Could you be a “Co-dependent” and not know it?

Co-dependency was a refuge for me when I was married to an alcoholic and drug addict.

I was set up to become a co-dependent person from the toxic and abusive behaviors my mother exhibited, and since she had worn down and torn away every shred of self-worth I may have had, I found my worth in becoming co-dependent during my husband’s addictions.

I desperately needed to feel valued and needed, instead of feeling like I was worthless and disposable, so I wholeheartedly embraced my role.

A codependent person usually means well. They might take care of someone who’s having problems or just generally enjoy supporting a loved one, but the caretaking becomes “compulsive and defeating,” according to Mental Health America. They may develop a sense of satisfaction and reward from being needed and may display martyr-like behaviors.

Mental Health America

When I joined a fundamentalist church, my co-dependency was applauded as Christian selflessness, and the more selfless a person became, the more a woman emptied herself of her own opinions and beliefs, the better a Christian she was deemed.

I was desperate to be seen as a good Christian, so I embraced the whole notion of pouring myself out for the benefit and service of others.

I embraced my new role with vigor, having been taught that I was going to be approved of by God himself for my selflessness.

Heady thoughts for a broken person!

The only fly in the ointment of this way of living, I discovered, is that the line in the sand keeps moving. We could never be selfless enough, we could never be giving enough! The approval I craved never came because I didn’t fit the outward appearance of a good Christian.

I was a poor single mom, and both I and my daughter had severe health issues. Unfortunately, we were seen as not pleasing God, for the proof of pleasing God was a good job, a nice house, a solid bank account, and good health.

I had none of these, so it appeared that God wasn’t pleased with me because he wasn’t blessing me.

This created the perfect storm for me to dig deeper into becoming the very best co-dependent I could become!

I worked hard at perfecting my co-dependency! I took pride in it, for that was where I was seeking to pull my identity and my feelings of worth from.

“Codependency comes out of a healthy and natural human need to connect with others,” says Judith Zackson, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and founder and clinical director of Zackson Psychology Group. “But when we connect with others, we’re also hardwired to still be who we are as individuals and want to reach our fullest potential, which we call self-actualization.”

But self-actualization and being your own person are at the opposite ends of the spectrum for a codependent person, she says. That’s what makes the behaviors so unhealthy.

Judith Zackson, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and founder and clinical director of Zackson Psychology Group

Imagine my horror when I found out that the very behaviors I was seeking to excel in were, *gasp* unhealthy, and contributing to my addict’s continuing addiction and my increasing anger, depression, and unhappiness.

What IS Co-dependency?

Codependency is a behavior pattern and not a clinical diagnosis. The term “codependency” originated in the 1940s and was used to describe the behaviors of spouses and family members of people being treated for substance abuse. Originally, it referred to a loved one enabling someone’s alcohol use.

Experts now realize that codependency can appear in many different situations, and a 2018 study suggested that the behavior usually features several themes: self-sacrifice, focusing on others, a need for control, and trouble recognizing and expressing emotions.

Healthy relationships are reciprocal, where everyone involved gives and takes, Zackson says. Codependent relationships tend to focus on the feelings and needs of the “taker.” The codependent person may exhibit low self-esteem, have a strong need to please others, feel responsible for other people’s problems, and struggle to set boundaries.

“The consequence is when you have codependency, your entire identity is very blurred, and you don’t know who you are, so you just stay in that negative cycle,” Zackson says.

15 Telltale Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship by Erica Sweeney

I fit the description to a “T”. It was a huge shock to my mental health and the entire belief system I had bought into, to think that all my well-intentioned behaviors were not only counter-productive to my addict, but they were hurting me too.

If I wasn’t going to be the very best Martyr, the very best selfless Christian woman, then who was I?

My whole understanding of what was good behavior and what did not go completely topsy-turvy. I felt the ground was removed from under me, that I was suddenly required to radically change and I had no idea how to do it.

It was a deep shock to my system.

Not only was I not good enough as a wonderfully selfless Christian woman to earn any praise, but now I was told I was a hindrance to my addict’s recovery! I felt nothing I did would ever gain any acceptance or approval. It felt very depressing and I went under for a while.

Thank goodness the universe sent me some marvelous people who helped me navigate my way out of that emotional quicksand. There are some awesome people in Alanon and in support groups. They held my hand as I cried, and let me know they too had wrestled with the very same thoughts and were struggling to heal.

“Struggling to heal?” I questioned. I didn’t think I was sick! I didn’t think there was too much wrong with me, or rather, I dreaded finding that I had failed yet again in others’ eyes.

I had to accept myself and my reality very slowly, for my negative self-talk was primed to absolutely skewer myself.

I slowly learned what the signs were:

Signs of Codependent Behavior

People can exhibit codependency in different ways and at varying levels. Here are some signs of codependent behavior:

  • Lacking boundaries between yourself and others
  • Blurring lines in relationships—you struggle to see where you end and the other person begins
  • Feeling low self-esteem
  • Fearing rejection and abandonment
  • Apologizing or accepting blame to avoid conflict
  • Being who someone else wants you to be
  • Ignoring your own needs
  • Putting other people’s needs before your own
  • Anticipating and reacting to someone else’s needs, which may be perceived accurately or not
  • Feeling like you’ve lost your sense of self
  • Needing to control—including making decisions for others or managing them
  • Doing things for people that make you feel uncomfortable, just to make them happy
  • Taking on too much
  • Basing your mood on how someone else feels, not your own emotions
  • Resenting not receiving appreciation for your actions

“They can be people who really don’t know how they personally feel, but they know how everybody else around them feels,” Dragonette says. “Our feelings, as the codependent person, have been stuffed and stuffed because we don’t want to upset anyone. Then, we can’t really hold it anymore, and we feel a ramp-up of resentment.”

