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What is Codependency? Part II

Meg Mulroy, LPC

In part one of this short blog series, I defined and explained ways in which people form codependent relationships through caretaking, controlling, and self-abandonment. In part two, I’ll discuss characteristics indicative of codependent relationships. If you resonate with these problems, it does not mean you are bad, inferior, or broken. Most of these behaviors and characteristics were taught to us as children and/or were protective factors that were employed to keep us safe from abuse. These were things you did out of absolute necessity to protect yourself and attempt to meet your own needs and survive emotionally, mentally, and physically. It is incredibly challenging and heartbreaking to grow up with parents addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, and learning to cope with that in any way is admirable and brave.

Codependent Characteristics 

However, the things that used to protect us as children often outgrow their helpfulness and become harmful. One of the first steps in making meaningful change is self-awareness! With that in mind, here are some of the defining characteristics of codependency, according to Melody Beattie, codependency expert and author of Codependent No More. 


  • You may think and feel responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, needs, well-being, or life.
  • Feeling anxiety or guilt when other people have a problem and feeling strongly compelled to help that person solve their problem.
  • Learning to anticipate people’s needs and wondering why others don’t do the same for you.
  • Saying yes when you want to say no and trying to please others before yourself. 
  • Feeling unable to identify what you need.
  • Feeling safer giving something and feeling guilty and insecure when someone gives you something.
  • Feeling bored without a crisis to attend to or a problem to solve.
  • Abandoning your routine, work, or activities in order to take care of someone else. 

Low Self-Worth 

  • Grew up in a dysfunctional family and often denied any issues within the family unit. 
  • You frequently blame yourself for everything and have a harsh inner critic. 
  • Rejecting compliments and praise. 
  • Feeling you’re not good enough while also feeling too much. 
  • Fear of rejection and abandonment. 
  • Having a history of tolerating abuse. 
  • Having a difficult time making decisions and fear of making a mistake.
  • Judgmental of self and feeling ashamed of who you are.
  • Settling for being needed and feeling unlovable. 


  • Pushing thoughts, feelings, and opinions down out of fear and guilt. 
  • Struggling to be authentically yourself. 


  • Constant and frequent worry. 
  • Feeling on edge and anxious about other people’s problems and thinking a lot about them. 
  • Losing sleep over others’ problems. 
  • Constantly checking on others. 
  • Abandoning your routine because you feel upset about somebody else. 
  • Focusing all of your energy on solving others’ problems. 


  • You have lived through events with people that were out of control. 
  • Struggling to let things happen naturally. 
  • Avoid dealing with your fear of losing control. 
  • Thinking you know best and how people should behave. 
  • Trying to control events and people through helplessness, guilt, or manipulation. 


  • Ignoring problems or pretending they aren’t happening. 
  • Reassuring yourself that, “Everything is fine,” and “Everything will be better tomorrow,” when you know it won’t be. 
  • Staying busy so as to not think about your situation by becoming workaholics, spending money impulsively, overeating, or over-scheduling yourself. 


  • You don’t feel happy, content, or at peace with yourself. 
  • Looking for external validation and quickly latching onto whoever they think can provide that happiness.
  • Didn’t feel love or approval from your parents and don’t believe other people can love you. 
  • Desperately seek love and approval, often from people who are incapable of loving you.
  • Wonder and worry if you’ll ever find love. 

Poor Communication 

  • You don’t take yourself seriously and often don’t say what you mean or mean what you say. 
  • Gauging your words carefully to achieve the desired effect.
  • Saying what you think will please people and struggling to say no. 
  • Waiting to express your opinion until you know others’ opinions. 
  • Lying to protect and cover-up for others and yourself.
  • Struggling to express your emotions openly and honestly. 

Lack of Trust 

  • You don’t trust others.
  • You don’t trust yourself, your decisions, or your feelings. 
  • Often put trust in untrustworthy people. 


  • Have lived or lived with people who are scared, hurt, and angry. 
  • Are afraid of your own anger.
  • Fear abandonment when other people are angry with you. 
  • Feel controlled by another’s anger. 
  • Have been shamed for expressing anger. 

There are an estimated 80 million people who are in a relationship with someone who is addicted to drugs/alcohol. Codependency is many things — a dependency on people’s moods, behaviors, sickness, and love. Healing from codependency is a journey and one that should be taken with the help of a counselor. In addition to attending a support group like al-anon or adult children of alcoholics, the path to recovering from codependent wounds is an act of self-compassion. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to meet with one of our counselors that can help you through therapy in Chicago! Start your journey today!

Works Cited

Beattie, Melody. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. Hazelden Publishing, 2016.

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