Codependency: What Are The Signs & How To Overcome It

Codependency: What Are The Signs & How To Overcome It

Codependency refers to a psychological construct involving an unhealthy relationship that people might share with those closest to them.

It was originally thought to involve families of substance abuse but has since grown to include other types of dysfunctional relationships.

Read on to learn about what codependency is and how it can affect people, how to recognize signs of codependency, and resources for learning more about and overcoming codependency.

If you wish to learn more, our Positive Relationships Masterclass© is a complete, science-based training template for practitioners and coaches that contains all the materials you’ll need to help your clients improve their personal and professional relationships, ultimately enhancing their mental wellbeing.

 

What Is a Codependent Personality Disorder?

Originally, “the term ‘codependent’ described persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person” (Lampis et al., 2017). Modern understandings of codependency now refer to “a specific relationship addiction characterized by preoccupation and extreme dependence—emotional, social and sometimes physical—on another person.”

The concept of codependency does still apply to families with substance abuse issues but is used also to refer to other situations too. The main consequence of codependency is that “[c]odependents, busy taking care of others, forget to take care of themselves, resulting in a disturbance of identity development” (Knudson & Terrell, 2012).

Cermak (1986) argued that codependency should be defined in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), borrowing diagnostic criteria from alcohol dependence, dependent personality disorder (DPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), histrionic personality disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This argument was unsuccessful and the DSM-III-R (the next revision) did not include codependency as a personality disorder. The DSM-5, the newest edition of the manual, still only refers to DPD, not codependency.

Codependency does not only overlap with DPD but also with BPD, which is one reason some research has dismissed the idea of codependency making up its own personality disorder. One study found, though, that while codependent people do share some overlap with DPD and BPD symptoms, there are also people who exhibit codependency without exhibiting symptoms of DPD and BPD (Knapek et al., 2017).

What Is A Codependent Personality Disorder? Definition & Meaning

Codependency can be distinguished from DPD because codependent people are dependent on a specific person(s), while people with DPD are dependent on others in general. Codependency can be distinguished from BPD; while BPD includes instability in interpersonal relationships, it does not involve dependence on other people.

To sum up, codependency is a psychological concept that refers to people who feel extreme amounts of dependence on certain loved ones in their lives, and who feel responsible for the feelings and actions of those loved ones. Codependency is not recognized as a distinct personality disorder by any version of the DSM, including the DSM-5, the most recent version.

That said, research shows that while codependency does overlap with other personality disorders, it does appear to constitute a distinct psychological construct. The best way to learn about codependency is to review some of the signs of codependency.

 

20 Signs Of Codependency

What does codependency actually look like? Some of the things that have been found to correlate with codependency include (Marks et al., 2012):

  • Low self-esteem;
  • Low levels of narcissism;
  • Familial dysfunction;
  • Depression;
  • Anxiety;
  • Stress;
  • Low emotional expressivity.

 

Other signs of codependency include (Lancer, 2016; Mental Health America, n.d.):

  • Having a hard time saying no;
  • Having poor boundaries;
  • Showing emotional reactivity;
  • Feeling compelled to take care of people;
  • Having a need for control, especially over others;
  • Having trouble communicating honestly;
  • Fixating on mistakes;
  • Feeling a need to be liked by everyone;
  • Feeling a need to always be in a relationship;
  • Denying one’s own needs, thoughts, and feelings;
  • Having intimacy issues;
  • Confusing love and pity;
  • Displaying fear of abandonment.

 

Codependency Quiz & Tests

The simple presence of the above signs does not mean someone is codependent, but a high number of these signs may indicate codependent tendencies.

One way to do this is with codependency tests, like these:

 

Friel Co-Dependency Assessment Inventory from Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio (1985)

This test consists of 60 true-or-false questions. A score below 20 is little need for concern, a score between 21-30 should be a moderate need for concern, a score between 31-45 is moderate towards a severe need for concern, and a score over 46 indicating a severe need for concern.

 

Codependency Test from Hamrah

This test consists of 26 simple yes-or-no questions that can get one to start thinking about codependency in their own relationships. Answering yes to five or more questions indicates that the test-taker may be codependent.

This is not a professional diagnosis, but it is a good way to start evaluating codependent behaviors in one’s own life.

 

Are You in a Codependent Relationship?

