Centering your thoughts and behavior around another person is a sign of codependency. We react to something external, rather than our own internal cues. Addicts are also codependent. Their lives revolve around their addiction, whether it’s food, work, drugs, or sex.

Codependency derived from the term “co-alcoholic”, which originated from studies of relatives of addicts to substances that interfered with recovery by allowing.

Family therapists discovered that her codependent behavior developed in her childhood growing up in a dysfunctional family. In the 1940s, the German psychoanalyst and humanist Karen Horney wrote about neurotic behavior caused by self-alienation. She described the personality types that fit codependency and believed that they were the result of faulty parenting and the “tyranny of shoulds”.

The 12-Step Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) program was founded in 1986 by Ken and Mary, two therapists who had grown up in abusive families.


Codependency is considered a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, due to the lack of consensus on a definition and empirical research. However, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists a dependent personality disorder, described as someone who is more passive, submissive, and dependent than most codependents. In 1989, experts at a National Conference came up with a suggested definition: “A pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and the approval of others in an attempt to find security, self-esteem, and identity.” Other definitions of experts in the field include:

* Melody Beattie: Allowing another person’s behavior to affect you and becoming obsessed

about controlling that person’s behavior.

* Earnie Larsen: a diminished ability to initiate or participate in loving relationships.

* Robert Subby: As a result of prolonged exposure to oppressive rules.

* John Bradshaw & Pia Melody: A symptom of abandonment – a loss of one’s inner reality and an addiction to outer reality.

* Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse: A brain disorder that leads codependents to seek relief from relaxing brain chemicals, which are released through compulsive behaviors, including addiction to work, substances, gambling, food, sex, and/or relationships.

*Charles Whitfield: A disease of a lost personality.

Beattie and Larsen’s definition focuses on the behavior of relationships. I agree with Bradshaw, Melody, and Whitfield that codependency resides with us whether we are in a relationship or not. I also agree with Wegscheider-Cruse that addicts are codependent and that relief is sought through substances, processes, and people. Unlike Cruse though, I believe that codependency is a learned behavior that is transgenerational. Other influences are cultural and religious prejudices. Although research shows that some adolescents had brain abnormalities even before they became addicted to drugs, their twins did not become addicted, so the full impact of genetic and organic causes remains unclear, particularly in view of the plasticity of the brain in adolescence.

Core feelings and behavior

Codependent feelings and behaviors vary in degree on a continuum. Like a disease and an addiction, if the symptoms are not treated they become compulsive and worsen in stages over time.

Core sentiments include:

  • Denial
  • Low self-esteem
  • Painful emotions: Shame, Guilt, Anger and Resentment, Anxiety, Depression
  • Basic behaviors include:

  • Dependence
  • intimacy problems
  • dysfunctional communication
  • dysfunctional boundaries
  • Control of oneself and/or others (includes Caring)
  • Core feelings and behaviors create other problems, such as people-pleasing, self-doubt, mistrust, perfectionism, high reactivity, empowerment, and obsessions. Codependents are often more in tune with other people’s needs and feelings than they are with their own. To quell rejection anxiety, they try to fit in with others, while ignoring their own needs, wants, and feelings. As a result, they tend to lose their autonomy, particularly in intimate relationships. Over time, their self-esteem declines due to self-alienation and/or allowing others to devalue them.

    Codependents have varied personalities, and symptoms differ in type and severity among them. They also have various attachment styles. Not everyone is a caregiver or even in a relationship. Some seek closeness, while others avoid it. Some are addicted, bully, selfish and needy, or may seem independent and confident, but try to control or are controlled by a personal relationship or their addiction. Sometimes that relationship is with an addict or narcissist. A relationship that is one-sided or marked by addiction or abuse is a sign of codependency. But not all codependent relationships are one-sided or abusive.


    Untreated codependency can lead to severe anxiety, depression, and health problems. There is help for recovery and change. Recovery goes through stages that normalize codependent symptoms. The goal of recovery is to become a fully functional adult who:

  • Authentic
  • Autonomous
  • capable of intimacy
  • Assertive and congruent in the expression of values, feelings and needs.
  • Flexible without rigid thinking or behavior
  • find out. Get guidance and support. Codependent patterns are deeply ingrained habits that are difficult to identify and change on your own. Often an experienced third party is needed to identify them and suggest alternative beliefs and responses. 12 step therapy and meetings provide this. In recovery, you:

  • come out of denial
  • let go of others
  • Build an autonomous self
  • raise your self esteem
  • Find pleasure – develop friends, hobbies
  • heal past wounds
  • Learn to be assertive and set limits
  • Pursue bigger goals and passions
  • Self Help and Therapy

    Codependency is highly recoverable, but it requires effort, courage, and the right treatment. A therapist should be knowledgeable about treating codependency, shame, and self-esteem, as well as be able to teach healthier behavioral and communication skills. Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in increasing self-esteem and changing codependent thinking, feelings, and behavior. In some cases, trauma therapy is also indicated.

    Recovery can create more anxiety, so it’s important to maintain a self-help support system, such as Al-Anon or CoDA’s 12-step programs, to build self-esteem and become more assertive.

    ©DarleneLancer 2019