CODEPENDENCY (Resource: Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC)

in sociologycodependency is a theory that attempts to explain imbalanced relationships where one person enables another person's self-destructive behavior[1] such as addiction, poor mental healthimmaturityirresponsibility, or under-achievement.[2]

Definitions of codependency vary, but typically include high self-sacrifice, a focus on others' needs, suppression of one's own emotions, and attempts to control or fix other people's problems.[3] People who self-identify as codependent exhibit low self-esteem, but it is unclear whether this is a cause or an effect of characteristics associated with codependency.[4] Codependency is not limited to married, partnered, or romantic relationships, as co-workers, friends, and family members can be codependent as well.


The term “codependency” most likely developed in Minnesota in the late 1970s from “co-alcoholic”, when alcoholism and other drug dependencies were grouped together as “chemical dependency.” The term is most often identified with Alcoholics Anonymous and the realization that the alcoholism was not solely about the addict but also about the family and friends who constitute a network for the alcoholic.[7]

The term “codependent” was first used to describe how family members and friends might interfere with the recovery of a person affected by a substance use disorder by "overhelping".[8] Application of the concept of codependency was driven by the self-help community.

In 1986, Psychiatrist Timmen Cermak wrote Diagnosing and Treating Co-Dependence: A Guide for Professionals. In that book and an article published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Cermak argued unsuccessfully for the inclusion of codependency as a separate personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-III-R.[9] He found that the condition could affect people close to people with any mental disorder, not just addiction.

Melody Beattie popularized the concept of codependency in 1986 with the book Codependent No More which sold eight million copies,[10] with updated editions released in 1992 and 2022.[11] Drawing on her personal experience with substance abuse and caring for someone with it, she also interviewed people helped by Al-Anon. Beattie's work formed the underpinning of a twelve-step organisation called Co-Dependents Anonymous, founded in 1986,[12] although the group does not endorse any definition of or diagnostic criteria for codependency.[13]


Codependency has no established definition or diagnostic criteria within the mental health community. It has not been included as a condition in any edition of the DSM or ICD.

Codependency carries three potential levels of meaning. First, it can describe a didactic tool that, once explained to families, helps them normalize the feelings that they are experiencing and allows them to shift their focus from the dependent person to their own dysfunctional behavior patterns. Second, it can describe a psychological concept, a shorthand means of describing and explaining human behavior. Third, it can describe a psychological disorder, implying that there is a consistent pattern of traits or behaviors across individuals that can create significant dysfunction.

Discussion of codependency tends to focus on the disease model of the term, although there is no agreement that codependency is a disorder at all, or how such a disease entity might be defined or diagnosed.[16]: 723  In an early attempt to define codependency as a diagnosable disorder,[16] Timmen Cermak wrote, "Co-dependence is a recognizable pattern of personality traits, predictably found within most members of chemically dependent families, which are capable of creating sufficient dysfunction to warrant the diagnosis of Mixed Personality Disorder as outlined in DSM III." Timmen proceeded to list the traits he identified in self-suppressing supporting partners of people with chemical dependence or disordered personalities, and to provide a DSM-style set of diagnostic criteria.

In her self-help book, Melody Beattie proposes that, "The obvious definition [of codependency] would be: being a partner in dependency. This definition is close to the truth but still unclear." Beattie elaborates, "A codependent person is one who has let another person's behaviour affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behaviour."[23] Another self-help author, Darlene Lancer, asserts that "A codependent is a person who can’t function from his or her innate self and instead organizes thinking and behavior around a substance, process, or other person(s)."[24] Lancer includes all addicts in her definition. She believes a "lost self" is the core of codependency.

Co-Dependents Anonymous, a self-help organization for people who seek to develop healthy and functional relationships, "offer[s] no definition or diagnostic criteria for codependence",[25] but provides a list of "patterns and characteristics of codependence" that can be used by laypeople for self-evaluation.[26] The organization identifies patterns that may occur in codependency.[27]

The Medical Subject Heading utilized by the United States National Library of Medicine describes codependency as "A relational pattern in which a person attempts to derive a sense of purpose through relationships with others."[28]


Under theories of codependency as a psychological disorder, the codependent partner in a relationship is often described as displaying self-perception, attitudes and behaviors that serve to increase problems within the relationship instead of decreasing them. It is often suggested that people who are codependent were raised in dysfunctional families or with early exposure to addiction behavior, resulting in their allowance of similar patterns of behavior by their partner.[29]


Codependent relationships are often described as being marked by intimacy problems, dependency, control (including caretaking), denial, dysfunctional communication and boundaries, and high reactivity. There may be imbalance within the relationship, where one person is abusive or in control or supports or enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.[30]

Under this conception of codependency, the codependent person's sense of purpose within a relationship is based on making extreme sacrifices to satisfy their partner's needs. Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy "clinginess" and needy behavior, where one person does not have self-sufficiency or autonomy. One or both parties depend on their loved one for fulfillment.[31]

Personality Disorders

Codependency may occur within the context of relationships with people with diagnosable personality disorders.

