Mutual interdependence and support are great, but codependency is completely different.
You may be familiar with codependency in romantic relationships as a pattern of seeking out others to fix and “save” you or seeking out others to fix and save. It’s basically addiction to someone instead of love for them.
Codependent friendship is similar. It’s having friends as people you use instead of having a real relationship, respect, and connection.
Sadly, codependent friendships can even cover up and distort friendships that have the potential to be real but end up submerged in manipulation, guilt, blame, and transactional power dynamics.
Codependency can trap us in years of wasted energy, rehashing tired patterns, and damage to ourselves and others.
Codependency weakens us and is an attempt to find our power and identity outside ourselves.
It doesn’t work.
Codependent friendships don’t work either.
In fact, I can say from my own personal experience that they often tend to crash and burn in epic ways.
What exactly is “codependent friendship?”
Codependent friendship is basically a one-sided friendship. It’s when you expect your friend to always come bail you out and save you or listen to your endless complaints, but are rarely there for them.
Alternately, it’s when you are constantly trying to help and improve the life of your friend and feel guilty or unworthy if you don’t succeed.
Codependent friendship is conditional friendship: it’s a friendship built on a cycle of being needy and needing to be needed.
It’s a friendship built on giving away our personal power.
And, as such, codependent friendship is a dead-end street. It can end in feelings of disappointment, betrayal, and deceit.
When a codependent friendship falls through it can feel like your friend was only ever a fake friend who used you as a “pity” object to feel competent and superior or who played the victim in order to leech off your energy without ever truly valuing and respecting you as a respect-worthy individual.
Where does codependency come from?
Codependency often comes from childhood experiences and patterns where we seek out validation, approval, and support from an authority figure and come to rely on them to save us, or where we grew up in positions where we were expected to “fix” and do everything ourselves.
The first pattern tends to put someone in a “victim” position, whereas the second places them in a “savior” role.
Both parts of the codependent whole have a root feeling of being “not good enough,” of needing more, or having to do more in order to be complete.
Both end in disappointment, anger, sadness, and a loss of personal power.
If you’re wondering whether you are dealing with a codependent friendship that’s leeching off your energy or leeching off someone else’s then this list is for you.
Fourteen signs of codependent friendship. Here we go.
14 signs you are in a codependent friendship …
1) Your friend sucks up all your “friend oxygen”
What I mean by this is that codependent friendship can often be all-consuming. It doesn’t leave much time, energy, or mental attention for other friendships – sometimes even with your own family.
Whether you’re the giver (“savior”) or taker (“victim”) you may find that your friendship takes up all your friend oxygen.
No matter what happens you call them.
You spend time together as a kind of default even when you’re not really in the mood.
You take each other for granted but always expect more.
It’s an overwhelming cycle and it starts to crowd out other connections and potential friendships, leading to lots of missed opportunities and experiences.
2) The help only flows in one direction
A codependent friendship is about a giver and a taker. If you’re the giver then you will notice that the help and compassion only flow in one direction.
This can lead to a disturbing lack of help in your own life.
You spend so much time playing savior to your friend and hearing them out or being around their challenging life situations that you step back in shock when you realize that your own life is a mess.
It’s like helping a friend move into their house for two weeks only to realize you are currently homeless.
It’s not a great feeling, and this abdication of needs as the giver can lead to some really disillusioning experiences and broken friendships if you’re not careful and don’t nip it in the bud.
3) You’re jealous if your friend gets in a relationship
This is the oldest story in the book, and no it doesn’t mean you secretly have the hots for your friend.
What it means is that you’re unhealthily dependent on them and their entrance into a new relationship tick off that needy, grasping part of you that thinks you aren’t good enough with your codependent friendship.
The cliche is that someone gets in a relationship and their friends get annoyed that they no longer seem to ever have time to “hang out with the guys” or “go for a girls’ night out,” and that’s a fairly standard reaction for friend groups who feel left behind or neglected …
But the reaction of a codependent friend to you getting into a relationship is a lot more specific and intense.
If you’re the giver you will feel ashamed and guilty because you know the taker is annoyed that you no longer have as much energy and time for them.
If you’re the taker you will feel abandoned and “betrayed” by your friend and have the inner belief they’ve put someone else above you because you’re “not good enough” and “can’t be fixed.”
If the taker is the one in a relationship, the giver will feel compelled to help them sort out every issue they come across and will feel annoyed and undervalued if the taker no longer has as much time or “vulnerability” to display to them and not as many problems to be saved from.
