What is Codependency?

Submitted by on Sunday, April 30, 20063 Comments

What is Codependency?

One can do a Google lookup of the term “codependent” or “codependency” and any website, authority, or psychologist will give you their version of what it means or what it is. They may or may not cite a source and it may or may not be the true definition of codependency. They may give you characteristics or describe situations in which a codependent manifestation is fertile ground for its planting.

One website indicated it was due to a disturbed childhood. Another website argued that it meant a spouse was an addict or alcoholic. Even others may say it’s a sort of disease. So what exactly does it mean when I classify someone as codependent?

I am going to keep it really simple because volumes of books and internet resources discuss codependency and how to recover from it. But if you’re anything like me, I want it broken down. Just the facts please ma’am.

From here on, in any of my blogs or articles on codependency I am always going to refer to this definition.

Codependency: Any one or more innumerable thoughts or actions in which we turn our autonomy or well-being over to another person.

What does Codependency Look Like?

Codependent behavior, following the above definition, can take on many forms. It can be behavior that is manipulative in seeking what it wants. It can look nonchalant, desperate, needy, independent, controlling, pitiful…Codependency is, at it’s root function, dishonest. Dishonesty with self and/or dishonesty with other relationships.

And this is why it’s hard for some people to identify or acknowledge. By the time a person comes to any realization that s/he may have some codependent attributes, their behavior and way of coping within the world is so ingrained and incorporated as “normal” [no such word but for this purpose let’s assume that normal = healthy] that s/he denies s/he is manipulative or dishonest.

I have an article here [ in its entirety ] that I will partially reprint describing what a codependent may look like:

I think we hear all sorts of things about codependents: They are controlling. They are wishy-washy. They have no spine. They’re rigid. They are wimpy. They are confrontational. They are too dependent. They are too independent.

It really spans the gamut, but the commonality of the codependent lies not in the employment of the methods but is the powerlessness they feel when it comes to the people in their lives and the fact that they *try* to employ such methods. The methods I have mentioned are the extremes that codependents use in trying to affect the people they want to control or manage. I want to make it clear that the codependent does not do these things for the fun of it – because there is no fun in it. The codie does these things because the codie is scared.

She will not confront you because she is scared you will belittle her and her self-worth will become further in the toilet. Another codie will confront you on every issue because she is scared you will think she is stupid if she doesn’t and her self-worth will go further into the toilet. Another codie is too clingy because if she turns her back to breathe you may prove to her that she is indeed worthless because you will leave. Another codie will be very aloof and independent because she fears that if she ever does need someone that person will let her down and she doesn’t need anyone anyway because only she can do it perfectly. The symptoms may be 180* apart but it still boils down to trying to control.

I controlled my mismanagement of people by harming myself. I would refuse food. I would cut myself. My self-esteem took the flavor of Hell, I know I am powerless over people so please just don?t beat on me too hard. I drank over it, starved over it, went bulimic, tried to sweeten it, and eventually cut over it I look at it as trying to drown it away, starve it away, crap it out, sweeten it up, and then cut it out. So far, three of those methods do continue to work for me.

Melody Beattie has said in many of her books that we do the best we can. That anyone at any time, is doing the best they can. I don?t look at my solutions as problematic until I can see there is a better one. I know there is a better one but right now I am sitting on it. Right now I am still trying to control, in some fashion, my feelings.

On page 53 of Codependents Guide to the Twelve Steps, “I spent years resisting, denying, trying to control the behavior of those around me, and neglecting myself. […] My circumstances change only when I accept them and quietly figure out what it is I need to do to take care of me within the framework of reality.”

Accepting our Circumstances? Oh Really?

When we talk about “accepting” or our “acceptance” of a situation, it is not intended to mean “agree to.” When I first came into recovery I became very hostile to hearing people’s stories about “accepting a situation.” For the longest time, then, I would try forcing myself to “accept” [as in agree to] abuse or mistreatment.

I kept thinking, “Well no wonder I drink all the time. I haven’t learned how to agree with my boyfriend when he steals from me and then tells me to get over it.” or “Agree that I really wasn’t violated. That I had somehow made it all into too big of a deal.” I felt that if I could just understand and work on agreeing to my mistreatment from other people then I would be healed.

Thank god I would later understand it to mean “to hold as true” as opposed “to live with, or swallow.” [Different definitions here.] It was then that recovery would begin to make sense. It began to feel attainable. And today as I share the message that even the most seemingly dysfunctional relationships do function on some level, I try to remember that pain was a mainstay in my life to the extent that that was normal.

