Signs to recognize if an individual or family is Codependent


Codependent is a psychological condition where a person becomes overly reliant on another person, often to the point of sacrificing their own needs and wants in order to meet the needs of the other person.

The first step, of course, is to recognize the signs of codependency.

  • You lack a clear sense of self

Codependent people often behave like chameleons.

“They’re always becoming and being what other people want them to be or become,” Bacon says.

“They don’t have a clear sense of who they are.”

Many struggle to find their place in the world because they can’t differentiate themselves from their family unit.

It’s difficult for them to determine where they begin and end, and where their family members begin and end.

  • You have a deep need for external validation

Because people who struggle with codependency don’t have a clear sense of identity, they’re externally focused which means they look to others for validation and self-worth.

That’s why many are drawn to people they need to save. Often, that manifests as a tendency to land in relationships with people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, Bacon says; they see helping them as a purpose.

“They want to have that sense of identity that they’re a good wife or husband, or a good mother,” she says. “By helping them, it gives them a sense of identity.”

  • You have trouble saying no

Codependents tend to be people-pleasers who have trouble saying no, says Jessica Baum, a Florida-based psychotherapist and author of Anxiously Attached.

(Interestingly, some research suggests that women who traditionally struggle with prioritizing their own needs are more likely than men to be codependent.)

“They abandon parts of themselves and lose their voice,” she says.

As a result, they sacrifice their own needs for the perceived needs of their family members again and again: giving up hobbies to be more available to their loved ones, watching the movie the other person wants to watch, operating on someone else’s timetable.

“It all stems from wanting to connect,” Baum says. “These are ways that we learn to stay in connection when we’re young, and they’re adaptive strategies we use when we’re older.”

  • You step into a caregiving role

Many codependents have an exaggerated sense of responsibility for their loved ones, often stepping into caregiver roles.

This dynamic is particularly prevalent in households in which a parent has an addiction or is depressed, says Avigail Lev, a clinical psychologist in San Francisco.

The codependent person will make it their singular mission to ensure the other person doesn’t suffer.

If they were on a plane that was crashing, they wouldn’t put the oxygen mask on themselves first, Lev says. They’d put it on their loved one.

“The other person is a part of them,” she says, and the idea of surviving alone would be unbearable.

  • You are overinvolved

Codependent people often have a subconscious desire to control or influence their family members which might manifest as being overinvolved.

For example, suppose a parent sees something painful happening in their child’s life.

In that case, they’ll try to gain control by interfering and getting too involved, says Tara Lally, a supervising psychologist at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey.

“That’s because the child’s pain is the parent’s pain,” she says. There also might be overbearing tendencies: For instance, a mom not allowing her 12-year-old to have a voice in choosing their clothes, or closely monitoring her 16-year-old’s class schedule and homework. “You could be overinvolved mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually,” Lally says.

  • You struggle to make decisions

Making decisions can feel excruciating for codependent people.

They might freeze when it’s time to decide what to have for dinner, where to go on vacation, or who to invite to the party.

Codependents often rely on others to make decisions for them, because they lack confidence in their judgment.

“If you want to get a new job or make a big change, you’ll need a lot of reassurance and feedback,” Lev says. “Is this the right decision?”

Someone who’s codependent won’t be able to figure that out for themselves, instead needing the OK from loved ones to move forward.

  • You get mad a lot

Codependent people often experience a lack of emotional regulation and, as a result, have a good deal of interpersonal conflict.

Young people, in particular, might struggle to become aware of their feelings and fail to develop the self-awareness necessary to recognize their thoughts and opinions, says Kaytee Gillis, a psychotherapist based in New Orleans.

Instead, they’re consumed with managing their family members’ feelings.

As a result, codependents often get so stressed that “it all blows up, leading to episodes of frustration, feelings of depression, and even moments of anger or rage,” she says.

  • You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop

When someone’s family is codependent, they often spend hours of every day riddled with anxiety about what’s around the corner. B

aum describes it as “a sense of impending doom inside their body” which drives people to try harder and harder to fix (and fixate on) their loved ones.

Sometimes, those who are living with codependency feel embarrassed, or as though it’s something to hide.

Baum and other experts emphasize that there’s no reason to feel ashamed. As Scharf points out, codependency is inextricably linked to many wonderful qualities: “It’s a virtue,” she says. “My mother had a saying that a virtue, when misused, becomes a vice.

You can be generous, you can be kind, you can be compassionate, you can be empathetic those are all beautiful things that go along with being codependent.

But when misused or overused, they can work against you and backfire.”

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