What makes somebody codependent?
Is it just the same thing as being needy or being overly sensitive about relationships and love?
It’s actually different than these characteristics, although neediness can be a strong factor in codependence.
I’m going to take a detailed look at the top 20 signs of a codependent personality.
1) Playing the victim
The codependent individual is essentially a disempowered individual.
He or she has given up control over their own well-being and future because their needs and desires are not met.
This often manifests as playing the victim.
But this is no game. The codependent person really believes they are a victim more than anyone else.
They were given the short end of the stick, and all their unhealthy behavior is justified by this.
2) Playing the savior
The next behavioral pattern that a codependent person engages in frequently is playing the savior.
They will often pair up with a victim in a romantic relationship and form a codependent yin and yang.
The codependent playing the savior gets a feeling of worth and well-being when “fixing” the problems of their partner.
Their victim partner gets a feeling of meaning and relief when they are being “saved” and completed by a partner.
Needless to say, this never works and sooner or later spins out into a cycle of mutual resentment and frustration, because both are only bringing out the worst in each other.
3) Being overly needy
One of the most common signs of a codependent personality is being overly needy.
Overly needy for love, overly needy for attention, overly needy for validation and an ego boost.
This neediness can rub others the wrong way, not only because it is demanding, but because it basically demands that others construct a sense of worthiness for this person.
Which is ultimately something no person can do on behalf of someone else.
4) Being overly non-needy
The concept of a codependent person being overly needy for the approval and love of others is true.
But it can also be the exact opposite.
One of the worst forms of codependence is actually someone who toys with the emotions of others by completely disconnecting.
They shut down their own desire for connection and love as a way to feel more powerful and in control of the outside world and other people.
“Some would feel too dependent, wanting others to take care of them but others could present as anti-dependent, or ‘needless’ and ‘wantless’ – refusing to accept help or admit that they had any needs at all,” notes Addiction Treatment Program Manager at Priory Hospital Chelmsford Jeff van Reenen.
5) An inability to establish boundaries
Codependent people have outsourced their worthiness to the external world and other people.
This leads to many problems with boundaries, including saying no, but also to committing.
They tend to find it very hard to say no to other people, and even to themselves.
But once they say yes, they also often don’t stick to it, and waffle between a fluctuating inner world of competing desires and ideals.
Their own problems and the problems of others become a chaotic swamp of obligations, resentments, and confusion.
6) Refusal to make and stick to decisions on your own
This relates to the previous point and is one of the common signs of a codependent personality:
It’s the lack of follow-through.
The codependent individual often feels a need to be “backed up” on a decision or see how popular it is before doing it.
They find it very hard to make a decision and stick to it unless everyone agrees.
Even one dissenting voice and they may doubt the very foundations of their life (because it wasn’t stable to begin with).
7) Expecting relationships to fix or save you
This lack of a stable foundation leads to a search for meaning, worth and completion externally.
This often manifests most powerfully in the desire for a deep love to come and “fix” or “complete” them.
The codependent person finds it very hard to let go of this fantasy because is so intoxicating to them and presents as a real solution to a lifetime of confusion and lack of worth.
Sadly, it is not until we learn a completely different path to finding true love and intimacy that the shaman Rudá Iande teaches about in this free masterclass, that we can begin to stop going in circles.
8) Using others as emotional safety nets
Part of this desire for others to complete them is often reflected in a one-way relationship with intimacy for the codependent person.
They want to be listened to, comforted and understood, but they don’t put a lot of time into reciprocating.
They use others almost as emotional safety nets, spilling their secrets and frustrations to them and expecting a sympathetic ear.
9) Needing frequent validation
Part of the unburdening that codependent people engage in is often a search for validation.
It’s the little kid asking his mom why the other kids don’t like him, but just on a bigger scale and in many more avenues of life.
Although there are genuine roots and traumas often at the base of the codependent individual’s behavior, it’s very hard for adults to tolerate it.
That’s because mature individuals with their own sense of self-worth often find it hard to deal with people whose only sense of themselves and their value is from searching for outside validation.
10) Basing your identity on the opinions of others
Another of the troubling signs of a codependent personality is basing your identity on the opinions of others.
This leads to all sorts of unfortunate political and social movements full of codependent people who get their sense of worth from being part of a group.
They wear the same clothes, shout the same slogans and believe the same things, and in return they get a feel-good buzz:
You are wanted, you belong, you are correct in your views.
11) Succumbing to a black-and-white mindset
Codependence often rests on a black-and-white mindset.
This is thinking that’s not realistic and tries to rely on unreliable predictions.
