people console sadWhat is codependency? A simple definition of codependency is excessive reliance on a partner that is either emotional or psychological. The truth is codependency is far from simple. Codependent relationships often start with the best of intentions, usually an intention to help or save the other person in some way. However, once the relationship moves from helping to being codependent it becomes unhealthy and highly dysfunctional for both parties.

When a relationship is codependent there is often unhealthy clinginess, excessive dependency on each other for fulfillment, and often one or both parties have no autonomy or self-sufficiency. The pattern that starts out as helping the other person evolves into enabling the other person in some way. Because the codependent is always there to pick up the pieces their partner can continue with unhealthy patterns of immaturity, irresponsibility, under achievement and often addiction without directly suffering the natural consequences of that behavior.

Codependents are the caretakers in the relationship. Initially they start out trying to help their partner and be supportive. At first this may have felt rewarding and left the codependent feeling needed in the relationship. Over time this evolves into a feeling of never ending responsibility for themselves and their partner’s thoughts, emotions, behavior and wellbeing. The codependent ultimately becomes responsible for the relationship as a whole. The codependent finds themselves feeling overwhelmed, helpless and trapped unable to break the cycle of codependency, resulting in dysfunction and unhappiness in the relationship.

As this behavior pattern becomes engrained codependents may find themselves repeating this behavior in other relationships and friendships. This behavioral pattern maybe something that has evolved over time starting in one relationship and then was repeating in future relationships or it may be something that was learned from others as a result of growing up in or living in a dysfunctional environment for a period of time.

Am I codependent?

How do you know if you are in a codependent relationship? Everyone experiences codependent characteristics at different times in their life. When you find that this pattern is consistently a way you relate to others in your relationships and you are repeating the pattern from relationship to relationship, you may be codependent. If you feel you are in a relationship where you have lost your sense of self and ability to exist independent of your partner you may have fallen into a codependent pattern.

The following list summarizes some of the characteristics a codependent struggles with:

  • Accepting responsibility for others' feelings or actions
  • Strong desire to please others
  • Unable to break free of controlling or abusive relationships
  • Consistently putting the needs of others before their own
  • Can no longer separate their own wishes and desires from those of their partner
  • Disconnected from their own thoughts, feelings and needs
  • Lost touch with who they are as an individual
  • Difficulty setting realistic personal boundaries
  • Resentful, often feeling like a victim
  • Fear rejection or fear of feeling abandoned and alone
  • Attempts to control and manipulate variables in their environment
  • Depends on the approval of others for their sense of self worth
  • Makes extreme sacrifices to meet their partner’s needs

How can I break a codependent relationship pattern?

Breaking free from a codependent pattern requires commitment, hard work and vigilance. The payoff makes it worth the effort. The results of breaking the pattern can include increased happiness, self-love, joy, self-esteem, freedom, fulfilling relationships and much more. Here are some steps to help you start to break the pattern of codependency.

1. Self-Assessment – Do a thorough self-assessment of yourself and your relationship patterns to know exactly which areas need your focused attention and awareness in order to break this pattern. Look at your current relationship and previous relationships. When did this pattern begin? This pattern may have started in one relationship and evolved into a pattern of behavior in all of your relationships. It may be a behavioral pattern that you are just realizing for the first time in a relationship or it may be something in between. What factors set the pattern of codependency in motion?