I strive to carry the message that happiness should be the mainstay and that it is possible no matter your current situation. Today, recovery from codependency is my priority since I have seen the freedom it offers.

Recovery from Codependency. Is it Possible?

Codependency is a way of life. It’s not a mutant genetic formation. It’s not an organic disease. You probably can catch it since I’ve never seen anything spread faster than this warped view, but it’s probably more of a social dis-ease in the form of bad ideas spreading.

  • We’re taught that people need to like us, for example. So, unquestioningly – in some households it may be more dominant than others – we turn into “people pleasers” since maybe we were taught that we have to bend over backwards to be extra kind to our enemies. Then let’s say “the enemy” abuses us verbally or physically. We try harder. They abuse us harder. So we start thinking we’re really worthless and try even harder this time, picking up our context clues as to what they desire from us. The sick joke in this is that the abuser will never change for the better. If you’re codependently indoctrinated, by this point your self-esteem will plummet and you’ll be a walking bulls eye target for other abuser’s. Leave this guy/gal if you must, but [and yes I say this again] if you’re codependently indoctrinated you’ll pick up another one just like him/her.
  • Let’s say we were raised in an environment where anger was the addiction. Everyone yells at everybody and name calls and insults. You learn that by being quiet and keeping your mouth shut you can survive. Twenty years later, full of shyness and low confidence, you take the “F” in speech class because you have developed a phobia that will not let you stand in front of people and talk.
  • Let’s go even more subtle shall we? I’ve heard this one recently in my own life talking about a small toddler “Oh she is such a good eater! You’re such a good girl!” Little girl, wanting approval from the adults she cherishes, grows up consuming everything on her plate whether she’s hungry or not. She wants to be a good girl. I have a friend who was a “good girl” like this. A gastric bypass later, now unable to consume large quantities of food, is on valium and effexor – which, I have heard, is quite an evil little drug.

It comes in many forms and shapes but our family of origin – our first social unit – is where we begin to sprout and we’ll have to overcome these, even subtle, ideas that we have been given. We’re adults now, or at least old enough to read, comprehend, and make our own decisions.

And like an old worn out smelly coat, once out from survival mode, we can cast these ideas out that don’t work for us and begin to live. All the knowledge and wisdom in the world will not do a thing if we don’t do anything about it. We can wish, pray, learn, study but nothing changes if we don’t take action. Yes, it’s about stepping out from our comfort zone and practicing a new way to live.

Suggested Readings

I have read all of these books over the past three years and each one was an integral part of my recovery! I remember epiphanies with each book and have every one written up! I’m a reader for sure and have so many more books I have read also, but none that had me putting things together making it all just fit more than these. I am sure there are other books out there that practice the same concepts and that’s what’s important.

The primary concept that we can be free if we can just recognize that which no longer works for our greater good and utilize another way. These books provide another way ~ an escape from the problem and into the solution.

Love, Peace, and Light until next time.

View the Codependency index of Samsara’s Articles

Samsara’s Codependent Beginnings

Codependent Healing - Samsara's Compilation of Books for Codependent Healing



  • Mon said:

    I don’t belive in coincidences, so it was meant to be that you commented on my blog! I think this is my kinda spot to visit! I thought I beat this codependant thing, but it still rears its ugly head in my life! Codependant No More really helped me, and so did Struggle for Intimacy. I fought with not getting sucked into relationships so I shut off my feelings. I did just what this post said, because of past abuse I was afraid to talk. I physically couldn’t make myself voice my own opinion.

  • samsara (author) said:

    I have felt the same way Mon. If I feel like my past agreements have left altogether, all I need is about an hour with my Mother to zen master me back into the truth.

    When I first worked the steps I remember clearly thinking “I have no resentments” and then my sponsor asked me to write my fears first. THERE they came. THEN I was able to uncover more and eventually get into myself. I, too, had been physically unable to speak my truth. Today I can fall back into it but at least today I know why I do it…for survival. Still. …what’s better today is that I can call someone, who is safe, and speak my truth. That’s the difference. Then I don’t have to starve, drink, hurt unmanageably, over it.

    Thank you for voicing! :)

  • Susan Lim said:

    Wow, I never even know I have this co-dependency problem.

    These statements really beat me. I kinda felt these most of the time – trying to accept too much.

    I kept thinking, “Well no wonder I drink all the time. I haven’t learned how to agree with my boyfriend when he steals from me and then tells me to get over it.” or “Agree that I really wasn’t violated. That I had somehow made it all into too big of a deal.” I felt that if I could just understand and work on agreeing to my mistreatment from other people then I would be healed.

    Thank god I would later understand it to mean “to hold as true” as opposed “to live with, or swallow.”

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