For some, it can be difficult to come up with a codependency definition. For codependents, being open and honest in close relationships may be difficult. Instead of being assertive, initiating action, and meeting your own needs, you hide your truth, react, and feel responsible for others. You become anxious and try to manage, control, and manipulate, often by pleasing or giving advice. Some codependents turn themselves into pretzels trying to accommodate others, because they feel too guilty to say “No.”
These are signs of codependency. In Codependency for Dummies, I define a codependent as having a lost self:
A person who can’t function from his or her innate self and instead organizes thinking and behavior around substance, process, or another person(s).
Codependency might be with one person or everyone. It could be with your partner, or with a child, parent, or sibling. Contrary to what you might think, not all codependents are caretakers or are even in a relationship. Codependents have all different personalities, and symptoms vary in type and severity among them. There are codependents who seek closeness, while others avoid it. Some are addicts, bullies, selfish, and needy, or may appear independent and confident, but they control or are controlled by, a personal relationship or their addiction. Sometimes that relationship is with an addict or parent or partner who is a narcissist. A relationship marked by addiction or abuse is a sign of codependency. But not all codependent relationships are abusive. Learn more about what is codependency and the relationship problems it causes.
Codependents generally grew up in dysfunctional families where abuse, rigid rules, addiction, or mental or physical illness was present. Their individuality and autonomy weren’t respected, and they didn’t feel safe being spontaneous. Often there were family secrets, despite an appearance of normalcy. Codependency is passed down generationally, and symptoms worsen before starting treatment. Find out about codependency symptoms.
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