This article from WebMD serves as a sort of open-ended quiz about whether or not one is in a codependent relationship and suggestions for what to do next. With input from psychologists, it offers up a few signs of codependent relationships to get the reader thinking about whether or not their relationship is codependent.

 

Characteristics of Codependent People

A checklist by Melody Beattie consisting of over 200 items has been adapted into a shorter version, called the Beattie Codependency Checklist, which has been used in peer-reviewed research on codependency (Wells et al., 1999).

There is no scale at the end which determines the taker’s level of codependency, as it is rather meant to contextualize a vast set of behaviors and thoughts into a codependency framework.

 

5 Books About Codependency

For people who want to learn more about codependency, here are some great books about codependency. These books are particularly helpful for people who fear they are codependent and want to overcome their codependency.

 

1. Lancer, D. (2015). Codependency For Dummies, 2nd Edition.

This book, from a licensed marriage and family therapist, can be an excellent introduction to codependency for people who do not know a single thing about codependency. The book is aimed at people who think they might be codependent and includes a number of actionable tips one can take to break their codependence.

 

2. Beattie, M. (1990). The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations for Codependents.

This book, by codependency expert Melody Beattie, is a handbook for people who are codependent. This book is full of daily meditations and focuses on self-esteem, acceptance, health, and recovery. This is a good option for anyone who knows they are codependent and wants to do something about it.

 

3. Weinhold, B.K., Weinhold, J.B. (2008). Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap.

This book, by a married psychologist couple, is all about codependency and how to break out of it. The authors first discuss how codependency develops in people, and how one’s childhood can ultimately lead to codependency. The authors then focus on helping the reader out of codependency. This is a good option for anyone who wants to understand their codependency, not just how to fix it.

 

4. Sowle, J.J. (2014). The Everything Guide to Codependency: Learn to Recognize and Change Codependent Behavior.

This book from a clinical psychologist aims to help people who think they are codependent. In it, the author helps the reader recognize signs of codependency in their own behavior (and the behavior of the people around them), then helps the reader work through their own codependent or enabling behaviors, as well as the codependent or enabling behaviors of their partner.

This is a good option for learning how to recognize codependency in oneself, as well as learning how to identify and avoid codependent behaviors in the future.

 

5. Menter, J.E. (2012). You’re Not Crazy – You’re Codependent.

Finally, this book is written by someone who has struggled with codependency in their own life. It aims to help people who have had traumatic experiences in their past figure out if some of their problems stem from codependency. Then, for people who are struggling with codependency, the book offers a variety of ways to overcome it.

 

Codependency Treatment: 3 Codependency Worksheets

Codependency Treatment: 5 Codependency Worksheets

Books can be invaluable resources, but it can take some time to get through them. For people who want to start right away, here are some useful worksheets for learning about codependency, as well as treating and overcoming it.

 

1. Codependency Questionnaire

This Codependency Questionnaire is a good option for a short overview of common behaviors and feelings linked to codependency. It contains 20 items designed to get people thinking about codependency in their own lives.

While not a substitute for clinical diagnosis, it can be a good starting point.

 

2. Shifting Codependency Patterns

This worksheet is a helpful way to identify some emotional and behavioral patterns and tendencies that are related to codependency. It contrasts unhealthy ways that people with codependency think about themselves with healthier ways that people think about themselves.

This worksheet is an actionable way to shift thought and action patterns to begin recovering from codependency.

 

3. Codependent Relationships: Beliefs, Attributes, and Outcomes

Finally, Codependent Relationships – Beliefs, Attributes, and Outcomes is a brief, informal checklist that is broken down into the beliefs, attributes, and outcomes of codependent behaviors in relationships. While not a formal test, it is a good way to evaluate codependent behaviors and thoughts in one’s interpersonal interactions, as well more generally in life.

This delves into healthy versus codependent thought patterns and behaviors.

 

Codependent Parents: Consequences for Children

Codependency was originally thought of as a disorder that affected the children and spouses of alcoholics and substance abusers. Research has shown that codependency is not unique to the children (or spouses) of alcoholics, though, as many types of family difficulties can lead to codependency (Cullen & Carr, 1999).

In fact, having a codependent parent can lead a child to codependency as well.

Codependent Parents: Consequences for Children

This is due to the tendency that people who have been “parentified” as children are more likely to be codependent (Wells et al., 1999). The concept of parentification refers to “the reversal of the parent-child role,” or when a child is forced to serve in a parental or care-taking role towards their own parent.

