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  • Writer's pictureAnnabelle Parr

What is Codependency?

You may have heard the term “codependent” before, and wondered what it means. After all, aren’t we all dependent to some degree on love and connection with others? Although our culture tends to place immense value on independence and autonomy, depending on one other is evolutionarily wired into our ability to survive.

What is codependency?

Codependency refers not to a healthy level of dependence upon others for community, connection, and care, but rather to a pattern of behavior which is mutually unhealthy and ultimately harmful. According to Melanie Beattie (1986), author of Codependent No More, the pattern typically involves a combination of the following behaviors:

  • Caretaking: feeling, thinking, and behaving as if one is responsible for other peoples’ wellbeing and behavior

  • Repression: losing touch with one’s authentic thoughts, feelings, and sense of self

  • Obsession: excessive worry and anxiety, often regarding to other people

  • Controlling: controlling oneself, others, and situations

  • Denial: contrary to obsession, denial involves avoidance behaviors (e.g. chronic business, workaholism, overeating, overspending, etc.) designed to ignore or repress problems

  • Dependency: happiness is sought primarily through others and outside the self

  • Poor communication: communicating in all or nothing, black and white blanket statements; may involve difficult saying no; and involves indirect communication and lack of clarity

  • Weak boundaries: struggling to set firm and clear limits regarding what one will allow or tolerate from others

Codependency also tends to involve feelings of low self-worth, anger, lack of trust in oneself and others, and may lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, or hopelessness. Or it may involve a distinct lack of clarity around one’s inner emotional experience.

How and why does codependency develop?

According to Beattie (1986), codependency was originally discovered in the context of families where one family member was struggling with alcoholism; it appeared that the other members of the family tended to exhibit characteristic patterns of behavior in response. However, in the years since the term was coined, it has been recognized that patterns of codependency can develop in any individual or family, and are particularly likely to develop in relationships in which one individual is unwell in some capacity. The pattern of codependent behaviors initially represents an adaptive response to getting one’s needs met in a difficult situation, but overtime this same pattern is ultimately destructive to all parties involved.

Codependency and self-compassion

Codependency is often associated with a negative connotation, and although it is important to cultivate awareness around the problematic aspects of codependence, it is also important to approach it from a place of compassion. Those who struggle with codependency are often some of the most giving, empathetic, compassionate, and caring individuals there are, and they have huge hearts. They have many strengths to offer, AND they struggle with giving too much such that they lose themselves in the process.

Individuals who struggle with codependence also tend to be particularly hard on themselves, so encouraging a self-compassionate approach is critical to recovery. Being loving, compassionate, and generous are not problems in and of themselves; these are wonderful qualities. The issue arises when loving, compassionate, generous behaviors are engaged in from a place of trying to fix another person and result in a loss of touch with one’s own authentic needs, thoughts, feelings, experience, and ultimately, self.

What does recovery from codependency involve?

Recovery from codependence does not mean eliminating your ultimately kind and caring nature, but rather involves helping you identify your wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings; communicate clearly with those around you; set clear and firm boundaries; and make choices from a place of authenticity and worthiness rather than anxiety and guilt. It involves helping you learn to take care of yourself and love yourself, which also allows you to truly love and care for others more effectively.

If you or someone you love might benefit from therapy for codependency, anxiety, low-self esteem, or depression, please contact Jodi Staszak, LMFT. Jodi offers Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) for individuals, and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, in addition to Overcoming Codependency groups for individuals struggling with codependence. Jodi can be reached at 619-818-0375 or


Beattie, M. (1986). Codependent no more: How to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

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