In the continual quest to find balance in our relationships, we must take time to explore whether we tend toward codependence. Some people may just have a slight preference for co-dependency, while others are fully engulfed in the codependent lifestyle.

Co-dependence is one of those psychological terms that describes a dysfunctional way of behaving in important relationships in one’s life. It is primarily a learned behavior from our family of origin. Some cultures have it to a greater degree than others — some still see it as a normal way of being. Some families might not be able to imagine any other healthy way of being.

Yet the costs of co-dependence can include distrust, faulty expectations, passive-aggressiveness, control, self-neglect, over-focus on others, manipulation, and a slew of other unattractive traits.

Wondering if you might be involved in a co-dependent relationship?

The core symptom of co-dependence is the loss of a sense of oneself. A person who is truly codependent finds that virtually all of their thoughts and behaviors revolve around another person or set of people in their life.

These are some of the common signs of codependent behavior:

  • Taking responsibility for someone else’s actions
  • Worrying or carrying the burden for others’ problems
  • Covering up to protect others from reaping the consequences of their poor choices
  • Doing more than is required at your job or at home to earn approval
  • Feeling obligated to do what others expect without consulting one’s own needs
  • Manipulating others’ responses instead of accepting them at face value
  • Being suspicious of receiving love, not feeling “worthy” of being loved
  • In a relationship based on need, not out of mutual respect
  • Trying to solve someone else’s problems, or trying to change someone
  • Life being directed by external rather than internal cues (“should do” vs. “want to do”)
  • Enabling someone to take our time or resources without our consent
  • Neglecting our own needs in the process of caring for someone who doesn’t want to care for themselves

Many feel that they will lose who they are if they are not codependent. However, that’s not usually the case. In reality, we become more ourselves when we are less of what others expect from us. To come out of codependence is a huge gift we give to ourselves — the victory of growing away from it will balance out our responsibility to ourselves and to others.

The key to repairing and ending codependency is to start protecting and nurturing ourselves. That might sound like a selfish act, but it will return us to a place of balance. Others will understand that we now respect and are protecting ourselves from over-commitment or abuse. If a person doesn’t understand, they may not be someone who is open to growth in their own relationships.

A person can learn to become less codependent and regain a sense of self and independence in their own lives. It usually takes working with a therapist to effectively do this, however, since the behaviors of co-dependency were learned over many years it takes time and practice to apply healthy behaviors.

Learn more: What is Codependence?