This is usually due to the parent not having had their own developmental needs met while they were growing up.

Since these codependent children grow up not having their developmental needs met either, this can create a cycle of codependency passed down from generation to generation.

Being codependent can be particularly harmful for parents of addicted children (Clearview Treatment Programs, n.d.). Codependent parents of addicted children can enable their children’s addictions, even when they think they are helping.

This is one of the ways that codependency can be especially tricky – often people with these tendencies believe they are being helpful, or that their actions are necessary for the other person in the relationship.

The most effective treatment for codependency is therapy, whether group or individual, to understand the ways in which someone feels they must care-take for another’s emotional state.

This work can be hard to identify in ourselves, so having a supportive professional help us untangle these relationships can be crucial.

 

A Take-Home Message

For years, the concept of codependency has been criticized for being ill-defined, but over the last few decades, the construct of codependency has become more well-defined and well-researched, as it has been fitted with an empirical base.

Most importantly, codependency has been recognized as a relationship dynamic that affects people with all sorts of childhood trauma, not just the children or spouses of alcoholics or substance abusers.

For people who are codependent, there are plenty of ways to overcome codependency. Aside from seeking professional help, there are all sorts of worksheets and books (such as the ones highlighted above) by people who have overcome codependency. The most important thing to remember is that while everyone has loved ones and feels responsible for those loved ones, it can be unhealthy when one hinges their identity on someone else.

Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own actions and feelings.

What is your experience with codependency? Are there relationships in your life in which you or the other person tend to exhibit codependent tendencies? Are their relationships from cultural movies or TV shows that provide examples of these kinds of relationships?

We’d love to hear your input in the comments section below.

We hope you found this article useful. If you wish to learn more, don’t forget to check out our Positive Relationships Masterclass©.

  • Cermak, T.L. (1986). Diagnostic criteria for codependency. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 18(1), 15-20.
  • Clearview Treatment Programs. (n.d.). How being a codependent parent can hurt your addicted child. Retrieved from https://www.clearviewtreatment.com/drug-alcohol-addiction-codependent-parent.html
  • Cullen, J., & Carr, A. (1999). Codependency: An empirical study from a systemic perspective. Contemporary Family Therapy, 21(4), 505-526.
  • Friel, J.C. (1985). Codependency assessment inventory: A preliminary research tool. Focus on the Family and Chemical Dependency, 8(1), 20-21.
  • Friel, J.C., & Friel, L.D. (1987). Uncovering our frozen feelings: The iceberg model of codependency. Focus on the Family and Chemical Dependency, 46(1), 10-12.
  • Knapek, E., Balazs, K., & Szabo, I.K. (2017). The substance abuser’s partner: Do codependent individuals have borderline and dependent personality disorder? Heroin Addiction and Related Clinical Problems, 19(5), 55-62.
  • Knudson, T.M., & Terrell, H.K. (2012). Codependency, perceived interparental conflict, and substance abuse in the family of origin. American Journal of Family Therapy, 40(3), 245-257.
  • Lampis, J., Cataudella, S., Busonera, A., & Skowron, E.A. (2017). The role of differentiation of self and dyadic adjustment in predicting codependency. Contemporary Family Therapy, 39(1), 62-72.
  • Lancer, D. (2016). Symptoms of codependency. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-codependency/
  • Marks, A.D.G., Blore, R.L., Hine, D.W., & Dear, G.E. (2012). Development and validation of a revised measure of codependency. Australian Journal of Psychology, 64(3), 119-127.
  • Mental Health America. (n.d.). Co-dependency. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency
  • Wells, M., Glickauf-Hughes, C., & Jones, R. (1999). Codependency: A grass roots construct’s relationship to shame-proneness, low self-esteem, and childhood parentification. American Journal of Family Therapy, 27(1), 63-71.

About the Author

Joaquín Selva, Bc.S., Psychologist is a behavioral neuroscience researcher and scientific editor. Joaquín was both a teaching assistant and a research assistant and conducted research that led to the publication of three peer-reviewed papers. Since then, his work has included writing for PositivePsychology.com and working as an English editor for academic papers written by non-native English speakers.

Comments

  1. LaBeth Spain

    Thank You SO, SO much!! I’m 70 years old; I have wondered most all my life “why” I felt/reacted the way I do. Co-Dependency makes perfect sense. I’m a bit too old to “change my life”, but understanding what led me to where I am is extremely helpful…I will be forever grateful!

