What Is the Definition of Codependency, and How Do I Know If I Have It?


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We all need help from other people every once in a while. Not only do we need help, but support and companionship from others play a huge role in personal development. We all feel a little bit better when we catch up with our friends at the end of a long day or get a pep talk from our parents after a disappointing grade. But it’s possible to lean so much on other people that it negatively affects our emotional, behavioral and mental health.

Codependency is a term that isn’t often thrown around, but is commonly exhibited by others, even if they don’t realize it. So what is the definition of codependency? It refers to a relationship between two people who are heavily reliant on each other. How do you know if you have codependency behaviors? We’re here to help you figure that out.

We’re going to dive deep into the definition of codependency, how to know if you have it and what steps to take next. 

The definition of codependency 

We’ve given you a simple definition of codependency, but now it’s time to dive a bit deeper into the trait. Being codependent means that you’re emotionally, mentally, physically or even spiritually reliant on another person. Codependency can form between any two people, including family members or friends, but it’s especially common in romantic relationships.

Even though it’s important to have genuine and loyal relationships with other people, codependency often creates a power imbalance. 

Codependent relationships often stem from one person feeling such a strong desire to be needed that they change themselves or their goals to work around the other person or make them happy. It can affect your sense of self because you may not know who you are without them. This can lead to one person enabling the other’s poor behavioral and emotional patterns, such as making excuses for bad behavior or taking the blame for a crime. 

Codependency can cause you to confuse pity with love. People who have been in codependent relationships in the past can struggle to maintain healthy relationships in the future because they are used to toxic patterns. They may have a hard time understanding what is involved in mutually satisfying relationships. 

Signs that you may have codependency

Codependent behavior is often learned by witnessing it with other people in your life, especially during childhood. It’s also common in people who have parents who are either too protective, or not protective enough. While teens with overprotective parents may struggle to find their own independence and sense of self, having underprotective parents results in the deep want to be needed and cared for by another person in a way they weren’t.

It’s not always easy to recognize codependent behaviors in yourself, because it’s often subconscious and your focus is putting the other person before yourself. But the truth is that many people have codependent tendencies without realizing it. 

Here are a few signs that fit with the definition of codependency: 

  • Feeling responsible for the actions of others
  • Consistently putting in more effort than others
  • Inability to let go of a relationship
  • Fear of being lonely or abandoned 
  • Intense need for recognition and approval
  • Difficulty asserting yourself
  • Wanting, or feeling the need, to control others
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
  • Intimacy or boundary issues
  • Poor communication skills

How codependency affects your mental health

Being codependent shouldn’t just be brushed off as being a “people-pleaser.” People in codependent relationships can struggle with mental health distress and disorders, such as anxiety and depression. 

Codependency can cause you to become anxious by taking on the other person’s problems or constantly being in fear that the other person is angry, upset or disappointed in you. This can lead to you feeling drained of your time and energy, leading to major depressive disorder symptoms, such as lethargy and overwhelming feelings of sadness.

If you believe that you’re in a codependent relationship, and you’re struggling to break the cycle of unhealthy behavior and emotions, then therapy can make a big difference. By talking to a mental health provider about your thoughts and feelings, they can help you determine the root of your codependency and adjust your way of thinking so that you can work toward healthier connections with others.

Psychotherapy can also help you develop the decision-making skills and coping mechanisms that you need to manage your depression and anxiety symptoms.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help you define and break codependency

We all want to feel genuine connections with the people we care about, but sometimes those connections aren’t as healthy as we think they are. If you’re involved in any sort of relationship that makes you feel like your happiness comes second to theirs, then you may be struggling with codependency. But the good news is that we’re here to help you realize who you are and how you deserve to be treated.

Change is possible. If you think that you fit the definition of codependency, then reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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