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Codependency is a term we hear often but not everyone truly understands what it means. The term was first used to describe a person who was in a relationship with an alcoholic. However, psychologists now realize that this is more widespread.
Codependency is different than being interdependent. All living beings are dependent to a certain extent on those around them. We can't do everything alone, nor is it healthy to try… but healthy relationships have a pattern of give and take that transfers from one person to the other, depending on who is in need at any given time. This isn't the case with codependency.
What Does It Mean to Be Codependent?
Codependency can be said to occur when you take on the task of fixing someone else's issues that they should be fixing themselves. Your identity becomes entwined with theirs and you lose a sense of who you are. This is called enmeshment.
You get to the point where you believe your existence means nothing if the other person doesn't need you. In most cases, the codependent person is a hard worker, dependable, and an excellent caretaker… but these things are overshadowed by the unhealthy need to be needed.
Being codependent makes it impossible to set appropriate boundaries or even realize that you deserve to think about yourself.
The person who is experiencing a problem is the entire focus of the codependent's attention. The codependent person's sense of self-worth comes from validation that they are doing good and helping the person in need.
They do not have a solid concept of who they are unless they are taking care of the other person and meeting all that person's needs. Codependency ends up harming both parties involved.
Codependency Affects Both People Involved
The codependent person eventually loses all sense of self. They lose touch with their own emotions and live entirely to make the other person happy. They begin to feel guilty when the other person doesn't change because they feel that if they just did more, the person would be better. In the end, they end up doing more harm than good.
The person who is dysfunctional is not allowed to learn from their mistakes. The codependent person becomes an enabler by not allowing bad behavior to continue without consequences.
If they don't see a reason to change and always know that someone will cover for them or clean up their messes, they do not grow as people. Instead, they continue harmful actions until a point where they end up destroying both themselves and the one who thought they were helping.
Codependent people have certain personality traits, some more obvious than others. Today, we’ll explore 15 of the most common codependent traits.
1. Feeling responsible for solving others' problems.
Someone who is codependent feels that they need to step in and clean up any messes the other person gets themself into. They will make excuses, try to bail the person out of jail, and feel that if they can make the person happy, they will stop drinking or be able to control their anger better.
Whatever problem the person has, the codependent feels it is within their power to make everything right and change the bad behaviors.
2. Offering advice even if it isn't asked for.
A codependent person often feels they know what is best in any situation and will offer advice even when it isn't asked for. In addition, they will often get insulted if their advice is rebuffed or the person doesn't follow that advice. After all, they only want to help.
3. Poor communication regarding feelings, wants, or needs.
A codependent person has difficulty expressing their own wants and needs. This is because they most likely grew up believing their needs weren't important. In the codependent's eyes, the only one who matters is the person in need.
Very often, the codependent person gets to a point where they can't separate the feelings of the other person from their own. You can't communicate what you don't recognize.
4. Difficulty adjusting to change.
Change creates a situation where things seem to be out of control and the codependent personality desperately needs to have control.
This being the case, any changes can send the codependent person into a state of depression or anxiety that needs to be dealt with before they can continue.
They eventually do adjust, but not without a great deal of emotional upset.
5. Expecting others to do as you say.
This is another thing that goes back to control issues. The codependent person felt lost and unable to control things as they were growing up.
They now feel that since they are doing what they believe is best for the other person, the individual should see this and do what they are being told to do.
After all, it's obvious the other person isn't making good decisions.
6. Difficulty making decisions.
When a person isn't in touch with their own emotions and doesn't feel that they deserve to have needs of their own, they can't make decisions. This is especially true if they feel the decision may cause the person they live for to be upset or disapprove in any way.
Codependent traits include not trusting your own thoughts and feelings, so this makes it difficult to know if you are making the correct decision and hesitation is common.
7. Chronic anger.
Many people with codependent traits have underlying chronic anger. The anger may be from feeling that past treatment was unfair, but often the anger is directed at both the person who the codependent person feels responsible for, as well as toward themselves.
The codependent person may feel that they aren't strong enough or good enough because the other person isn't responding to their efforts to be fixed. They also feel anger towards the person because, subconsciously, the codependent person feels taken advantage of.
