We all lean on one another. It’s one of the fundamental reasons for forming relationships in the first place.
Support and cooperation are a big part of any healthy connection. But they should be mutual.
Sometimes our desire to nurture and care goes too far and falls into codependency. It’s almost like a need to feel needed by your partner.
Individual identities then blur and self-sacrifice becomes all-consuming.
Rather than an exchange where both partners give and take, the relationship is deeply unbalanced.
It can start to happen without you even realizing it. That’s why it’s important to watch out for the patterns of behavior that show you might be on a slippery slope to co-dependency.
1) You’re really hard on yourself
Low self-esteem sits at the heart of most codependency patterns.
Codependent people often struggle with low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth.
Deep down, they don’t feel good enough. They may dislike things about themselves and beat themselves up about every small perceived flaw and imperfection.
When you don’t feel truly worthy of love, you may feel more desperate to do anything you can to find and keep it.
That can even include seeking out relationships with those who are emotionally unavailable or abusive.
It also leads to the next behavior on our list — a vicious cycle of seeking external validation and feeling inadequate.
2) You rely on your other half to feel good about yourself
One of the sneakiest ways people can slip into co-dependence is when they need their partner’s approval to feel worthy.
Because, as we’ve just seen, they don’t get that sense of validation from within, they go looking for it outside of themselves.
Most of us look for a certain amount of approval externally. But when most or all of it comes from this source, it creates big problems.
Codependent people rely too heavily on their partner for emotional support and acceptance. It goes way beyond being a bit needy.
They constantly seek reassurance and approval from their partner, usually at the expense of their own needs.
Because they rely on their partner so heavily, they feel constantly insecure. They may try to second guess their partner’s needs in a desperate attempt to make them happy.
As we’re about to see, this usually leads to a loss of personal identity.
3) Your entire life is all about your partner
Focusing on others is a huge theme of co-dependency.
Being of service is understandably seen as a positive social trait. But this isn’t just about being considerate or attentive.
Those in codependent relationships eventually become consumed by the other person’s life.
So much so that they may find themselves turning into someone their partner wants them to be.
Everything they do becomes about catering to the other person’s needs and wants and solving their problems.
Over time, they don’t really have much of a life of their own anymore. They lose any sense of independence.
Their life becomes void of interests, hobbies, and even a personality outside of the relationship.
4) You neglect yourself
Catering to someone else 24-7 means your own well-being starts to suffer.
Codependent people are so busy focusing on their partner that they neglect their own needs.
Self-care becomes non-existent as all the attention, time and effort falls on just one person in the relationship. As they start to neglect themselves, other areas of their life probably go downhill.
For example, it may be hard to devote energy to your career, other connections, or even everyday life chores.
Taking on too much may bring codependent people very close to burnout. Yet they just can’t seem to say no.
5) You can’t say no
This one essentially comes down to a lack of boundaries.
People in codependent relationships have difficulty saying no to requests or demands. They are too scared of disappointing their partner.
They worry about the consequences of refusing and how it will rock the boat.
These blurred boundaries can also mean they allow others to invade their personal space or emotions.
Sometimes they are unaware of what is happening. Other times they see it and feel like they are being taken advantage of, but they don’t feel like they can put their foot down.
That’s often why codependent people still stay in a relationship despite their partner constantly crossing the line.
This inability to stand your ground all stems from a deep-seated fear of rejection or abandonment.
6) You’re terrified your partner will leave
One of the first things we highlighted was how unworthy codependent people feel of love.
So everything they do is geared around holding onto their relationship, no matter what.
This unhealthy level of fear drives them to go to great lengths to avoid conflict or disapproval of any kind. They walk on eggshells trying to anticipate their patterns feelings and desires.
Excessive people-pleasing tends to manifest in behavior that seems clingy and possessive.
The thought of losing their partner feels even worse than putting up with the living hell they may be experiencing. So even when things turn toxic, there is an inability to let go.
This tight grasp also shows up in a need to feel more in control.
7) You want to control
The funny thing about control issues is that from the outside they look like a display of strength. But really they are down to feelings of weakness.
Partly because of the way we’re hardwired, security and certainty make us feel safer.
People who are codependent often exhibit controlling behaviors to maintain any sense of security.
When someone feels powerless, they’re constantly searching for ways to find their power.
Without even noticing, they may try to control their partner’s actions, emotions, or choices in the hope that it will prevent chaos or conflict in their lives.
They may not see it as controlling, instead, they think they’re helping.
8) Your support turns into enabling
I once dated an alcoholic. Towards the end of our relationship, I found it increasingly difficult not to inadvertently enable his problem.
He’d ask to borrow money for seemingly legitimate things. Like once he needed physiotherapy when he’d hurt his knee.
Yet I knew that his money was also being spent on something that harmed him — booze.
So it left me with a dilemma. I wanted to support him, yet doing so financially was fueling his habit.
I would have never imagined I’d find myself in this sort of situation. I’d always thought of myself as having very firm boundaries.
But it taught me an important lesson:
When we care about someone deeply it’s not so straightforward.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to addiction. It goes for all sorts of unhealthy habits or behaviors that we may inadvertently minimize.
People in codependent relationships may cover up mistakes, make excuses, or rescue others from the consequences of their actions.
But in doing so it can perpetuate a dysfunctional cycle that prevents both of you from growing and addressing your own issues.
The bottom line is that we can’t “fix” people. If we try too hard, then support just turns into enabling.
9) You mix up love and pity
It’s like the Florence Nightingale effect. It’s the caregiving you end up valuing more than the person.
In many ways, it’s not about them, but you like how they allow you to feel about yourself.
Sometimes codependent people mistake their pity for love because it fulfills their need to feel needed and valued.
And so perceptions of what love and empathy are get confused as boundaries start to blur.
It’s easy to see how this can happen when we consider how confused the emotions of a codependent person can start to become.
10) You never say how you really feel (you may not even know how you feel)
When you’re so used to putting someone else’s feelings first all of the time, you can lose touch with your own.
So codependent people seemingly struggle to express their true emotions. Maybe they sit on them because they are worried about rocking the boat.
Perhaps they no longer know how they feel as they’ve forced their emotions to take a back seat for so long.
But all of this leads to emotional repression, and eventually resentment.
Stepping out of codependency
It may not be easy, but leaving codependency behind begins with seeing the signs. That’s the only way we can ever break free of unhealthy patterns.
The best way to tackle the problem, once you can see you have one, depends on your unique circumstances. But it usually includes plenty of self-reflection, therapy and actively learning healthier ways to navigate relationships.
Doing so leads to not only more fulfilling connections with others but importantly with yourself too.