Definition of Codependency

Definition of Codependency

Codependency is one of those words that you hear thrown around a lot during therapy and other mental health treatment. It is a learned behavior. It can actually be a behavior that is passed down through learning for generations.

It is a term that was coined to describe partners, parents, siblings and friends of someone that was chemically dependent. It is an excessive reliance on another person that has mental health issues and that need to be cared for.

In other words a codependent person may not be participating in the behaviors of the person that has the issues but they rely on that person to determine their own self worth. It no longer means that you are enabling and addict only, it can mean that you are supporting someone that is not stable, immature, irresponsible, addicted, under achievers and a host of other undesirable traits or behaviors.

The Relationship

One of the key factors of codependency is that the relationship is unhealthy and dysfunctional. Another key factor that is used to identify codependency is that an individual can not function without the other person.

The relationship is built around the person that has the issues and the person without the issues can not seem to focus on any thoughts without including that person. In a codependent relationship it is not a symbiotic relationship. There is a taker and a giver.

The giver may know that the relationship is not healthy. They may even be able to admit that the relationship is unhealthy but they still continue to enable the relationship. In many cases of codependency the giver takes responsibility for the takers behavior either willingly or through constant badgering from the taker.

This type of relationship is most common in parent/child relationships or spousal relationships. It is a relationship built on guilt. The codependent is willing to make extreme personal sacrifices to prove their love and worthiness.


Some of the characteristics of codependency are:

  • Inability to be alone.
  • Complaints of boredom and feelings of emptiness.
  • Low self worth.
  • Putting others needs ahead of your own.
  • External loci of control.
  • Fear of not being loved.
  • Constant need for approval.

Treatment of codependency is possible with psychotherapy and commitment. There is no one blanket treatment that can “cure” everyone. The treatment has to be highly individualized to uncover latent disorders and other issues.