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What Is Codependence?

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

What does codependence mean?

The term codependence can be very confusing because the word itself just means mutual dependence or two people relying on each other, which is not necessarily bad or unhealthy. However, when the term is used to describe a person as being ‘codependent’ or a relationship of ‘co-dependency’, it refers to a particular type of relational cycle with a pattern of unhealthy dependence. To avoid confusion, I will use the term healthy codependence to describe the ideal type of mutual dependence and the term unhealthy codependence to describe the unhealthy pattern of dependence.

What is unhealthy codependence?

Codependence, also known as codependency, is a complex and often misunderstood psychological and behavioral concept that describes a dysfunctional pattern of behavior in relationships. It typically involves one person (the codependent) being overly reliant on another person (the enabler or codependent partner) for their sense of self-worth, identity, and emotional well-being. Codependent individuals often prioritize the needs and desires of the other person to an unhealthy degree, often at the expense of their own needs and well-being.

In relationships of unhealthy codependence, all members of the relationship rely on each other to meet their needs, but in ways that are not very effective and can even be harmful. Members are not able to express their needs in healthy ways or set personal boundaries, so personal needs are rarely fully met. Members may refuse to take responsibility for their own responsibilities while other members may be too busy trying to take care of other’s responsibilities that they neglect their own. Members often do not know how to communicate about issues effectively, so attempts to address issues may cause a large amount of conflict or issues may just not be addressed at all. Unfortunately, emotional and verbal abuse are also common in these relationships.

Who is considered a ‘codependent’?

The term ‘codependent’ is used to describe someone who has been conditioned to accept and relate with others in a way that creates or reinforces relationships of unhealthy codependence.

When research on codependence first started, it was mainly used to describe the spouse of someone with a chemical addiction, such as the wife of an alcoholic, but now research has shown that codependency can develop in a range of different kinds of dysfunctional families or relationships.

Often this process starts in childhood, when a child is raised in a dysfunctional family. They may learn this way of relating to others because they watched their parents/guardians model unhealthy codependence or because their parent/guardian started to depend too heavily on the child and the child was pulled into the caregiver role. However, it can also develop in adult relationships.

Below is a list of traits that describe a typically “codependent’ experience. However, keep in mind that each individual’s experience is unique, so this list in no way defines all the possible experiences nor will every ‘codependent’ identify with every single trait listed.

Traits list:

You feel-

  • Preoccupied if anyone around you is unhappy or having problems

  • Selfish if you do not put others’ needs first

  • Useless/worthless if you are not helping someone

  • Responsible for anything that does or could go wrong

  • Powerless when you realize a situation is unhealthy or needs to change

  • Resentment towards those who depend on you

  • Guilty for nearly everything

You may notice-

  • You find yourself in one unhealthy relationship right after another

  • You have difficulty identifying and expressing your own needs and wants

  • You try to control or manipulate others for their own good

  • Your self-worth and happiness are directly related to how others treat you

  • You have a hard time making decisions

  • You are not sure how much to trust others

  • You make threats but rarely follow through on healthy boundaries

Key characteristics of codependency may include:

  1. Low self-esteem: Codependent individuals often have a poor self-image and derive their self-worth from pleasing and taking care of others.

  2. A strong need for approval: They seek constant validation and approval from others, particularly the person they are codependent on.

  3. Difficulty setting boundaries: Codependents have difficulty saying "no" and may go to great lengths to accommodate the other person's wishes or demands, even if it is detrimental to their own well-being.

  4. Fear of abandonment: They may have an intense fear of being rejected or abandoned by the person they are codependent on, leading to clingy or overly controlling behavior.

  5. Enabling behavior: Codependents often enable or support destructive behaviors in the other person, such as addiction or unhealthy habits, while neglecting their own needs.

  6. Neglect of self-care: They may prioritize the needs of the other person to the point of neglecting their own physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

  7. Difficulty making decisions: Codependents may struggle with making independent decisions and rely on the other person for guidance and direction. How can counseling help?

Counseling can help you gain a better understanding of what is healthy vs unhealthy, how your codependency developed, and what you can do to stop the cycle. You can work through this process in individual sessions or in couples sessions if you are currently in a relationship.

Learn how to:

  • Stop codependent behavior patterns

  • Communicate effectively

  • Help others without enabling

  • Set effective boundaries

  • Improve your self-esteem

  • Identify and express your needs and feelings

  • Manage unearned guilt

  • Heal from past abuse

  • Chose healthy relationships

Codependency can manifest in various types of relationships, such as romantic partnerships, friendships, family dynamics, or even caregiving roles. It can be harmful to both the codependent individual and the person they are dependent on, as it often leads to an unhealthy and imbalanced dynamic.

Therapy and self-help strategies can be effective in addressing codependency. Recognizing and acknowledging these patterns of behavior is the first step toward healing and developing healthier, more balanced relationships.

When you are ready I can help you recover. I teach you how to understand your emotions, through practical tips, tools, and personal experiences, so that you can feel powerful in who you are and live the life you want. Enrollment is closed. To get on the wait list contact us.


Help Developing A Plan For Self-Care

Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your own busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.

Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author:

Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC

Art Wellness Studio and Botanica provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. Loving her low-sugar balance lifestyle.

Warm Regards

Dr. Nikki LeToya White

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