In 1986, Melody Beattie released a book called “Co-dependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself” which popularized the term “co-dependent”. She described co-dependency as being so wrapped up in other people’s problems that you lose sight of your own.
In relationships, some dependency can be healthy and positive, creating a deeper sense of trust and support between people and boosting intimacy. This is called interdependence; healthy dependency which doesn’t involve neglecting your own needs for the sake of someone else or trying to control other people.
In this article, you’ll discover 6 signs you may be co-dependent and at the end, you’ll find some great resources to learn more about understanding and recovering from co-dependency.
Sign 1: You blame yourself for everything and have a low sense of self-worth.
When something doesn’t go to plan, do you blame yourself and shoulder all the responsibility? People who are co-dependent tend to have a low sense of self-worth and this shows up via their relationships.
- Pick on yourself by constantly noticing your flaws and bringing yourself down. You hardly ever feel like you’re actually good enough.
- Struggle to accept compliments and praise. You don’t believe it when other people notice your strengths, or it makes you feel uncomfortable when people point them out.
- Be afraid of making mistakes and doing things wrong (especially when it might upset someone you care about).
- Take rejection very personally. You might find yourself thinking about it for days, weeks, or months after the rejection took place and still wonder what you did wrong.
- Let other people make big decisions for you. You don’t really believe that your own wants and needs are as important as other people’s wants and needs.
- Apologize over and over and over again – even for the tiniest things. Even when other people tell you to stop apologizing. Even when you know deep down that you didn’t do anything wrong.
- Feel sad because you spend so much time giving to others and feeing unable to ask for your own needs to be met.
- Worry that without someone to love and care for, you will feel worthless.
Sign 2: You like to feel in control of your relationships and you find it difficult to trust others.
You might be constantly worried that your loved ones will leave you, judge you, or stop loving you and so you seek to control them as much as you can to give yourself a sense of security. Trusting other people feels incredibly difficult and so you make yourself feel better by controlling them as much as possible.
You may not necessarily tell your loved one not to do certain things, but you might use less obvious methods of control, such as being a victim, making them feel guilty, giving advice or manipulating them in other subtle ways. Even though this might sound mean, you engage in these behaviours as a method of self-protection because you’re afraid of being hurt.
When you don’t have control, you tend to feel worried and anxious. You might even lash out at your loved one, or put walls up between you to distance yourself (again, this is often an attempt at self-protection). Otherwise, you might feel lost and unsure about how to deal with your loss of control.
Once you get back your sense of control, you feel relieved and the anxiety fades away (until the next time when you feel a loss of control).
Sign 3: You don’t like facing problems in your relationships
Do you prefer to sweep your relationship problems under the rug and pretend they don’t exist? This can be another sign of co-dependency. You might keep telling yourself that things will get better and deny issues when other people bring them up.
Perhaps, you turn to negative coping mechanisms, such as overeating, binge shopping or drinking too much alcohol to distract yourself from your relationship problems. Being busy is another coping mechanism you might rely on – it keeps your mind occupied and stops you from thinking about your relationship problems.
You may also have a difficult time communicating with your loved ones – you find it hard to be open and honest about your feelings and thoughts (especially the ones which make you feel vulnerable!). This difficulty with meaningful communication is just another aspect of ignoring problems and unfortunately, those problems may eventually build into bigger issues the longer they go unattended.
You might often feel lonely and like you have no one to talk to, or that no one else is really there for you. You often wish that someone would love and support you as much as you love and support other people (though you don’t show yourself the same love and support, either!).
Sign 4: You take responsibility for the feelings, actions and wellbeing of other people.
You might feel compelled to take responsibility for other people – if they make a bad choice, you feel like you should have prevented it. When they feel sad, you pity them and try to cheer them up. You might feel guilty if you take care of your own needs above anyone else’s. You prioritise the wellbeing of your loved ones above your own and might give advice to help your loved ones improve their life and feel frustrated when they don’t listen.
Also, you feel safest when you’re helping other people
And you feel needed and worthwhile.
You might find it difficult to accept that your loved ones are responsible for their own feelings, thoughts and actions. For example, if your loved one has a bad day at work and comes home angry and gets annoyed when you say the “wrong thing” you feel guilty – like it’s all your fault. You shoulder the blame even though your loved one was angry before they even saw you and their anger actually had nothing to do with you.
Sign 5: You go out of your way to look after others – even when they don’t ask you to.
Being a good caretaker is of the upmost importance to you. Even though you love looking after other people, you might try so hard that it actually becomes annoying for them and you might neglect your own needs or do things you don’t really want to do. You want to solve everyone else’s problems because it makes you feel needed and when someone doesn’t want your help, you might feel rejected, powerless and sad.
You try to anticipate the needs of other people and drop everything to be there for someone else (even when they don’t ask you to).
And also, you go above and beyond to please others, overcommit easily and tend to feel pressured.
Perhaps, you even find yourself being attracted to needy people (and needy people might also be attracted to you).
Sign 6: You easily become obsessed with your relationships
You might lose sleep over your relationships because you’re always thinking about them (especially during tumultuous or challenging times). All the little things become big problems in your mind and you might feel like you can’t let them go (but you struggle to talk about them with your loved one, too, because you don’t ever want to upset them).
You tend to focus all your energy on other people and your relationships, often forgetting to look after yourself and your own wellbeing. You might re-read text messages, replay your last conversations, or wait impatiently for people to call.
As your relationships progress, you may start losing interest in things you used to enjoy because you become wrapped up in doing things your loved one likes to do or just spending time together.
You might also try to catch your partner in acts of misbehaviour – you quite easily convince yourself that they must be doing something to hurt you. You may even exert a lot of energy trying to look for clues of indiscretions, imagining them doing something to betray you, or going through their phone or email (and then wondering why you feel so exhausted and stressed).
When relationships don’t work out, you find it difficult to move on. You often blame yourself and wonder what you could have done to keep the relationship going.
Resources to help you further understand and recover from co-dependency
Here, you can find various blog posts and meditations to help develop your understanding of co-dependency and find meaningful ways to move forward.
Melody Beattie’s books:
In this article, you’ll discover 4 steps to help you start recovering from co-dependency.
This article contains a great overview of co-dependency, including what it is, how to tell if you’re co-dependent, the relationship between co-dependency and addiction, and healing from being co-dependent.