29 May 2024




Co-dependency is a term used to describe a dysfunctional relationship where one person relies excessively on another person for emotional or physical support. “Co-dependency is a circular relationship in which one person needs the other person, who in turn, needs to be needed. The codependent person, known as 'the giver,' feels worthless unless they are needed by — and making sacrifices for — the enabler, otherwise known as 'the taker.”

This can be seen in many different types of relationships, including romantic partnerships, friendships, family relationships and employment relationships. Co-dependency can be harmful to both parties involved and can lead to a range of negative consequences.

One of the main characteristics of co-dependency is an excessive need for approval from others. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as constantly seeking reassurance from a partner or friend, feeling anxious or insecure when alone, or going to great lengths to please others even if it means sacrificing one's own needs and desires.

Another common trait of co-dependency is a lack of boundaries. People who are co-dependent often have difficulty setting limits and saying “no” to others. They may also have a hard time recognizing when they are being taken advantage of, or mistreated, by others.

Co-dependency can also involve a pattern of permitting/allowing unacceptable behavior. This can include making excuses for someone else's bad behavior or covering up their mistakes. This can be particularly damaging in relationships where addiction or other harmful habits are present.

The co-dependent person (the “giver”) may struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, and/or depression, while the other person may become overly reliant on their partner or friend for support and may struggle to develop healthy relationships with others.

Drs. Mayfield and Exelbert share that there are several signs of co-dependency. If you experience any of the following, you might be the giver in a codependent relationship:

  • Avoid conflict with the other person
  • Feeling the need to check in with the other person
  • Often being the one who apologizes—even if you have done nothing wrong
  • Feeling sorry for the other person, even when they hurt you.
  • Regularly trying to change or rescue troubled, addicted, or under-functioning people whose problems go beyond one person's ability to fix
  • Extending yourself for the other person, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable
  • Putting the other person on a pedestal, despite the fact that they don’t merit this position
  • A need for other people to like you in order to feel good about yourself
  • Struggling to find any time for yourself, especially if your free time consistently goes to the other person
  • Feeling as if you’ve lost a sense of yourself within the relationship
  • Controlling: Some codependents try to control other people’s feelings and actions. Of course, this is impossible since no one can control another person and this leads to frustration and internal conflict.

 Co-dependency vs. Healthy Interdependence

Simply being reliant on someone else does not mean that you are codependent. In a healthy relationship, each person can rely on the other for a variety of needs. Co-dependency exists when one person gives more than the other, creating an imbalance of met needs. In a healthy relationship, both individuals have a sense of autonomy and independence, and are able to maintain their own identities while still being connected to their partner.

While in a codependent relationship, one person may sacrifice their own needs and wants in order to please the other person.

How to Overcome Co-dependency

Breaking the cycle of co-dependency requires a willingness to recognize and address the underlying issues that contribute to the pattern of behavior. This may involve various interventions such as therapy, counselling, and a commitment to developing healthy boundaries.  
The main emphasis of these various treatment modalities is on altering how the codependent person views themselves and their relationships.
This can involve interventions with various (or numerous) goals such as:

Building Self-Esteem
Building the codependent person’s self-esteem is a main focus of most interventions.

Improving Boundary Setting
Weak boundaries are another reason codependent people are often willing to compromise their personal happiness to satisfy another person (the “taker”).
Interventions aimed at building self-awareness, self-expression, and communication skills can help an individual’s ability to set and enforce healthy boundaries.

Encouraging Self Care
People with codependent tendencies can also benefit from learning to prioritize their self-care needs, and happiness, before taking care of others.

Practice valuing yourself
Increased self-worth can boost your self-esteem, confidence, and happiness. You will be able to express your needs and set boundaries, both of which are key to overcoming Co-dependency.

If you’re working to overcome Co-dependency, it may be worthwhile to look into an accredited Counsellor or Life Coach who has experience working with recovery from this complicated issue. They can help you:

  • identify and take steps to address patterns of codependent behavior
  • work on increasing self-esteem
  • explore what you want from life
  • reframe and challenge negative thought patterns
  • assist in helping you to set boundaries
  • ensure self-care becomes a priority for you.


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This article is not intended to take the place of medical advice from your personal physician.