believing happiness comes from outside themselves
  • feeling threatened by ambiguity, uncertainty
  • emotional deprivation schema
  • craving love, reassurance, safety, dependency
  • self-sacrificing behaviours
  • remaining in abusive relationships or situations
  • making relationships responsible to provide all positive feelings


4.  Denial and Expectation

  • distortions of reality
  • denying own needs and feelings
  • ignoring problems
  • avoiding conflict
  • avoiding adult responsibilities and discussions
  • staying busy/ workaholism
  • avoidance strategies/ behaviours: addictions, depression, medication/ drugs
  • lying


5. Emotional Repression

  • lack of awareness and expression of feelings, needs, preferences
  • self-subjugation (schema)
  • self-blame and self-judgement
  • appear rigid and controlled
  • strong inner critic or otherwise punitive voice


6. Poor Communication

  • lack of expressive, assertive, healthy adult communication
  • blaming, threatening, begging, bribing, advising
  • indirect ways of communicating (sighing, partial truths)
  • passive-aggressive communication 
  • aggravating or people-pleasing communication style
  • external focus of communication (talking about others)
  • withholding own opinions
  • lack of affective expression verbally
  • excessive apologising
  • cynicism and sarcasm
  • sulking


7. Caretaking

  • self-sacrifice
  • feeling responsible for others
  • rescuing
  • anticipating others’ needs
  • people-pleasing
  • giving
  • becoming martyrs


8. Controlling and Obsessing

  • high levels of anxiety
  • controlling others and external situations to control levels of internal anxiety and distress
  • ruminating and worrying
  • focus on others
  • spy on others
  • fear of loss of control
  • rigid rules for living
  • ‘shoulds’
  • feeling controlled


9. Hidden Anger

  • internalised anger
  • unexpressed anger and resentment
  • resentment towards others
  • not getting expectations/ needs met by others
  • codependent entitlement
  • covert narcissism
  • holding others responsible for their feelings and actions


10. Relationship Problems

  • distorted boundaries
  • weak boundaries
  • tolerating abusive, hurtful, harmful, disrespectful behaviours and situations within relationships
  • lack of intimacy
  • lack of trust
  • sex problems
  • fearing other people’s anger




Marlena Tillhon

Marlena is a progressive psychotherapist and relationship coach and passionate about helping people connect with their innate wellbeing.

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