So What IS Codependency?


One of many definitions of codependency is: a set of *maladaptive, *compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing *great emotional pain and stress

*maladaptive – inability for a person to develop behaviors which get needs met.

*compulsive – psychological state where a person acts against their own will or conscious desires in which to behave.

*sources of great emotional pain and stress – chemical dependency; chronic mental illness; chronic physical illness; physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; divorce; hypercritical or non-loving environment.

As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. And the codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued unfulfillment.

Even when a codependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the codependent person still operates in their own system; they’re not likely to get too involved with people who have healthy boundaries. This of course creates problems that continue to recycle; if codependent people can’t get involved with people who have healthy behaviors and coping skills, then the problems continue into each new relationship.



  • controlling behavior
  • distrust
  • perfectionism
  • avoidance of feelings
  • intimacy problems
  • caretaking behavior
  • hypervigilance (a heightened awareness for potential threat/danger)
  • physical illness related to stress


General rules set-up within families that may cause codependency may include:

  • It’s not okay to talk about problems
  • Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep feelings to yourself
  • Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation
  • Be strong, good, right, perfect
  • Make us proud beyond realistic expectations
  • Don’t be selfish
  • Do as I say not as I do
  • It’s not okay to play or be playful
  • Don’t rock the boat.
  • The co-dependent becomes so compliant and passive, eager to please the others that s/he really does forget to know what s/he wants/likes/prefers
  • Typically, the co-dependent person came from a dysfunctional home in which their emotional needs were not met. Their parents were not able to provide the attention, warmth and responsiveness which kids need in order to feel that their needs count. So, they grew up feelings that their needs did NOT matter, that their desires were unimportant, that they themselves were 2nd class citizens. Over time, the co-dependent person actually FORGETS what her or his needs, desires, feelings about things even are!

Of course, as kids, we try and try to get the response we need from our parents…at least until we give up completely. But we remain always drawn to that same sort of familiar person…an emotionally unavailable person whom we can try to get love from, whom we can try to change. The need to re-play the childhood drama and TRY, TRY, TRY to achieve a different ending is so intense, that it determines even the type of person the co-dependent is drawn to.

A person who is kind, stable, reliable and interested would not be attractive, typically, to the co-dependent person…they would appear “boring.” Having received very little nurturing, the co-dependent tries to fill this unmet need vicariously, by becoming a care-giver, especially to any person who appears in some way needy.

The co-dependent is often immobilized by romantic obsessions. They search for the “magical quality” in others to make them feel complete. They might idealize other people and endow them with powerful symbolism.

In the relationship, the co-dependent will do anything to keep it from dissolving. This is because s/he is terrified of abandonment, the same psychic abandonment s/he felt as a kid when the parents were not there. So nothing is too much trouble, takes too much time or is too expensive if it will “help” the person the co-dependent is involved with.

Co-dependents are willing to take more than 50% of the responsibility, guilt and blame in any relationship (one person told me that when people bumped into her, she was the one who said, “I’m sorry.”)

Accustomed to lack of love in a relationship, co-dependents are willing to wait, hope, and try harder to please. At the same time, they have a desperate need to control the relationship. This is because the need to exact the missing love and security is the foremost motivation in any relationship for a co-dependent. Co-dependent people mask these efforts to control people and situations as “being helpful.” In fact, attempts to “help” other people, when these others are adults, almost always have elements of control in them.

The paradox here is that co-dependents really fear relationships, because of their bad track record at home! But they continually search for them. In the relationship, they fear abandonment and rejection, or they are chronically angry. But outside of a relationship, they feel empty and incomplete. This is because their self-esteem is critically low, and deep inside, there is some sort of belief that they do not deserve the love they seek, they do not deserve to be happy. Rather, they must work to earn the right to be happy…and of course, they never win.

By being drawn to people with problems that need fixing, or by being enmeshed in situations that are chaotic, uncertain and emotionally painful, they avoid focusing on their responsibility to themselves.