The giver may even find him or herself secretly hoping their friend’s relationship hits a rough patch so they can once again feel needed and valued.
If the giver is one new in a relationship they will have the strong impression they are simply not at all happy for your success and feel resentful, even perhaps hoping your relationship falls through so they can once again have your undivided attention.
Doesn’t sound like much of a true friendship, does it?
Note: this is one of the biggest warning signs of codependent friendship, so keep it in mind.
4) Epic levels of emotional dependence
Emotional sharing, connection, and exploration? Sign me up.
Emotional attachment and dependency? Hard pass.
Codependent friendship is characterized by this kind of thing. Two people who are enmeshed in an unhealthy way and “use” each other to fulfill their own complexes and patterns.
Whereas a healthy friendship is going to have a strong emotional attachment and sharing, a codependent friendship has transactional and dependent emotional bonds.
If one friend is sad the other stoops to great lengths to pick them up.
If the giver doesn’t have time or gets in a relationship the taker flips his or her lid.
If the taker stops needing as much help the giver finds themselves feeling unneeded and undervalued and resents their friend’s success.
Codependent friendship is basically the victim Olympics, and in the end, there’s no real winner – and no real friendship.
5) You’re either always giving or always taking
In a codependent friendship, you’re either always giving or always taking.
If you break this pattern and loosen up a bit you may get an “odd” feeling like you’re in a friendship you’re not used to that feels kind of strange or unnecessary.
As soon as you sink back into the codependent pattern you’ll get that “good old” feeling.
But that “good old” feeling is actually keeping you – and your friend – down.
Even though it can feel good in the short term to have someone who lets you fall back on your old ways and lounge back into victimhood or a savior complex, in the end, it’s going to sabotage you.
It’s keeping you in the cycle of codependency and feeding feelings of unworthiness, and until you break through self-limiting beliefs and blocks in your body and mind you will tend to keep experiencing these same tired patterns.
6) You outsource decision-making to them
Checking in with your friends and getting their opinions on decisions is perfectly fine. I do it all the time.
You probably do, too. (No, not that, come on, this is a family-friendly site folks… wink).
But in codependent friendship it’s not about sharing and caring, it’s about reliance and actually outsourcing your decision-making.
New job, new relationship, family problem, spiritual issues, mental or physical challenges that need some big decisions?
The codependent friend turns to their “other half” and dumps it on them.
The “victim” expects their “savior” friend to turn on a dime and make their life’s decisions for them.
The “savior” expects their “victim” friend to entrust their biggest decisions to them up to things like who they should marry or whether they should transition to a new career.
Yup, you guessed it! This also includes taking the praise or blame when those decisions pay off or go sideways.
7) Your friend circle is closed off
There’s no room for more friends in a codependent friendship. It’s a closed circle: it’s a VIP section with only two seats (or one seat if you’re codependent friends who also happen to be platonic cuddle buddies).
But seriously …
If you’re in a codependent friendship you don’t want new additions.
You want things to keep on being the way they’ve always been and you want your codependent other half all to yourself.
You don’t want any wildcards interrupting the “good” thing you think you’ve got going on.
Codependent friendship is a pity and power trip party for two. There’s not really room for anyone else anyway, and even if one of you wants to let them in they’re likely to soon fade out once they notice the cascade of codependency all around them.
8) You have a feeling you’re using them or being used by them
If you’re the one who always expects your friend to fix your life then you may start to get the strong impression you are using your friend.
When you always seem to get closest to them when you need something but not for the fun times.
When you don’t really care how they’re doing but you expect them to bend over backward to care and address what’s going on in your life.
If this is you then you may start to feel a mounting sense of guilt and shame about the way you’re using someone who cares about you …
Or, as the giver, you may feel like you’re being used just a little (or a lot).
Regardless of your real affection for your amigo, you may just not be able to shake the strong impression that they’re only your friend in a transactional way and that you’re part of some kind of emotional holding pattern for them.
If this is you then you may start to feel an increasing sense of disappointment and being undervalued combined with an inner pressure to “do more” to help your friend and be worthy of their real respect and attention …
The inevitable result of a codependent friendship is burnout. One or both members of this exhausting cycle will droop with fatigue, especially the savior figure.
Every time you give more and more, and every time the taker takes more and more. It’s a never-ending one-way street without even a mirage up ahead …
If you’re the taker you may not even be aware that you’re sapping away so much energy and vitality from your friend.
You’re just lost in your own pattern and story.
But that story is depleting the hell out of your giver friend and making your codependent friendship harmful to their mental – and potentially even physical health in the long term.
