Recognizing Signs of Codependency

Learn about the signs of codependency, what causes it, and how to get help in this comprehensive article.

Table of Contents

What Is Codependency?

Codependency is when a person is physically, emotionally, or mentally reliant upon another person. It is commonly seen among romantic partners but can also occur with friends or family members. Individuals with substance use disorders, personality disorders, past trauma, or dysfunctional families are more susceptible to developing signs of codependency.

Signs of Codependency

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Codependency vs. Dependency

The most significant difference between codependency and dependency is mutual reliance. In a healthy relationship, being dependent on one another consists of a good balance between give and take. Dependency can promote self-growth and independence. Both individuals want to see and help the other thrive. They can express themselves, experience their own emotions, and disagree without fear or guilt.
In a codependent relationship, the scale is drastically uneven. In other words, one is doing most of the giving while the other is doing most of the taking. Codependency is a total reliance on the other person. A codependent individual will merge their identity with the other, losing sight of themselves and only focusing on their partner’s needs. This unhealthy dynamic can cause fear of disagreement, abandonment, and conflict.

What Are the Signs of a Codependent Person?

Codependency can manifest in a multitude of ways. The ability to recognize the signs of codependency can encourage self-growth and a willingness to seek help. Thus, familiarizing oneself with codependent characteristics can help you or a loved one.
The following includes the most common signs of codependency:
  • Self-esteem is based on what they do for the other person, not who they are
  • Don’t know what they want or need
  • Tend to lose themselves in friendships and relationships
  • Difficulty setting boundaries or saying no
  • Often attract difficult or harmful people
  • Have a hard time letting go of others
  • Tend to expect perfection from themselves
Individuals may not show all of these signs of codependency. However, they usually struggle with the majority on this list.

How Do Codependent Relationships Start?

Codependency is a learned behavior, typically from caregivers or other influential people in a person’s life. This often happens due to destructive parental relationships, living with someone who has a physical or mental disorder, or substance abuse. Over time, these adverse life events can lead the individual to a lack of trust, low self-esteem, and fear of abandonment or rejection. These issues are causes and signs of codependency.

What Causes Codependency?

Some people have only ever known how to be codependent because it is the attachment style their parents portrayed. Others exhibit signs of codependency due to substance abuse issues or domestic violence.

Childhood Trauma

Most commonly, codependency starts in a dysfunctional family. They are taught from a young age that behaviors, such as entirely relying on another person for happiness or direction, are “normal.”

A dysfunctional family can also entail abuse. Childhood trauma and neglect can drastically interfere with developing healthy social skills and behaviors. More than two-thirds of children before the age of sixteen experience at least one traumatic event.1

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Trauma is a significant factor in codependent relationships. Experiencing a traumatic event alters mental and emotional health in ways that adversely affect daily life. For example, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that causes people to relive traumatic events, such as experiencing flashbacks or triggers. Other symptoms include guilt, depression, anxiety, avoidance, and isolation.

It is estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women experience trauma at least once. Further, approximately 6% will develop PTSD at some point in their lives.2


Substance abuse and addiction can lead to signs of codependency in relationships. Growing up in a household where substance abuse is prevalent can result in neglect, abuse, and malnutrition. Children often lack communication skills and fall behind in physical and mental development. National statistics show that around 8.7 million children have at least one parent with a substance use disorder.3
Further, addiction is widespread, affecting over 40.3 million people in the United States. The damage and changes the body endures with substance abuse are substantial. As a result, individuals suffering from addiction can develop codependent tendencies.4

Other Causes of Codependency

Some other causes of codependency can include:
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Parents or caregivers who ignore their children’s needs in favor of their own
  • Caregivers with a personality disorder
  • Controlling or overprotective caregivers
  • Criticism or bullying from parents, siblings, or peers
  • One or both parents leaving the family

How to Overcome Codependency

Fortunately, individuals can overcome codependency. The following include effective ways to improve signs of codependency, relationships, and mental health:


Communication is key in any relationship. It can help foster trust and encourage an honest and open relationship. People can begin by expressing their emotions, talking about their past, or simply discussing how their day was.


Often, the best course of action is to seek professional help, such as psychotherapy. Therapists can start by helping clients identify the underlying causes of their codependent behaviors. They provide a safe environment to discuss past and present issues. Therapists also offer healthy solutions and coping mechanisms to improve daily life.

Couples counseling and family therapy are effective solutions for partners and families experiencing signs of codependency. Couples and family therapists can help improve communication, trust, honesty, and conflict.

Reconnect With Loved Ones

Isolation and disconnecting oneself from friends and family are common signs of codependency. Thus, reconnecting with loved ones plays an important role in overcoming codependency. Improving relationships with others can lessen the pressure of the relationship and increase independence. A wider social circle can also act as a support network.


Engaging in enjoyable activities is a great way for people to discover themselves. Hobbies can encourage meeting new people who share the same interests, increase creativity, decrease stress, and add time out of each day or week to focus on themselves.

Seek Support

Support can include seeking help from professionals or loved ones. One of the first steps people can take to better themselves is to admit they need help. Seeking support is a sign that a person is willing to make a change.
Signs of Codependency

Benefits of Professional Support for Codependency

Working with a professional to help with signs of codependency has many benefits. Mental health professionals can diagnose existing disorders and identify key factors that can induce negative emotions and behaviors. Trauma, mental health disorders, and substance use disorders significantly affect daily life and typically require professional help for lasting recovery and quality of life improvements.

It is usually difficult for people to notice their destructive behaviors or adverse mental health symptoms, such as codependency. Thus, therapists can bridge this gap and provide valuable insight.

Ways Professional Support Can Improve Wellness

Here are the primary benefits of professional support for codependency:
  • Recognizing key signs of codependency
  • Overcoming people-pleasing tendencies
  • Addressing related mental health symptoms, including feelings of guilt, anxiety, or depression
  • Reconnecting with one’s sense of self
  • Setting healthy boundaries

Find Help for Codependency at Profound

If you recognize signs of codependency in your relationship or with your loved ones, Profound Recovery can help. Our medical team is ready to help alleviate your codependent behaviors and improve your quality of life. We also offer many therapies and programs, allowing us to create a treatment plan unique to your needs. Some of our treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, family counseling, trauma therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.

Our licensed and compassionate staff are driven to help you overcome any mental health or substance abuse disorder. Contact us at today. We are happy to answer any questions you may have and get you started on your path to long-term, sustainable wellness.
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