Co-dependency: Answers to your Questions about Co-dependent Relationships and Co-dependent Behaviors

Co-dependency: Answers to your Questions about Co-dependent Relationships and Co-dependent Behaviors

What does co-dependency mean?

Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship pattern where one partner is dependent and impaired in some way and the other is constantly trying to help, change, fix, rescue. The “rescuer” derives self-esteem and purpose though helping. The emphasis on helping the partner often means the “rescuers” needs are not met.

Why do people stay in co-dependent relationships?Codependency by Sharon Martin, LCSW

There are many possible reasons including love/care of the person, worry about the other, it’s comfortable or perceived as being “better” than being alone. Because “rescuers” get self-esteem from helping, they will likely suffer guilt and feeling bad about themselves if they leave.

Is it possible to be co-dependent with a parent?

Sure, co-dependency can happen in any close relationship (parent-child, intimate partners, siblings, etc.).

Do all co-dependent relationships involve substance abuse?

No. Although substance abuse was historically how we came to understand codependency, we now see that all kinds of impairment, such as mental illness or physical health problems, can also keep the dependent person not functioning fully.

What are some signs that I am co-dependent?

As already mentioned, co-dependents are caretakers who want to fix, rescue or take care of others. They are also “pleasers” with a high need to be liked, wanted or needed. They tend to have low self-esteem, difficult asserting themselves and standing up for themselves, fear of or difficulty being alone. Co-dependents also feel uncertain of who they are, what they like to do, their goals or beliefs. They are so wrapped up in someone else (and their problems) that they lose themselves in the process. Codependency is about control. Co-dependents try to control others’ behavior and their surroundings. And lastly, deep inside co-dependents are angry, ashamed, and in pain.

Why do I repeatedly find co-dependent relationships?

We all have a tendency to repeat behavioral patterns once they are entrenched. Change is hard even when we are unhappy and know a pattern is dysfunctional. Most codependent patterns begin in childhood. Since codependents feel best when they are care-taking and controlling, they will gravitate towards someone “sick” who they can try to change and help. Changing your relationship pattern requires you to feel like a whole and worthy person who will then want to seek out a partner or friend who is also a whole and worthy person.

How do I change and heal?

I suggest you use all the resources you have available to you: professional individual counseling, self-help groups (such as CoDA), and the tremendous number of books and workbooks that are easily found in the library or bookstore.

A few book suggestions are:

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

Women Who Love Too Much: When You Keep Wishing and Hoping He’ll Change,

Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life


Schedule a counseling session with Sharon in her San Jose office:

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Sharon Martin, LCSW © 2015

Sharon Martin, a licensed counselor and psychotherapist in Northern California, specializes in helping adult children of alcoholics and others who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism. She has a private psychotherapy practice in CA where she is available for online counseling. Sharon is also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and write the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today.