8. Feeling used and underappreciated.
A person who is codependent is often in a situation where the other person does not want extreme attention. They don't want help. They don't necessarily want to be the sole object of another person's life. They will take what is given but rarely do they give back. The codependent person sees this is an uneven relationship and they feel used.
Often, they feel that they are giving everything they have, and the other person doesn't notice just how much they are trying to help. This helps play into the chronic anger mentioned earlier. Yet, the codependent person responds, not by leaving, but by digging down even deeper and trying to give more.
9. People-pleasing to be liked or loved.
The codependent person feels unworthy and unlovable. They will try to be perfect, give until they burn out, and still try to find ways to make the object of their attention love them. They will do everything they can to avoid displeasing the other person or to avoid causing conflict.
This is especially true of a person who has a background of being abused. They learned early that the best way to be “loved” was to be “good” and do only what others want. This includes only thinking what they feel the other person wants them to think.
10. Lack of trust in self or others.
In most cases, the codependent person has been let down many times throughout their life. They learn that people don't follow through and lie to them on a regular basis. They can't count on people to be there when they need something, so they don't ask.
They can't trust their own thoughts and feelings because those have only led to heartache and disappointment in the past. Their lack of self-esteem makes them distrust their own thoughts.
11. Fearing rejection or being unlovable.
A very common underlying emotion of the codependent personality is a fear of rejection. This person is afraid if they speak up and ask for what they want, they will be considered unlovable. They feel if they disagree, the other person will leave them, and they will be alone.
Seeing that their very identity is entwined with this other person, they fear they can't live without that person. This fear keeps them from setting personal boundaries that may cause conflict.
12. Feeling like a victim.
When you feel unloved and used, it leads to feeling like you are a victim. You feel it is unfair that you give and give and get nothing in return. You understand on a deep level that this type of situation is uneven and that it isn't what you see other people experiencing, yet instead of getting out of the situation, your internalized feelings of not deserving more keep you there, even though you know it is unfair.
13. Taking everything personally.
When the codependent person can't change another person, they believe it is their own fault. Somehow, they weren't good enough. They weren't lovable enough. They didn't do or say the right thing to change the situation.
The codependent person takes all the failures of those they feel responsible for and decides these are their fault. The blame is rarely seen as belonging to the one who messed up.
14. Lying to yourself and making excuses for others' bad behavior.
Often, the codependent person finds themselves explaining away the other person's bad behavior or denying it exists. Their partner only hits them because they make the partner angry. They should have had a meal ready.
They call the person's boss and say the person is sick, even if they are simply too drunk to make it to work. The person doesn't have a drug problem, they are simply stressed and will be okay when things lighten up.
15. General sense of helplessness, anxiety, or depression.
The codependent person needs to feel in control, yet they have no control. Their object of attention continues on their merry way, knowing their needs will be met and their messes cleaned up.
Eventually, the codependent partner feels helpless, not understanding what else they can do or what they are doing wrong. They become anxious that they won't be loved or they will be left alone. Depression is common and often the codependent person turns to addictive activities to try and cope.
What Causes Codependency?
Codependency typically begins in childhood and is considered a generational disorder. Circumstances that can lead to becoming codependent in adulthood include:
Self-Help Options for Codependents
If you see bits of yourself in these codependent characteristics, it is possible to break free. In many cases, you may want to reach out to a professional to help you. This is especially true if you tend to be drawn to or are currently in an abusive situation. In the interim, there are things you can do on your own to help begin your journey.
Start spending time alone away from the person you are codependent on. You may have broken many ties with friends and family, but now is the time to reach out for their support. You can also start doing things that appeal to you. Sign up for a class in relaxation techniques or try a hobby you may have always wanted to try.
The point is to spend more time thinking of yourself and worrying less about the other person. Now is the time to start getting in touch with your own emotions.
Final Thoughts on Codependent Personality Traits
Emotional independence is something that can be difficult to learn unless you are self-aware… but once you commit to working toward improving yourself, it can be done! And you will never want to look back. You will only move forward.
Take a look at these journaling prompts to help with your self-discovery journey. You may not have been able to prevent the childhood circumstances that caused you to lean toward codependency, but as an adult, you are now in control. Believe in yourself. You've got this!
Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.