    Reply
  2. L.D.

    Good information on a type of personality. Also comprehensive guidelines are helpful.

    Reply
  3. Barbara

    Being codependent with someone can be confusing at times . My daughter is high functioning On the autism spectrum scale. She. Was diagnosed in her forties and it’s taken me a long time to catch up. The hardest part is making and holding on to boundaries I sometimes loose track with what this all about and learning how to help her be independent from me. I have been codependent for so long that I need help just to stay on track with all of it. Thanks for your insight.

    Reply
  4. Eric J Martin

    I enjoyed the article and I’m hoping that overcoming my codependency towards my ex will help me to let go of my past, so I can successfully enjoy my present and future relationships.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Eric,
      So glad you enjoyed the article. And good for you for being honest with yourself about your codependency.
      Best of luck taking those first steps toward that brighter future. You’ve got this!
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  5. J. D.

    Thank you! This is all so helpful, I’m looking forward to going through the worksheets. I highly recommend another book called Co-dependent No More. I’m tracking my own codependency recovery on a blog, here: Limitworthy.com

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi J.D.,
      So glad you enjoyed the post. And I second your recommendation on Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More. Beattie has a great reputation in the codependency space.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  6. Laura

    This was extremely helpful and a huge eye-opener. It’s unfortunate it’s not part of the DSM yet, because even though several therapists suspected I had a personality disorder, I could never relate to the “official” ones listed in the DSM. This article is a great starting point for research though, and I’ll definitely be taking the information to my therapist!

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Laura,
      I’m glad that you were able to identify yourself in this article (as you note, there isn’t a formal diagnosis for everything we may experience). If you’d like more reading/learning, I highly recommend Melody Beattie’s books. She’s a long-time and well-respected writer on the topic of codependency who offers strategies to overcome it.
      Best of luck!
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  7. Bronwyn

    Thank you very interesting read. Would like more information on co-dependency.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Brownyn,
      Glad you enjoyed the article. For more interesting reads on the topic of codependency, check out this best-sellers list.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
      • Zabra Arms

        Hi Nicole Celestine, I have been doing my own researching on Codependency. I been doing what I can, to self help myself. Only thing is, I live in Oshkosh, WI., & CAN’T find anyone. Where can I find a CODEPENDENCY THERAPIST TO HELP ME FIND A SOLUTION/ Except my INSURANCE . Can you HELP me FINE SOMEONE???

        Reply
        • Nicole Celestine

          Hi Zebra,

          Great to hear. I’d suggest reaching out to a few of the therapists here to see what forms of treatment and payment options they have. A quick note to help you in your search is that you may need to search for more general terms (e.g. relationship therapist) rather than ‘codependency therapist’. That is, many relationship therapists will have expertise in codependency but may not brand themselves that narrowly. Hope that makes sense!

          – Nicole | Community Manager

          Reply
  8. Amal

    Great primer and very helpful links, thank you very much

    Reply
  9. EL

    Thank you very much! Excellent compilation

    Reply
  10. Elle

    thank you so much <3

    Reply
  11. S.K.

    As a daughter of a mother who’d suffered sexual abuse by her brother (which was only mentioned by my dad after my mum’s passing) I have had tremendous problems w figuring out what was wrong. Now I’m doing a very speedy recovery. Great article with helpful links. Thank you so much for putting this out!

    Reply
  12. Vincent J Patti, ACSW

    This article is a great primer and a helpful reminder for when we codependents forget who we are.

    Reply
  13. Michelle

    This was incredibly helpful! Thank you for the article and resources!

    Reply
  14. R.T.

    GREAT article.

    Reply
  15. T. C.

    I appreciate this article. Thank you! What information do you have for parents who still have underage children living at home with addictions (to video games and other electronic media). Addictions are a huge factor in my home and trying to maintain emotional stability, keep from co-dependency, is a huge struggle. Video game/technology addictions are just being accepted and understood in modern psychology. But I believe the base or root cause of addiction is probably fundamentally no different than other addictions, such as alcoholism. Any help is appreciated.

    Reply
  16. Megan

    I am not condepment however my sister is as for me? I put myself first being condepment means putting others before your self and not giving yourself time for you.

    Reply
  17. Jonathan Dowdy

    I am now learning about my Codependency. I want to learn more. Thanks.