  • Borderline personality disorder – there is a tendency for loved ones of people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) to slip into "caretaker" roles, giving priority and focus to problems in the life of the person with BPD rather than to issues in their own lives. The codependent partner may gain a sense of worth by being perceived as "the sane one" or "the responsible one".[32]
  • Narcissistic personality disorder – Narcissists, with their ability to get others to "buy into their vision" and help them make it a reality, seek and attract partners who will put others' needs before their own.[33] A codependent person can provide the narcissist with an obedient and attentive audience.[34] Among the reciprocally interlocking interactions of the pair are the narcissist's overpowering need to feel important and special and the codependent person's strong need to help others feel that way.

Family Dynamics

In the dysfunctional family the child learns to become attuned to the parent's needs and feelings instead of the other way around.[30] Parenting is a role that requires a certain amount of self-sacrifice and giving a child's needs a high priority. A parent can be codependent toward their own child.[35] Generally, a parent who takes care of their own needs (emotional and physical) in a healthy way will be a better caretaker, whereas a codependent parent may be less effective, or may even do harm to a child. Codependent relationships often manifest through enabling behaviors, especially between parents and their children. Another way to look at it is that the needs of an infant are necessary but temporary, whereas the needs of the codependent are constant. Children of codependent parents who ignore or negate their own feelings may become codependent.[36]

Recovery and prognosis

With no consensus as to how codependency should be defined, and with no recognized diagnostic criteria, mental health professionals hold a range of opinions about the diagnosis and treatment of codependency.[37] Caring for an individual with a physical addiction is not necessarily treating a pathology. The caregiver may only require assertiveness skills and the ability to place responsibility for the addiction on the other. There are various recovery paths for individuals who struggle with codependency. For example, some may choose cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, sometimes accompanied by chemical therapy for accompanying depression. There also exist support groups for codependency, such as Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), Al-Anon/AlateenNar-Anon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA), which are based on the twelve-step program model of Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery and Life Recovery a Christian 12 step Bible-based group.[40] Many self-help guides have been written on the subject of codependency.

It has been proposed that, in attempts to recover from codependency, people may go from being overly passive or overly giving to being overly aggressive or excessively selfish. Therapists may seek to help a client develop a balance through healthy assertiveness, which leaves room for being a caring person and also engaging in healthy caring behavior, while minimizing selfishness, bully, or behaviors that might reflect conflict addiction. Developing a permanent stance of being a victim (having a victim mentality) does not constitute recovery from codependency. A victim mentality could also be seen as a part of one's original state of codependency (lack of empowerment causing one to feel like the "subject" of events rather than being an empowered actor). Someone truly recovered from codependency would feel empowered and like an author of their life and actions rather than being at the mercy of outside forces. A victim mentality may also occur in combination with passive–aggressive control issues. From the perspective of moving beyond victim-hood, the capacity to forgive and let go (with exception of cases of very severe abuse) could also be signs of real recovery from codependency, but the willingness to endure further abuse would not.[38]

It is theorized that unresolved patterns of codependency may lead to more serious problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorderssex addiction, psychosomatic illnesses, and other self-destructive or self-defeating behaviors. People with codependency may be more likely to attract further abuse from aggressive individuals (such as those with BPD or NPD), more likely to stay in stressful jobs or relationships, less likely to seek medical attention when needed and are also less likely to get promotions and tend to earn less money than those without codependency patterns. For some people, the social insecurity caused by codependency may progress into full-blown social anxiety disorders like social phobiaavoidant personality disorder or painful shyness. Other stress-related disorders like panic disorderdepression or PTSD may also be present.[41]


Codependency is not a diagnosable mental health condition, there is no medical consensus as to its definition,[14] and there is no evidence that codependency is caused by a disease process.[42] Without clinical definition, the term is easily applicable to many behaviors and has been overused by some self-help authors and support communities.[43] In an article in Psychology Today, clinician Kristi Pikiewicz suggested that the term codependency has been overused to the point of becoming a cliché, and labeling a patient as codependent can shift the focus on how their traumas shaped their current relationships.[44]

Some scholars and treatment providers assert that codependency should be understood as a positive impulse gone awry, and challenge the idea that interpersonal behaviors should be conceptualized as addictions or diseases, as well as the pathologizing of personality characteristics associated with women.[45] A study of the characteristics associated with codependency found that non-codependency was associated with masculine character traits, while codependency was associated with negative feminine traits, such as being self-denying, self-sacrificing, or displaying low self-esteem.[46]

Resource: Wikipedia

Codependency is a common but difficult trait to deal with in relationships. This can be true whether there are codependent elements that exist in a romantic relationship, a workplace environment, or even at a platonic level. Perhaps because we assume troubled friendships aren’t as potentially damaging as romantic relationships can be, it may seem tempting to ignore or avoid problems when it comes to a codependent friendship — but doing so can be detrimental to both parties. 