While constantly seeking intimacy with another person, the “desperate” quality of their needs makes true intimacy impossible. In trying to conceal the demanding-ness from themselves and others, they grow more isolated and alienated from themselves and from the very people they long to be close to! They may be predisposed emotionally and often biochemically to becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, and/or certain foods, especially sugary ones. They may have a tendency toward episodes of depression, which they try to forestall through the excitement provided by unstable relationships.

No doubt about it, co-dependency can be a serious, even fatal addiction. Most of us have some of these characteristics, at least at times. And we have to ask what can be done about it? Fortunately, there is hope for the person caught in the trap of co-dependent relationships/personality traits. Recovery from co-dependency is much like recovery from any other addiction: it takes time, commitment, and a willingness to do the work.

 Help and Hope for Co-Dependency

We will discuss the recovery process, for there is help and hope for people suffering from this dynamic. Even a slight effort toward recovery will make a difference, and there are many resources available to anyone who wishes to begin the recovery process. Here are the steps for recovery as outlined by the 12-step recovery group, Co-dependents Anonymous:

  • Go for help. A reputable therapist or a recovery group is a very important tool here, because others can help you see your own co-dependent behavior and attitudes in ways you may not see yourself. Co-dependents Anonymous (CODA) is a free group which meets in many places around the country. Therapists likewise can help, and are everywhere. Therapy clinics often offer low fee, professional services provided by therapists who are training for advanced certification.
  • Make recovery a first priority. Like all addictions, co-dependency is insidious; you may recognize yourself in the symptoms, but then deny their importance, or deny that they apply to you after all. You make decide to change, and then time after time, find yourself doing the same old things. Making recovery a first priority means outlining your destructive behaviors, finding alternative behaviors, and then implementing them! It means going to meetings, challenging yourself, talking with others about changing, and then changing!
  • Identify with others in your group and begin to know yourself. The more you learn about this disease, the more you will see how it creeps into every aspect of your life, and how destructive it can be. Listening to others, and identifying with them can help you recognize yourself and understand yourself better. These are the first steps toward accepting and loving yourself, and setting higher standards, more appropriate goals.
  • Develop a spiritual side through daily practice. An inner life is important to those recovering from co-dependency, because it will allow you to see that you are loveable, and that your whole world does not have to revolve around the other person. Your practice might be daily meditation, reflecting on nature, watching the sunrise or sunset, playing music and experiencing its effects on your body, praying to a higher power, working in your garden…any activity which is serene and focuses you on a source of nurturance outside of your brain.
  • Stop managing and controlling others. This is a big challenge, but an important one. Here you stop telling the other what to do, how to live, what is wrong – or right! – with him or her. You stop intervening, helping, advising, trying to make things better, trying to fix it, trying to force a solution. You simply stop. You allow this other person to make his or her own decisions, for right or for wrong, you let them live their own life. This includes taking responsibility for their own mistakes, their future, their unhappiness, their issues and their own growth.
  • Courageously face your own problems and shortcomings. Now that you have liberated your energy from the other person’s life, you have lots of time and energy to focus on your own life. All the things that occupied you with the other might actually need attention in your OWN life! Often co-dependents in recovery say that they never realized how chaotic their own lives were, or how empty, how lonely, etc. Now is your time to face yourself, instead of dissipating your energy on trying to fix someone else.
  • Cultivate whatever you need to develop as an individual. In facing yourself, you may see that you need to get in touch with your anger, or grieve what you have lost or what you never had, or contact your inner life. You need to sit still with yourself, that is important…WITH YOURSELF…and find out what you need to do, what you need to be, what you need to address to continue with your development.
  • Become “selfish.” At this point, you need to practice putting yourself first. Do you know how they tell parents on airplanes to always put on your oxygen mask first before trying to help a child with its mask? The adult has to be able to breathe and to have his or her needs adequately addressed before being able to help anybody. This is true for all aspects of life, not just for oxygen masks! Make sure your basic needs are met before you start giving away your time, energy, money, and other resources. Make sure you get your sleep, your meals, your serenity, and whatever else is important to you. When you are adequately supplied, then and only then will you have “stuff” to give to someone else. When co-dependents tell me that they really don’t care what decisions are made, and it’s ok for the other person to run the show, I tell them to START CARING…to show up and have an opinion. It is important here to learn how to advocate for yourself.
  • Begin to feel that you are worthy of all life has to offer. This is tricky. Most people, if asked, will say “of course I think I am worthy!” But if you look at their lives, you may see a pattern which belies that belief. They are unhappy in their work, underemployed, bored or otherwise unhappy. Perhaps they don’t take care of their bodies, and fail to consult doctors when they need to. Or they overwork, and fail to give themselves enough rest. One woman blew off her doctor’s appointment to help her lover with some clerical work; another person needed to be reminded that she was entitled to take her vitamins and be healthy. One way to know the areas in your life in which you have low self-esteem is to look at the places in your life which don’t work! What do you tend to complain about? What needs fixing in your life? In your personality? How do these areas reflect low self-esteem?