“I’ll always be alone!”
“I’ve met the guy of my dreams, finally life is going to be good!”
“Fuck this job, it’s the entire reason I’m unhappy.”
“I want this job so bad. If I get it, everything else will definitely fall into place!”
These kinds of black-and-white good vs. bad statements are a setup for disappointment. They create great expectations or great fears and lead us into overly codependent relations to reality.
12) Enabling and providing cover to the bad behavior of others
One of the worst of the signs of a codependent personality is enabling the poor behavior of others.
Sadly, when you feel that your own worth is determined by those around you, it often leads to allowing and giving a pass to the bad behavior of others.
A common example comes from a domestic partnership where one of the partners allows bad behavior because they believe their partner’s problems are theirs to tolerate or fix.
As Steps to Recovery Rehabilitation Center writes:
“A woman is married to a man who is an alcoholic.
“She always puts his needs before her own and thinks she can help him become sober through showing him affection.
“She is unknowingly enabling him by giving him everything he requests and covering up for his destructive behavior.”
13) Blaming oneself for the problems of others
This leads directly to the next point:
Codependent individuals tend to blame themselves for the problems of others.
Somewhere along the search for love and intimacy, they became convinced that they are “below” most other people and therefore must seek their approval or affection in some way.
As I noted at the beginning this can sometimes even manifest as evading others and being dramatically non-needy, but it’s still a reaction to feeling unwanted or not good enough.
The idea of blaming oneself for the problems of others is also very common and often has roots in early childhood.
14) A feeling of weakness and insufficiency when alone
The truth about codependence is that it’s far more common than many people realize.
In fact, almost all of us have a few slightly codependent behaviors, and even the most balanced individual has at least some emotional reaction to the behavior and thoughts of others.
Codependence is a need for validation and love that goes too far into overdrive.
It’s a fear of abandonment that basically leads to abandonment, which is what makes it the most tragic.
The fear of being alone is deep in human DNA, in a certain way. But being alone can also be very empowering and liberating.
15) Engaging in addictive behaviors
Some of the top signs of a codependent personality can be found in addictive behavior.
The gambling addict, the sex addict, the food addict, the drug addict:
They’re all after a different high, but the root problem is similar.
The root problem is a search for love and validation in a temporary euphoria.
The problem is that this cycle only keeps snowballing.
As addiction specialist and psychologist Gabor Maté has noted:
“The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain.”
16) Not maintaining or respecting personal boundaries
Part of the codependent individual’s search for external validation and fulfillment is that it can become all-consuming.
In their search to be found “good enough” and desired, the codependent may cross many lines.
What do I mean?
- They may engage in very unhealthy addictive behaviors
- They may seek someone’s romantic or sexual interest to the point of stalking
- They may express jealousy that reaches the level of obsession or psychosis
- They may engage in damaging behavior and aggression toward others who they feel are not fulfilling and validating them enough
17) Living too much in daydreams
Codependency is based on a lie.
It’s the lie that someone else can live our lives for us or fix and validate us.
Really we can only do that for ourselves, and only in a very fundamental way that transcends even psychology or theory.
Validating yourself is much more than mantras or belief: it’s action. It’s truly seeing that you are needed and valuable in a real way.
Codependents have trouble tapping into this, and often live too much in daydreams.
They dream about one day, but all too often that day never comes!
18) Difficulty accepting the limits of control
Codependent people tend to have a very hard time accepting the limits of control.
If a codependent woman messages a guy she likes and he doesn’t write back it’s like torture to her.
She needs to be in control and to get that validation.
Many times, when codependent people don’t get the validation they seek from other people, they start to punish and exact control on themselves.
It also leads to some very disturbing conditions, including potentially anorexia, where people basically starve themselves in order to feel a sense of control and stop being a “burden” on others.
Understanding the roots of codependence
The roots of codependence often go back to early childhood or unhealthy habits learned and reinforced throughout life.
When we aren’t able to form a secure identity or sense of value in our earlier years, we often begin to seek it in others.
This search for validation and proof of value often manifests in several main ways:
Either by trying to “fix” or take responsibility for someone else’s problems and “prove” your worth to them…
Or by trying to convince someone of your worth by showing them how life has victimized and mistreated you and only they can fulfill and complete you…
Both these “savior” and “victim” roles often combine in a very toxic way. They may also alternate.
Their root is similar: a lack of feeling complete and integrated inside and a need for a person to come and validate our worth repeatedly and in disempowering ways.
It’s crucial to start finding a way back to love that’s empowering, genuine, and real.