11 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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f you habitually put your partner’s wants and needs before your own, you might be living in a codependent relationship. What may initially begin as a posture of selflessness and love can quickly turn into a codependent style in relationships where a person is willing to do anything just to make their partner happy.

Codependency is characterised by a pattern of letting go of your own needs, well-being, and self-care to put your energy into supporting other people in life. If you have been stuck in this cycle for some time, you probably understand how difficult it can be to break free from it. Codependency recovery is indeed a long-term process that requires mindful self-love and self-care.

While it is possible to overcome codependency, remember that the process will take some time and include trial and error. Consider understanding the differences between healthy and unhealthy behaviours, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help to conquer codependency.

Codependency refers to a particular behavioural addiction that drastically affects relationships. The problem often leads to unhealthy one-sided associations that might be emotionally destructive for one or both partners. Codependent relationships are most experienced by people fighting substance abuse, and its effects can quickly extend to their family members, friends, and other close ones.

A codependent individual, usually the person who uses substances, has multiple emotional and physical needs. To fulfil these needs, another person, usually a family member or a friend, devotes most of their energy and time. In such circumstances, the latter party is said to be a codependent who spends so much time and energy supporting their loved ones that their activities and life begin to suffer.

Codependency can be highly detrimental to both parties, particularly the codependent individual. Such individuals often become so habitual of living in codependency that they cannot maintain a life away from these unhealthy behaviours. A codependent individual is over-attentive and an enabler of the challenges that their loved one faces. As a result, they may end up complicating their recovery.

Some commonly recognisable symptoms of a codependent person may include:

  • Believing that they can take care of themselves without any help from others
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Feeling a need to be a caregiver for others
  • Constantly seeking praise and recognition from others
  • Facing difficulties in setting boundaries or maintaining it
  • Poor communication skills
  • Obsessing over relationships, even if these relationships lack an emotional connection
  • Practising extreme loyalty, even if the relationship is harmful or abusive
  • A constant need to please others
  • Struggling to maintain a favourable opinion of self in others’ eyes
  • Difficulty in handling a change
  • Frequently taking up more responsibilities of a higher share of work than the other partner

Because of the poor self-esteem that codependent people usually suffer from, they may constantly search for some activity that keeps them busy or makes them feel better about themselves. When such people take on the role of a caretaker for someone struggling with an addiction, their intentions are usually positive. However, with time, their desire to take care of them turns into a compulsion. Hence, they may convert their caretaker role into a protector and martyr for the other person. Eventually, they start covering for them or giving excuses on their behalf. For example, a wife may constantly make excuses on behalf of her alcohol-dependent husband.

While these behaviours successfully rescue the individuals stuck with an addiction, they also set them on a path of self-destruction instead of helping them heal. Additionally, these constant rescue attempts encourage the addicts to depend more and more on their codependent partners and their unhelpful style of caring. In light of all these situations, it would not be wrong to say that codependency only adds another level of difficulty to the challenges of someone dealing with addiction. It can severely affect both parties, i.e. the person addicted to a substance and their close relations.

Codependency can easily affect both partners in a relationship. These negative effects include the following:

Negative Consequences on the codependent individual

When a codependent enters a relationship with an addict, they may experience a range of negative consequences. These consequences can take a toll on their mental and physical health in addition to straining their relationships. Such individuals are also at a higher risk of developing an addiction themselves.

Because codependents are likely to over-devote themselves to the addict, they eventually lose all other external relationships. Moreover, since they start spending most of their time and energy taking care of their partner, their other responsibilities that are not a part of this relationship eventually suffer.

Negative Consequences on the addicted individual

A codependent relationship can enable the addicted individual to be more involved in destructive behaviours, making treatment more difficult. Additionally, a codependent individual may hamper the addicted person’s attempt to engage in the recovery process. Even if the addicted individual still manages to get treatment, the chance of relapse may be higher due to the underlying codependent relationship.

It is entirely possible to successfully overcome codependency on your own with some simple self-care tips. Some of these tips include the following:

Understand what a healthy relationship means

Familiarising yourself with the definition of a healthy relationship is critical to breaking the codependent patterns in your relationship. A healthy relationship consists of multiple traits, such as making time for each other, being open and honest, maintaining independence, having equality, and showing affection.

Set healthy boundaries

People in healthy relationships are often supportive of each other, but at the same time, they also respect each other’s boundaries. A boundary refers to the limit one establishes on what they are willing and unwilling to accept as a part of a relationship. So take some time out and think about what is acceptable to you in your current relationship. While it is a good practice to listen to your partner, do not let their issues consume your life. Practice saying no and turn down requests when they are stepping over your boundaries.

Take care of yourself

People in codependent relationships often struggle with low self-esteem, which worsens their issues. To start healing from codependency, you must begin to value yourself. Find out about the things that genuinely make you happy, and think about the life you wish to live. Invest time in activities you love to do and struggle to replace negative self-talk with a more positive one. Take good care of yourself by eating good food and treating yourself with little presents now and then.

Though it’s possible to break free from codependent patterns on your own, professional therapy is often required for complete recovery. Research indicates that different types of therapy can successfully help people improve their quality of life by learning how to stop being codependent.

These therapies include:

Group Therapy

Multiple group interventions can effectively overcome codependent behaviours in patients. Conducting these interventions in a group setting allows individuals to establish healthy relationships in an appropriate space. Moreover, such therapy also includes positive feedback and accountability, which only improve the chances of recovery. The structure of group therapy may vary from one rehab to another. While some treatment centres focus on teaching skill-building strategies, others utilise cognitive behavioural therapy to help clients overcome their unhealthy behaviours. Similarly, some group therapy sessions are based on the 12-step model to improve self-esteem, self-awareness, and emotional expression in clients.

Family Therapy

The purpose of family therapy is to target and improve dysfunctional dynamics. As a part of this therapy, family members learn to identify dysfunctional patterns and how to improve them for the establishment of healthier relationships. Family therapy mainly focuses on improving communication between different members of the family. It also encourages the participants to raise issues that have never been discussed.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy targets destructive thoughts and behaviours contributing to unhealthy relationship patterns. For example, a person who believes they cannot stand being alone is more likely to go to any length to maintain a relationship, even at the expense of their own mental health. In such circumstances, cognitive therapy helps clients learn how to deal with uncomfortable emotions and allows them to change these irrational thoughts.

One of the chief goals of cognitive therapy is to create positive changes in behaviour and allow clients to accept responsibility for their actions. Such treatment often explores the clients’ childhood since it is when most people develop codependent patterns.



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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In the present hyper-independent society, codependency gets a bad reputation, which is why it is suggested that people who are struggling with it start by developing compassion for themselves when they become stuck in codependent cycles. Many of the attributes that individualistic societies consider "codependent" are celebrated in communalistic civilizations. For instance, putting everyone else first, self-sacrifice for the greater good, and a profound understanding of others' needs. Codependency does not imply that you are weak or imperfect, or that you have "failed" to look after yourself. It denotes your status as a relational survivor.

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