Recovery from co-dependency is based on increased self-esteem…a self-esteem which can be gained by increased self-knowledge, your strong points and your weak points, and a full acceptance of yourself. There is a basic self-love, which you carefully nurture and expand.

You get in touch with your feelings and attitudes about every aspect of your personality, including your sexuality.

You begin to not only accept, but to actually cherish every aspect of yourself: your personality, your appearance, your beliefs and values, your body, your interests and accomplishments.

You begin to validate yourself, rather than searching for a relationship to give you a sense of self-worth. As you do this, you can enjoy being with others, especially lovers, who are fine just as they are. You will not need to be needed in order to feel worthy.

You also work on accepting others as they are, without trying to change them to meet your needs.

You know that you are safe because your standards are higher; you become open and trusting, but only with APPROPRIATE people.

You no longer expose yourself to the exploitation of those who are not interested in your well-being.

Your higher criteria and standards are reflected in your approach to relationships. Now, instead of hanging on to your relationship for dear life, you ask, “Is this relationship good for me?

Does it allow me to grow into all I am capable of being?

“When the answer is no, when a relationship is destructive, you are able to let go of it without becoming terrified or unduly depressed.

You will find a circle of supportive friends and healthy interests to see you through crises.

Your values change; now, rather than a partner, you value your peace of mind and serenity above all else.

You lose interest in the struggles, drama and chaos of the past.

You become protective of yourself, your health and your well-being.

You come to realize that for a relationship to work, it must be between partners who share similar values, interests, and goals, and who each have the capacity for intimacy. You come to know that you are worthy of the best that life has to offer, and you know that with help, perhaps, you can find a way to achieve that!



I am a good person.

I am intelligent.

Today, I will put all negativity behind me.

I am loved.

Today, I will rejoice in my abilities.

I have many talents.

My Higher Power loves me.

Today, I have confidence.

I am not a victim.

I look forward to each new day.

I no longer feel the need to control others.

I will be who I am.

I affirm my worth and goodness.

I am a loving person.

I am a strong person.

I am a friendly person.

I am a capable person.

I am not alone.

I am emotionally calm.

I respect myself.

I feel happy.

I am at peace with myself.

I am a responsible person.

I can be playful.

I can trust all of my thoughts and emotions.

I trust people.

I make decisions confidently.

Today I am a new person.

I touch those near me with love and gentleness.

I have a new awareness in my life.

I acknowledge my needs.

I allow my Higher Power to enter my life today.

I trust in the serenity my Higher Power provides.

I am calm and tranquil.

I can face my fears and work to overcome them.

I take full charge of my life today.

I let serenity flow into my life.

I feel appreciated today.

I can give to others with no strings attached.

I accept my parents and affirm my independence from them.