10) You limit or hide your real self around them
Codependent friendships are often very two-dimensional in the sense that they exist through a limited framework.
Familiar patterns and “scripts” replay over and over and you establish a dynamic that keeps replaying.
For this reason, the giver and/or the taker may limit or hide parts of their real self from their codependent friend in the belief that these parts of their experiences, beliefs or identity don’t “mesh” with the friendship’s main focus.
In practical terms, this can mean that even core interests and convictions may be unknown to the other member of the friendship because they are only using the friendship in a dependent way to get the kind of support or give the kind of support they feel compelled to as part of their codependent pattern.
And frankly, that’s kind of sad …
11) They feed into a distorted view of reality
Codependent friendships can reinforce patterns that weaken and limit us.
As such, they can end up feeding into a distorted view of reality. Specifically, this will be a view in which an image of ourselves as primarily a victim or primarily a savior who should be doing more will be reinforced and strengthened.
The victim will play on his savior’s need to feel like a rescuer, and the savior will play on the victim’s woes and troubles in order to feel even more competent and needed.
The effect is to undergird the feelings of inadequacy and neediness that both members of the friendship have.
“I’m not good enough and someone needs to save me” vs. “I’m not good enough unless I save others” are two sides of the same, distorted coin.
No matter whether the coin lands heads or tails you’ve already lost the game before it begins.
12) You have a ‘script’ you and your friend always replay
This script is going to be one that reinforces your codependent roles.
The victim may be someone who is unlucky in love or has constant financial troubles and always gets undervalued at work.
The savior may be someone who is accused of being too busy or preoccupied to really care about others even though they’re actually deeply invested in the lives of multiple people they love and care about – of which the victim is unaware and doesn’t care.
In both cases, the underlying storyline: that the victim is being screwed by life and needs someone to finally say “you’ve suffered enough!” and pull them out of it and that the savior should be doing more for others to really be a decent person is reemphasized and reinforced in both peoples’ minds.
13) No matter how much you give or take it’s never enough
The hallmark of a codependent friendship is that even too much isn’t enough.
Now and then we can all fall into “mini-codependent” patterns during weak moments or times when we revert into unconscious and traumatic states.
The problem is when it becomes long-term and defines our friendships and relationships, or when it reemerges to hijack existing friendships and relationships.
In a codependent relationship, there is never enough. No matter how much “help” you get or give you always feel inadequate.
You still feel the strong need to be fixed or to fix. And it only gets stronger the more you invest yourself in the codependent friendship.
14) It takes two to tango
Codependency takes two to tango.
The victim and the savior are both playing out their own psychodramas on the tapestry of their “friend.”
Even if you realize you’re in a codependent friendship it won’t help at all to pin all the blame on the other person.
You’re in this together, and you wouldn’t be playing along if the friendship wasn’t doing something for a part of yourself that believes you’re not good enough and need something more.
The good news is that becoming conscious of what’s going on gives you the chance to disentangle yourself and bring up these issues with your friend and help illuminate it for them as well …
As Jakob Dyland and the Wallflowers sing in their 2000 song “Letters from the Wasteland:”
It may be two to tango but, boy, it’s one to let go.
It’s just one to let go.
So you’re in a codependent friendship: what should you do now?
There are many steps you can take if you’ve discovered you’re in a codependent relationship.
One, as I wrote above, is to talk directly with your friend and shed some light on what’s going on and the way in which you believe you are both feeding into it.
The good news is that just as healthy friendships can be hijacked by codependency and transactionalism, unhealthy and codependent friendships can make a comeback and return to mutual respect and empowerment.
At times this won’t be possible or agreeable to one of those involved and the friendship may end. As unfortunate as this is it can sometimes be for the best.
If you are in a codependent friendship and not sure which direction to go the best first step is simply to ask for time and space.
Reflect and assess what’s going on.
Do an overall reality check of how both of you are contributing to this friendship and what it means to you and then re-enter – or leave – the friendship with a clear head, full heart, and firm boundaries.
Can a relationship coach help you too?
If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to a relationship coach.
I know this from personal experience…
A few months ago, I reached out to Relationship Hero when I was going through a tough patch in my relationship. After being lost in my thoughts for so long, they gave me a unique insight into the dynamics of my relationship and how to get it back on track.
If you haven’t heard of Relationship Hero before, it’s a site where highly trained relationship coaches help people through complicated and difficult love situations.
In just a few minutes you can connect with a certified relationship coach and get tailor-made advice for your situation.
I was blown away by how kind, empathetic, and genuinely helpful my coach was.