If you find yourself in a situation in which you continually make sacrifices for the happiness of your partner without obtaining much in return, you may be involved in a codependent relationship.

What is Codependency?

Codependency occurs when an individual is involved in a one-sided, dysfunctional relationship. In this type of relationship, one person is dependent upon the other person for meeting almost all of his or her emotional needs. A codependent relationship may also involve one person being enabled in maintaining his or her addictive, irresponsible, or underachieving behavior.

The term codependency was first coined several decades ago. It was first used to describe the relationship involving the partners or spouses of alcoholics, referred to as co-alcoholics. Research later revealed that codependency characteristics were far more prevalent within the general population than first thought. When left untreated, the symptoms of codependency can become worse. Fortunately, this condition is reversible.

Codependency Symptoms

Below is a list of symptoms associated with being involved in a codependent relationship. Please note that you do not need to have all of these symptoms to qualify as being codependent.

Low Self-Esteem

Codependents may continually compare themselves to others or feel as though they are not good enough and have low self-esteem. Many times, individuals with low self-esteem will be thought highly of by others. In reality, he or she may feel inadequate or unlovable. Low self-esteem may also include feelings of guilt, shame, and perfectionism.

Poor Boundaries

Codependents often have weak or blurry boundaries when it comes to their belongings as well as their bodies, thoughts, feelings, and needs. They often feel responsible for the feelings and problems of others. Some individuals with codependency issues will have extremely strict boundaries which makes it difficult for others to get close to them.


Reacting to everyone’s feelings and thoughts can be a consequence of poor boundaries. A codependent may immediately become defensive when someone disagrees with them. In some instances, individuals with codependency may also rapidly absorb another’s words, believing whatever is presented to them because they have no boundaries. When healthy boundaries are present, one is able to realize that everyone has their own opinions and likely does not feel threatened when someone disagrees with them. Codependents are often not able to discern this.


Individuals with codependency issues may experience severe anxiety when they say “no.” He or she may go out of their way to accommodate others. Codependents may feel as though they have no choice but to sacrifice their own needs to please someone else.


Another side effect of poor boundaries is that a codependent may attempt to help others to the point that they sacrifice their own needs. Although it is completely natural to feel sympathy and empathy for others, a codependent will put others before themselves. In severe cases, someone with codependency issues may even feel rejected if someone does not want their help.


Control is used by codependents to feel secure. Although control is necessary for everyone to feel safe, codependents may feel unable to share their feelings or take risks. Consequently, they may turn to forms of addiction to help them relieve their stress or feel more in control, such as workaholism or alcoholism.


Codependents commonly obsess about relationships or other people. This is a result of their anxieties and fears. They may become obsessed with thinking they might make or have made a mistake. They may fantasize about the way they would like things to be as a way of escaping the pain of the present.

Dysfunctional Communication

When it comes to communicating their feelings, thoughts, and needs, codependents may experience difficulties in doing so. They may also have a fear of being truthful about their feelings and thoughts because they are worried about upsetting someone else.


Individuals involved in codependent relationships may experience problems with denial and be unable to face their problems. They may think the issue is with a situation or with someone else. Instead, they may complain or attempt to fix the other person. Codependents may deny their own needs and feelings and will frequently go from one job or relationship to another. Rather than paying attention to their own feelings, they will focus on the needs of others.

Issues with Intimacy

Persons with codependency issues may experience difficulty being open and close with others. Due to weak boundaries, the individual may fear being left, rejected, or judged. In other cases, he or she may have a fear of losing their own autonomy by being smothered in a relationship.

The Causes of Codependency

Codependency is often deeply rooted in childhood. Children who are continually required to meet the needs of others will eventually learn to suppress their own needs. The child may become addicted to the caregiving role. This may occur with the child of an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent.

Getting Help for Codependency with Therapy

While codependency can be a serious issue, there is help available. The first step is to seek support and guidance. Symptoms associated with codependency tend to be deeply ingrained and can be difficult to change without help. By seeking counseling, a codependent can learn how to become more assertive while building their self-esteem.

Psychotherapy can help codependents understand why it is that they fulfill the needs of others rather than their own. Cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy can also be helpful in the treatment of codependency. An experienced therapist can help codependents identify their symptoms and tendencies while understanding why they first adopted those behaviors. As part of therapy, codependents can work on the following:

  • Improving Self-Care-Due to the fact that codependents often focus on the needs of others rather than their own, they tend to push their own feelings to the side. Self-care is an important aspect of overcoming codependency.
  • Boundary Setting-Setting limits can help codependents learn how to take responsibility and learn self-reliance.
  • Productive Help-Codependents can learn the difference between fixing vs. support while learning how to help others in a way that is healthy and productive.

If you find you relate to the information in this article and would like some help, please contact Rita with Sioux Falls Wellness Counseling at (605) 610-9228.