A codependent friendship may seem harmless, and these relationships often go unnoticed or acknowledged until there’s simply no denying the harm the toxicity is causing. 

Learn more about what having, or being, a codependent friend can mean. It can be taxing emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Luckily, knowing more about the signs, causes, and how to overcome codependency can help you find peace, stability, and respect in your friendship. 

What is a Codependent Friendship?

Codependency in friendship is characterized by an overly persistent reliance on one another. There will always be both taker and giver roles in a codependent friendship. The taker may need emotional support from the giver, while the giver might, in turn, get a much-needed self-esteem boost or a feeling of importance from their role in the friendship.

Signs of Codependency in Friendships 

Ultimately, codependent relationships are unhealthy and toxic for both parties involved. Boundaries tend to be blurred in codependent friendships, and it’s common for both people to lose their sense of self as the friendship becomes more intertwined on all levels. 

While not all unhealthy relationships are codependent, there are some telltale signs that codependency might be something you’re dealing with.

One person is always trying to “fix” the other’s problems

1. It’s common in codependent friendships for the person playing the giver role to always feel a deep sense of responsibility towards the taker. 

Givers often want to fix problems, which can come at a price. The cost sometimes can even cause the giver pain as they spend exorbitant amounts of time, energy, and sometimes even money helping the taker.

2. One person needs to be rescued

In any relationship, it’s important to be willing to help someone you care about. It’s equally as important to be able to accept help if it’s coming from a good place. However, in a codependent friendship, there won’t be any reciprocation aspect, so one person is constantly giving to the other, despite knowing that if and when they themselves need help, their partner won’t be capable of returning the favor.

3. One person has anxiety or fears about the relationship

Takers may experience feelings of anxiety when their friend is not around or can’t spend time with them. They may start overthinking and obsessing over a fear that the relationship might end. Because of this, takers may become self-conscious that their friend might not want to spend time with them.

4. One or both people experience a feeling of burnout

Eventually, someone is going to feel the sensation of emotional burnout after being in a codependent relationship. The cyclical, repetitive taking and giving can only last so long. 

Particularly for the person in the giver role, the cycle can be exhausting, depleting a little bit more of their energy and happiness every time they engage until they get to the point that they have nothing left to give (to themself or their friend).

5. One or both people heavily rely and depend on the friendship

Being comfortable in a relationship is great, but when one or both of you become so dependent on the other person you can’t function alone any longer, it’s unhealthy. Though the roles are different, codependency can still have a dramatic impact on both the giver’s and the taker’s psyches.  

6. Both people tend to be upset at the same time

It might sound a little strange, but it’s very common for people in codependent relationships to experience shared emotions. You may take on feelings of duress, stress, anger, or even happiness based on how your friend is feeling. 

Rather than having individual, personal reactions to situations or experiences, people in codependent friendships often find their mood is easily dictated by their friends’ moods.

7. Individual choices aren’t common

Not only do codependent friends tend to take on one another’s emotions, but they also might find it difficult to make their own choices when they’re together. Further, they might stifle their own needs and can even have a sense of guilt if they try to establish independence from their friend.

8. Opinions are streamlined

Just as it can be difficult to make individual decisions and choices in a codependent friendship, expressing opinions can be equally as hard. For people who have a codependent friend, it might feel easier to just go along with what the friend thinks or feels rather than risk any source of tension in the friendship by disagreeing or expressing individual opinions.

9. The relationship is draining on one or both people

A codependent friendship can be exhausting for both people involved. It can suck all the life out of you. These unhealthy relationships often leave little time to focus on anything other than that specific friendship. The relationship can become draining and taxing, both mentally and physically, resulting in a lack of energy and time to put into other aspects of life.

10. One person’s needs come first

This might be one of the most obvious signs of codependency in friendship. If one person is continuously putting the other’s needs before their own, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a codependent friendship.

11. Jealousy is common  

Jealousy is a common theme in a lot of codependent friendships. It makes sense that if someone is overly dependent on a friend, it can be difficult for them to accept that person bonding or becoming close with someone else outside the friendship.

12. The relationship has high expectations or obligations

The expectations placed on the giver in a codependent relationship can be daunting. The dysfunction in the friendship may result in one person being expected to sacrifice and give anything and everything to the person who fills the taker role. 

13. There’s a high level of emotional need

Codependent friendships often involve incredible levels of emotional dependency between both people. Essentially, though it may not be obvious to those in the relationship, codependency generally involves two people using each other to get what they need emotionally. 

