Codependency: Which is Me and Which is You?

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Photo by Heather Mount

The word codependency has been somewhat of a buzz word since the late 80’s. Generally, we’re referring to someone who is extremely clingy with her partner. However, codependency is much deeper than that. A codependent relationship becomes so enmeshed that each partner forgets which is me and which is you.

The lines between where you end and the other person starts are blurred.

A person who is codependent will plan their entire life around pleasing the other person, or the enabler.

In its simplest terms, a codependent relationship is when one partner needs the other partner, who in turn, needs to be needed. This circular relationship is the basis of what experts refer to when they describe the “cycle” of codependency.

Photo by Eric Ward

What Creates a Codependent Person?

Codependency evolved from the term co-addict. The co-addict was the person living with the addict. This person became sick through living with the distorted thinking  and behaviors that surround addiction. (Emotional Sobriety, Tian Dayton, PhD), (

Today, newer research has recognized codependency as a trait resulting from any dysfunctional family.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristics

So, you ask, what is a dysfunctional family? Realistically, every family has some level of dysfunction because we’re human. Think of it as a continuum. About half of families fall in the middle of the continuum.

The others are in the unhealthy range.

A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame.  Sadly, it is ignored or denied. Therefore, these families are unpredictable, chaotic, and often unsafe for the children. The core problems include any of the following:

  • A family member’s addiction to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
  • The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • A family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness

There are consistently three rules within these families. They are never verbally expressed, but each family member knows and abides by the rules. Each begins with don’t:

  • talk
  • trust
  • feel

The addiction, abuse, or illness sits like an elephant in the middle of the home.  The problem is never openly acknowledged. As a result, other family members learn that it isn’t ok to talk about it to others. They also learn that their own needs are not important.

Photo by Munga Thigani

They become survivors.

In doing so, family members develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. Therefore, they become numb to their genuine feelings. In addition, the identity and emotional development of the children are often inhibited.

How Do You Know if You’re Codependent?

Codependents spend a lot of time managing the world around them so that they can feel less anxious. One way they do this is to try to anticipate danger and head it off at the pass. (Dayton, Emotional Sobriety)

At a young age, we learned  to be hyper-focused, scanning our caregivers for emotional signals. (The Body Keeps the Score, Van der Kolk), (

There are several characteristics of codependent people. Codependents Anonymous has broken their list down into common attitudes and behavior patterns.  It’s useful, especially if this is first time you have considered it for yourself.

Admittedly, I was appalled when a therapist suggested I was codependent. The term, itself, seemed to imply weakness. Nevertheless, I recognized myself in many of the characteristics!

Moreover, working with therapists has taught me a lot about the damage done to children raised in the home of an addict. (My parent was traumatized by an alcoholic father). Working in the field of therapy taught me more.

Characteristics if Codependents

Photo by Alex Green

If you recognize yourself in anything written so far, I invite you to check out the links I have provided both above and below. Following is a list of characteristics:

  • An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
  • A tendency to always do more than their share
  • Become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship to avoid being alone, (even if it’s unhealthy.)
  • An extreme need for approval and recognition
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
  • A compelling need to control others
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others
  • Fear of being abandoned
  • Difficulty identifying feelings
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with intimacy/boundaries
  • Chronic anger
  • Lying/dishonesty
  • Poor communications
  • Difficulty making decisions

Help and Hope For The Codependent

Next week we’re going to look more at what codependency looks like in adult relationships. In addition, we’ll look at steps to healing. For now, I want to close with help and hope.

First, I want to point you to Melody Beattie’s seminal book that put codependency on the map, so to speak. The book is, Codependent No More, published in 1986. (

Alcoholics Anonymous has been helping codependent spouses since the ’30’s, but Beatties’s book lit a spark in the culture. Consequently, her work revealed the far-reaching effects of the behavior.

Created For Relationship

In Genesis 2:18, God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

Since the beginning, God knew we humans functioned much better in relationships. Relationships are ideally a nurturing thing. They give us a sense of belonging. Supposedly, relationships are our safe place.

Yet, relationships can be painful, even destructive.

Unfortunately, they can all have a measure of pain. We can learn from some pain. However, relationships should never be destructive.

We must realize our identity doesn’t depend on our performance or our ability to please someone else.

For codependents, the drive to perform and gain approval is deep seated. Nevertheless, it is an empty pursuit. It leaves you damaged every time. (Untangling Relationships – A Christian’s Perspective on Codependency, Pat Springle), (

The Bible – A Place to Begin

The Bible has another solution. For example, one place is in Ephesians. There are key points in Chapter 1. Paul instructs us to find our identity in Christ, and no one else.

Ephesians 1:3-8, 13-14:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insightIn him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…

When we are in relationship with God, we are:

  • chosen
  • adopted
  • forgiven
  • sealed; it’s forever

If you aren’t in relationship with Him, He wants you to be.


Self-test for co-dependency

CoDa 12 Steps

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