Home » co-dependency » Co-dependency: symptoms and effective treatments

Co-dependency is an addiction. The addiction in this case is not to drugs, but to the approval, love and affirmation of other people. To feel good about yourself, you are dependent on others. In order to feel good, you need more and more of them. It can lead to relationship addiction.

Definition of co-dependency

Co-dependency is the tendency of the victim in an abusive relationship to develop dysfunctional patterns or habits. This happens in such a relationship during the process of trying to cope with a family member or partner who is abusive, neglectful or has an addiction.

These patterns include denial of the problem and consequently support for the abuse. In addition, such a pattern includes poor self-esteem. We also find the abandonment of personal goals or values and the development of controlling or manipulative behaviour.

Why does it happen?

Co-dependency happens in dysfunctional families. Family members frequently experience anger, pain, fear, or shame that is denied or ignored. Underlying issues that contribute to this are:

  • Addiction to drugs, alcohol, work, food, sex, gambling, relationships
  • Abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual)
  • Chronic physical illness or mental illness

Family problems are never dealt with nor do codependent individuals mention that issues exist. Family members suppress their emotions and ignore their own needs in an effort to care for someone else.

All energy and attention is pointed towards the one who is abusive, ill or addicted. the codependent sacrifices their own needs to take care of the one who is struggling. This usually leads to social, emotional, and physical consequences for the codependent as they don’t take care of their own health, welfare and safety.

Symptoms of co-dependency

The most common symptoms of co-dependency are:

  • You grew up in a dysfunctional family or are stuck in a dysfunctional relationship
  • You experience problems with self-esteem
  • You find it difficult to set boundaries with other people
  • You have difficulty being aware of and naming your feelings/thoughts/behaviours
  • You are usually unable to express your thoughts and feelings in a controlled way
  • You are not unfamiliar with aggression, tantrums and panic
  • You give in order to receive
  • Fulfilling your needs and wishes in contact with others is difficult for you; you like to give priority to the needs of others

However, there are also some less common symptoms. Those are:

  • You exert negative control over others (you do your best to make someone else do what you want)
  • Resentment, you have a lot of anger in you or cannot experience anger at all
  • Damaged spirituality, you have no confidence in yourself or in life and make unrealistic demands
  • Addictions and other compulsive behaviours related to alcohol, drugs, food or relationships
  • Psychological and physical illnesses, depression, auto-immune diseases
  • Problems with intimacy, giving and receiving are out of balance


Recovering from codependency is extremely difficult. It remains a trap which one – especially in times of crisis – will always have a tendency to revisit!

It is part of our survival mechanisms and often an acquired pattern from a very young age. The process of recovery means that you build a new, healthier mechanism alongside this old one. A new mechanism in which you learn to have an eye for your own limits, wishes and needs.

It is important to see how your own behaviour has influenced the events of your life, so that you can understand and take responsibility for your behaviour and change it.

Because the codependent has learned patterns of self-rejection and often has strict standards for him/herself, it can be very difficult to set a boundary, for example. The enormous feelings of guilt and anxiety this causes can be very painful. The new behaviour can feel unnatural. The fear, anxiety and condemnation of the self must be broken through by working on a healthy self-esteem, insight into one’s own wishes and desires, learning to take responsibility for one’s own mistakes, being able to be vulnerable within limits, learning to set limits, learning to ask for help and learning to put things in perspective, etc.

Effective treatments for co-dependency

There are several types of therapies for codependency:

Group Therapy

Group therapy gives individuals a chance to form healthier relationships in an appropriate space. It involves giving positive feedback and holding individuals accountable.

Family Therapy

Family therapy targets the dysfunctional family dynamics. Members of a family learn how to recognize their dysfunctional patterns so they can learn how to improve their relationships.

A key goal of family therapy is to improve communication. Issues that have never before been discussed in the family may be raised in therapy.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy can target the thoughts that contribute to unhealthy relationship patterns. For example, an individual who thinks, “I can’t stand being alone,” is more likely to maintain an unhealthy relationship.

The aim for this thearpy is to create positive behaviour changes and allow the other individual to accept more personal responsibility for their own actions.

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