14. One person is always giving, while the other is always taking

A hallmark sign of a codependent friendship is they’re strikingly one-sided. As we’ve seen through the roles that are played (we have a giver and a taker), codependency depends on that very thing — one person giving while the other takes. The roles may not ever be reversed, meaning whoever is the giver may rarely, if ever, get their own needs fulfilled in the relationship.

15. Outside friends are cut off

Codependent friendships rely on strict roles that are already being filled. The result can be a very closed-off circle of friends. Because the taker relies on sympathy and care they get, and the giver likely thrives on the power they feel as the caretaker, it’s unlikely that anyone else would be welcomed into the cycle.

16. The relationship feels scripted

The roles in a codependent relationship are stringent and unwavering. As a result, the friendship can start to feel like it’s scripted, playing out the same scenario with the same outcome day after day.

17. One person typically feels used

It’s very common for one person in a codependent friendship to feel used. Whether that’s you or the other party, the feeling can become exhausting.

18. One or both people is inauthentic in the relationship

Authenticity is important in any friendship, but in codependent relationships, one person often feels like they’re hiding or stifling their true self. By ignoring their authentic self, it can be easier to fill their role in the relationship without having to express opinions, feelings, or reactions to situations and events.

19. A distorted sense of reality is present

Because codependency perpetuates a cycle of unhealthy patterns, friendships can end up offering a distorted sense of reality. The giver can internalize a sense of self-importance and worth as they rescue the taker over and over. Likewise, the taker can fulfill their need to be wanted and taken care of.

20. One person in the relationship fills the “decision-making” role

Most takers in a codependent friendship rely heavily on the giver to make virtually all major decisions for them. It can be an incredible sense of stress and may weigh heavily on the giver, especially if things don’t pan out and the taker has someone to blame.

Causes of Codependency in Friendships

So, what causes codependency in friendships? It’s common for someone to develop codependency tendencies based on what they experienced in their childhood years. 

“Abandonment early on in life, low feelings of self-worth, difficulties navigating social situations are all causes of codependency in friendships.”

– Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

As young children, we need and seek out support, love, and validation from the caretakers in our life. If we don’t get it, we develop coping skills to survive and often become “fixers,” learning to rely on ourselves for the things we need. It’s easy to see where and how the roles of taker and giver may infiltrate relationships later in life. 

How to Overcome a Codependent Friendship 

If you or someone you care about is in a codependent friendship, there’s good news. Regardless of who fills which role, you can learn how to stop being codependent in your friendship.

If your friend is codependent

If you realize that a friend is codependent on you, use the following coping strategies to alter the course of the friendship and develop healthy interactions.

Look back at the history of the friendship

Looking back at your own history can help you determine where in life you developed the need to be a fixer. This knowledge can be a game changer. Studies show that people who end up in adult codependent relationships often come from difficult family life. 

It’s not uncommon to have more than one codependent relationship, so taking the time to go through this process is likely to help you in numerous aspects of your life.

Put yourself first

It might feel unnatural initially, but learning to put yourself first is incredibly powerful. Setting healthy friendship boundaries and then reinforcing them means that you’ll begin to feel comfortable expressing your own needs, wants, and opinions.

“You can ask for more space, while acknowledging how long you’ll be away, you can talk openly about how you both should live well-balanced lives, and you can support your friend in finding additional resources to be successful.”

– Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

Get ready for change

The change can be a positive one in that it steers the unhealthy friendship to a more positive and healthier place. That said, you should also be prepared for your friend to not be able or willing to participate in the newly defined friendship. They may not want to be in a close friendship once you’re no longer willing to give them anything and everything they want, whenever they need or expect it.

If you are the codependent one

If you’re reading this and suddenly realizing that you are in a codependent relationship, rest assured you can learn new, healthy behavior that lets you participate equally in the friendship.

Acknowledge there is an issue

The first step in becoming less codependent on someone is acknowledging that your codependent behavior contributes to the unhealthy aspects of the friendship. It’s important to note that you might not be able to change your friend’s behavior, but being willing to address and change your part can go a long way.

“Meeting with a therapist can help people understand the connection between abandonment and the need to be attached to other people. Creating space for a diversified approach to attachment and also inserting coping strategies to relieve anxiety along the way.” 

– Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

Practice self-care

Self-care is always important, but it becomes essential if you’ve begun relying on someone else for your basic needs. Focus on being able to fulfill your own needs in life so that you can unlearn the behavior of expecting someone else to take care of you. 

Journaling for mental health, working out, keeping a healthy sleep habit, eating well, and nurturing a healthy support system in your life are all ways you can begin to build your own strength, so you rely less on others.

Change your role

Make a conscious effort to start giving in the interpersonal relationship. Simple steps can go a long way — try asking about your friend’s day, offering to make or pick up food, or sending them a card with a simple expression of gratitude for their friendship.

(Resource: Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC)

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