    Reply
  18. LC

    Great article! Thank you for the links and other resources! If I understand them correctly, most of these resources seem directed at the person that is over-giving or over-caring. Can you recommend any additional resources for the person that is not taking enough responsibility? For example, the adult child that has experienced substance use and been enabled by a parent, but (the adult child) is now starting to realize this.

    Reply
  19. Jim C

    3rd generation preachers kid MD failed suicide attempt, yrs of therapy I finally belong in AA, eventually found Codependency group of prisoners returning to life at home–They, really motivated to “get it right” helped me see we could gain hope if we did the work of changing.

    Reply
  20. Xolani Ndaba

    Thank you very much, great article & keep up the good work!

    Reply
  21. Kapil

    Very helpful information. It seems it has all the information on co dependency that anyone may need. I have recently been able to see these symptoms in myself. Your article is a time saver for many. Thanks!

    Reply
  22. Aryi M L Peebles

    I love the article however I hate CODA all of its ideology is focused on meeding a god to heal you. Didnt work for me I prefer science over some man in the sky healing my prayersm I beleive that we have to do the work to heal ourselves.

    Reply
    • Nechama Ausubel

      I think Coda poses no contradiction to working on ourselves. I started going to Coda meetings and am overwhelmed by the realization of how much work I need to do to heal myself. asking for help from a higher source, adn relinquishing control is just one step in this whole journey.
      I wish you and myself and all the other codependents in the world a lot of success and the ability to do the work and heal. and part of it is really learning to relinquish control.
      Thanks for a great and informative article with links!

      Reply
    • Janer

      Too bad you have been taught to believe in a god in the sky! I believe god is in each of us… deep in our mind we can access the wisdom of god to create our own life outcomes. God is life energy in the positive aspect. We can all tap into it…try meditation…

      Reply
      • RR84

        I don’t believe in God and the meetings are open. You can give your control over to God, the Universe, the sun, the moon, whatever the hell you please. So quit saying it’s all about God.

        Reply
  23. MN

    This is one of the best articles I’ve seen and a great aggregate of resources with extra links to other articles or tests. Thank you so much. I was very upset with myself and situation but decided to go for it and went to a CoDA meeting. I felt ashamed and confused at my new self-discovery but codependency has really explained my patterns of behavior for most of my life. After my second meeting, I’ve felt more accepting of myself and empowered to change my habits to improve myself because I love myself.

    Reply
  24. Pammie Ramsey

    Thank you so much for the post! It was very helpful. My ex-husband had alcohol and drug dependence issues. I had 2 kids with him and was married almost 25 years before finally leaving.I know I have co-dependant issues and sure my kids do also. Have been trying to heal and move forward.

    Reply
  25. Amanda

    Great article! This link no longer works- Codependency Test from Hamrah

    Reply
  26. Kyle

    See this is an article I can appreciate, citations, books, references. Beautifully written and credible. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Craig Smith

      Hi Kyle, thanks for reading and the vote of confidence 🙂

      Reply
  27. Margaret

    Your article is, for me, the first step in a new journey. I used one of the resources and am feeling encouraged…a little overwhelmed with all there is to do, but mostly I feel supported.
    Thank you

    Reply
  28. helen westbrook

    Helen July 2018 1630
    Thank you the article is set out in a clear and helpful way. I particularly like the amount of references and the way you have made it possible to look further at articles that sound interesting or appropriate to my own exploration and I believe that I have found insights here to help me understand my own dilemma’s . Have you looked at the issue of parents with children with disability and related mental health issues?

    Reply
    • JBC

      Helen, I have a daughter with intellectual disabilities and find myself struggling with these issues with her. Thank you for asking the question and sparking my interest to do more research. Best to you and yours. ❤️

      Reply
  29. PSW

    6 page pdf link no longer works

    Reply
    • Jessie van den Heuvel

      Hi there, thanks for your message. I’ve fixed the link 🙂

      Reply
  30. Felix Rodriguez

    Thank you very much. This was very insightful and productive in helping my loved ones.
    Keep up the good work.
    Thank you kindly
    Felix

    Reply
  31. Valerie Hesketh, LCPC-c

    Very comprehensive. Excellent resources.

    Reply
  32. Juli

    Thanks great article

    Reply
  33. JC

    Awesome post. Very helpsul. Great job helping people.

    Reply

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