I am independent.

I can meet new opportunities without fear.

I am alert.

I will not be intimidated.

I am joyful.

I will seek out friends today.

I am a friendly person.

I am a good listener.

I do not dwell on the past.

I look for new challenges.

I feel complete today.

I feel great hope.

I feel great potential for myself.

I feel surrounded by love.

I can make things happen.

I feel relaxed.

I am a resourceful person.

I am non-judgmental.

I am tactful in my dealings with others.

I am learning to express my love.

I feel good about myself.

I express my feelings.

I make wise choices.

I treat myself with kindness and patience.

I am an important person.

I am beginning to establish my limits.

I am in charge of my life.

I forgive myself and others who have hurt me.

I am a friend to myself.

I can enjoy leisure without guilt and anxiety.

I can express my anger openly, honestly and appropriately.

Today I view my childhood without shame.

I open my heart to my inner child.

I can handle criticism with ease.



12 Step Slogans Since the Beginning of Time

First Things First

Live and Let Live

Let go and let God

Time takes time

One day at a time

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less

Live life on life’s terms

You can’t think your way into a new way of living…you have to live your way into a new way of thinking

GOD = Good Orderly Direction

HALT = don’t get to Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

Your worth should never depend on another persons opinion

HOW it works = Honesty, Open mindedness, and Willingness

SLIP = Sobriety Lost Its Priority

Don’t pick up, ask for help, call your sponsor, and go to meetings

It’s a simple program for complicated people

It works if you work it

Learn to listen and listen to learn

Many meetings, many chances; few meetings, few chances; no meetings, no chances

Meeting makers make it

People who don’t go to meetings don’t hear about what happens to people who don’t go to meetings

To keep what you have, you have to give it away

How does it work? It works just fine

If you don’t want to slip, stay away from slippery places

If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got

If you sit in the barber’s chair long enough, you’ll eventually get a haircut

Most things can be preserved in alcohol; dignity, however, is not one of them

Progress, not perfection


Keep it simple

This too shall pass

Stick with the winners

H O P E = Happy Our Program Exists

Recovery is a journey …not a destination

To thine own self be true

Turn it over

Nothing is so bad, a drink won’t make it worse

Willingness is the key

Keep the plug in the jug

Do it sober

Hugs not Drugs

Just for Today

Pass it on

Don’t quit before the miracle happens

Time takes time

Use the 24-hour plan

When all else fails, follow directions

Change is a process, not an event

Call your sponsor before, not after, you take the first drink

I was sick and tired of being sick and tired

It’s the first drink that gets you drunk

Take what you can use and leave the rest

Help is only a phone call away

One drink is too many and a thousand not enough

Keep coming back

Easy does it

Principles before personalities

Seven days without a meeting makes one weak

If it looks like a Duck and it Quacks like a Duck it’s probably a Duck

One of the best parts of recovery is getting your feelings back. The worst part is getting your feelings back.

A GRATEFUL Alcoholic won’t drink

Give time…time

Is your program powered by Will Power or Higher Power?

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude

Misery is optional

God never made no junk

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less

Live life on life’s terms

You can’t think your way into a new way of living…you have to live your way into a new way of thinking

The key to freedom is in the Steps

If you want to stay clean, don’t use

Learn to listen and listen to learn

Nobody ever found recovery as a result of an intellectual awakening

Call your sponsor before, not after, you take the first drink

You only get out of it what you put into it

An addict alone is in bad company

You can only keep what you have by giving it away

Recovery begins with the First Step

Nothing changes if nothing changes

It is possible to change without improving – it is impossible to improve without change

Experience, strength and hope not opinions, bullshit and dope

An addict cannot be grateful and hateful at the same time

Easy does it but do it

Serenity is not freedom from the storm but peace amid the storm

Feelings are not facts

Turn it over, don’t turn it off

Seven days without a meeting makes one weak

Growing old is mandatory – Growing up is optional

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