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What Is Codependency and How Can I Work Through It?

By: Danielle Bertini

           What do you think when you hear the word “codependency?” Many people are often very confused by this word. People often hear this term and think that it means someone who is “clingy” or “needy.” However, codependency can actually be a very harmful mental and behavioral trait. So, what is?

           Codependency was first recognized by family members of people who were struggling with alcohol, in which a cycle of dysfunctional needs is created. This usually looks like one partner (the codependent individual) having an unhealthy need to be needed, while the other individual (the enabler) exploits this need by excessively relying on their partner (Eldemire, 2019).

           This should not be confused with a healthy relationship in which two partners mutually bond with and rely on one another in a safe and appropriate way. What makes codependent relationships different and dangerous is that there is an imbalanced dynamic. Specifically, the codependent individual’s self-worth and self-esteem are solely based on the degree in which they are needed by their partner (Eldemire, 2019). Again, this cycle is then perpetuated because their partner then enables the behaviors by getting satisfaction out of constantly having their needs met and fulfilled.

           With this in mind, you might be wondering if you could be in a codependent relationship with your partner or someone else in your life. Eldemire (2019) offers five warning signs that might indicate this kind of relationship dynamic.

  1.     Someone who is struggling with codependency often has little to no interests outside of their relationship. They often derive their pleasure and main identity out of their role in the relationship and neglect any personal values or interests. It also might be the case that they feel guilty for thinking about or expressing their own needs and desires. Because of this, they may repress or have difficulty with their emotions.
  2.     A codependent person will often remain in a relationship even if their partner is exhibiting hurtful or even abusive behaviors.
  3.     Individuals struggling with codependency might sometimes make huge sacrifices to please their partner, often at the expense of their own well-being. They often ignore their own values in order to meet their partner’s needs. As discussed earlier, these behaviors are often enabled by their partner when they accept it.
  4.     A codependent person is usually highly preoccupied with making their partner feel happy. They might often “walk on eggshells” to avoid triggering their partner’s bad mood. They also might feel a high amount of anxiety and pressure in regard to their relationship and how to maintain it.
  5.     In many cases, one or both partners in a codependent relationship have struggled with or are currently struggling with addiction, abuse, mental illness, or trauma.

So how do you recover from codependency? Healing from codependency begins with rebalancing yourself. Instead of focusing so much on what others need, you must consider your own needs and make them a priority (Martin, 2020). And no, this does not make you selfish! Making your needs a priority does not mean that you never consider other people’s needs or take care of them, it just means that your needs are as important as other people’s.

Healing from codependency also means that you not only know what you need, but that you also ask for it. It’s important to learn to communicate assertively, set boundaries, and create relationships where there is both giving and receiving (Martin, 2020).

Another component to this journey includes getting to know yourself. People who struggle with codependency often spend so much time thinking about and appeasing others that they lose touch with themselves. Because of this, it is important to explore who you are, including what you like, what is important to you, what your goals are, and so on. Make sure to treat yourself with kindness while doing this (Martin, 2020).

Recovery from codependency is a process, and the good news is that recovery is not all or nothing. You can benefit from making even just a few small changes, slowly. If you are struggling with codependency, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our licensed counselors. 


Eldemire, A. (2019, August 1). How to Know if You’re in a Codependent Relationship. 

Martin, S. (2020, October 20). How to Conquer Codependency. Psychology Today. 

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