The key to happiness is meeting our needs. Although codependents are very good at meeting needs of other people, many are clueless about their own needs. They have problems identifying, expressing, and fulfilling their needs and wants. They may be very attuned to the needs and desires of other people, fulfilling and even anticipating them. Over the years, they become so used to accommodating others that they lose the connection to their own needs and wants.

This pattern starts in childhood, when our needs were ignored or shamed. As children we had to adapt to the needs of our parents, who may have been physically or mentally ill, addicted, or just emotionally or physically unavailable. Some of us had to adapt to the wants and expectations of a selfish or controlling parent just to survive. After a while, rather than be disappointed or shamed for not getting our needs met, we tune them out.

As adults, we can’t stop ourselves from sacrificing our needs and wants in relationships, at the expense of our own happiness. At first we may be motivated by love, but before long we’re resentful as our discontent and the imbalance in the relationship grow. Without recovery, we may believe the problem only lies with our selfish partner. If we haven’t reclaimed ourselves and leave the relationship, we’re sad to discover that we don’t know what we want or what to do with ourselves — except to get into another relationship — fast! Otherwise, the underlying emptiness and depression that we were unaware of will arise.

Why Meeting Needs Matters

The reason it’s important to satisfy our needs is because we feel emotional pain when they’re not met. You may be in pain and not know why or which needs are not being fulfilled. When our needs are met, we feel happy, grateful, safe, loved, playful, alert, and calm. When they’re not, we’re sad, fearful, angry, tired, and lonely.

Think about how you meet or don’t meet your needs, and what you might do to start meeting your needs. It’s a simple formula, though difficult to carry out:

Meet Your Needs →→→ Feel Good

Ignore Your Needs →→→ Feel Bad

Once you identify your emotions and needs, you can then take responsibility for meeting them and feeling better. For example, if you’re feeling sad, you might not realize you’re lonely and have a need for social connection. Even if you do, many codependents isolate rather than reach out. Once you know the problem and the solution, you can take action by calling a friend or planning social activities.

Identifying Needs

We have many needs that you may not have considered. Although some of us are good at meeting physical needs, especially if our parents did that for us, we may not be able to identify emotional needs if those were ignored. Here are some needs. See if you can add to this list from Codependency for Dummies:

ReflectionSelf-knowledgeBe understoodMedical CareFairness –EqualitySelf-expressionCooperationReverence

Identifying Your Wants

Some people recognize wants, but not their needs, or vice versa, and many get them confused. If our wants were shamed growing up — if we were told we shouldn’t want something — we may have stopped desiring. Some parents give children what they think they should have or make them do activities that the parent wants and not what the child would like. Instead of pursuing our own desires, we may accommodate what other people want.

Do you resent them for always getting their way, but don’t speak up and advocate for what you want? Make a list of your desires. Don’t restrict it by your current limitations.


Recovery means turning around the above needs formula from negative to positive. It means fulfilling your healthy desires. It requires that we become responsible for ourselves and develop enough self-esteem to make ourselves a priority.

First, you have to find out what you need and want. Then, value it. Think about why it’s important. If we don’t value a need, we won’t be motivated to meet it. If it was shamed in childhood, then we will assume that we can forego it. Many people don’t fulfill their goals or dreams because they were ridiculed growing up. Similarly, if grief, sex, or play were shamed or discouraged, we might assume these weren’t valid needs.

Next, figure out how to fulfill that need.

Finally, some needs require courage to stretch ourselves to meet them, such as self-expression, authenticity, independence, and setting boundaries. Other needs are interpersonal and require courage to ask other people to meet them. We can only do this if we value ourselves and our needs and feel entitled to have them met. It also helps to learn to be assertive.

Recovery takes courage and support from others and usually counseling, too. This may seem daunting, but start simply each day by journaling and attuning to your feelings and body. Take the time to ask yourself what you want and needs. Start listening to and honoring yourself!