Co-dependency often begins in childhood, triggered by unhealthy family dynamics -- including chronic illness in the family, abuse, a parent with an addiction, neglect or divorce.

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Co-dependent relationships are rooted in unhealthy emotional dependency, leading, in severe cases, to depression, anxiety, addictions and other self-destructive behaviors and relationship problems. Co-dependency often begins in childhood, triggered by unhealthy family dynamics -- including chronic illness in the family, abuse, a parent with an addiction, neglect or divorce. Children in these families learn to repress their feelings and do not develop a solid sense of self. As adults, sufferers seek to please in order to feel whole and wanted, even when it is detrimental to them and to their relationships.

Signs & Symptoms

Co-dependents suffer from low self-esteem and have unhealthy emotional dependency in relationships. They may turn to substances such as alcohol and drugs -- often leading to addiction -- and compulsively work, gamble or engage in other self-destructive behaviors.

Symptoms of a co-dependent may include:

  • Fear of abandonment, rejection and being alone; often having an unhealthy dependence on relationships
  • Tendency to want to fix or rescue people, often confusing it with love
  • Exaggerated sense of responsibility for others' actions
  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt when asserting oneself
  • Overwhelming need for approval and recognition combined with feelings of not deserving approval
  • Difficulty identifying and communicating feelings
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty trusting others and oneself
  • Lying, anger and problems adjusting to change
  • Intimacy and boundary problems
  • Intense need to control others

For more information, visit Mental Health America's factsheet about co-dependency.

Therapies

Co-dependency is rooted in childhood and family dynamics, and individuals do well with one-on-one psychotherapy, group therapy and in some instances short-term family therapy. Therapy allows co-dependents to explore their early experiences, their relationships both past and present and current unhealthy behaviors in an effort to educate and identify self-defeating patterns. Treatment may also include educating the co-dependents about addiction and how it influences relationship dynamics.

Resources