Codependent people might feel chronic anger related to the situation, as well as guilt and anxiety when they take time for themselves.

15 Telltale Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship by Erica Sweeney

Let’s read that last line again: Codependent people might feel chronic anger related to the situation, as well as guilt and anxiety when they take time for themselves.

It was my underlying anger and resentments that helped me to see that I had unspoken expectations for how I wanted my “selfless” actions to be reciprocated, and when they weren’t, my anger and resentment sizzled on the back burner. It was a constant slow-burn, that of course, I tried to stuff down because it was “unChristian” to have those feelings.

All those repressed negative emotions burned inside of me deeply, so much so that the stress my body felt resulted in getting my first round of Shingles.

Of course, I had no idea how to deal with my emotions or the stress I was going through, so I used exercise, or rather, extreme exercise, as my method for trying to reduce my stress.

Guess what happened with my Shingles?

I didn’t recover properly but kept getting relapse after relapse until it reached a point that my Shingles had become a chronic condition.

It was only when my health was broken that I was finally able to look inwards and admit to myself that I was a broken person. Broken from the abuse I had gone through as well as the fundamentalist ideas I had tried to live by.

It was only then could I start to look inwards and see I needed to heal from my past and to learn better tools to be able to live life without breaking or breaking down.

Recovery, both mentally and physically was long and difficult. I had to build myself up from the foundation on upwards, and decide what that was going to look like.

I have written many posts regarding what that healing and recovery looked like.

If you are identifying as a co-dependent now that you have read this post, Know that you aren’t alone, and you did this as a survival mechanism!

Is it time to stop just surviving, and start to learn how to live in a healthier way?

I hope you’ll say yes. If you’re not ready, that’s okay. Sometimes we need time to process new thoughts before we can emotionally commit to learning new ways.

I support you, no matter where you are on this journey!

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27 thoughts on “Could you be a “Co-dependent” and not know it?

    1. Thanks so very much Kathy! 😊 Yes, it’s surprisingly related, and by starting to change a couple of things, like dominoes, other things start to change too! Hope your Christmas was wonderful!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yesss! This is so important, isn’t it? So freeing too, not to constantly have other people taking up so much space in our heads!


  1. Thanks for yet another informative and insightful post. Codependency is a new behavioral concept for me. While I don’t exhibit any of the 15 telltale signs of such a relationship, I suspect that I must’ve shared such a relationship with a demanding mother who I could never please no matter how hard I tried. Convent life was a disaster since I could never measure up to the requirements of the religious person my superiors wanted me to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand about never being able to measure up! I experienced that too. My personal method of seeking approval was to bend over backwards for everyone, to such a point that I pretzelled myself into losing who I was. I don’t think I ever gained their approval. I certainly never got their respect. Now I go for respect. If people don’t like or approve of me, I’m not worried. It’s taken a lot of work to reach this point.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I had a co-dependency that I didn’t realize I even had. Straight from family into a married life at 17, then at 40 divorced and suddenly I was alone. It was quite a shock simply because I had never been independent before. And over the years I found that codependency related directly to how happy I felt within myself, and slowly found that the more I understood me, the more I let go, the more happier I became. But always niggled by that inner doubt and it wasn’t until after searching for so long that one day I faced that doubt and saw what had been holding me back, and once understood it was like taking the whole world off my back it was that profound. We don’t realize what we ‘hold’ in those doubts, it does truly feel like the world. But it is a process, an appreciation of who we are after being through so much, to finally understand that it is all going to show us a beauty beyond words. But first those steps, carrying those bricks until suddenly there will be a big beautiful house that we never even realized we were building. It does have an incredible ending, its just that we can’t see it…adding to those doubts. But that is its purpose, to build us, build hope, build a faith in who we are…until one day it is all justified when we finally see us through what we have become. Great post Tamara, be that light in the darkness, it gives courage that we are indeed on the right path 😀❤️🙏🏽🦋🎅🏽🎄🎁⛄️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mark! Yes, getting married very young before one has had a chance to develop into an adult can be brutal on a person. No matter where we come from, we all get to choose who we want to grow into and then we get to choose the path to get there. It’s different for everyone, no two are usually alike. Bravo to you for finding your path and working on arriving at your destination!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for explaining this so well. I think both my mom and I had this. We were both married to abusive men. My mom still does some of this, even though my dad passed away over 11 years ago. I am recovering myself since the divorce and try to figure out what I want before asking other’s opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bravo to you for forging this path for yourself! Perhaps as you learn and put into practice the lessons, you can help and encourage your mom! Becoming a codependent is usually a result of lack of approval, experiencing criticism and then seeking approval. You are already changing! Keep going!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m always amazed when I read your posts, Tamara. I know from my own experiences that your journey had to be long, arduous, and incredibly painful. You’re one courageous gal, and I appreciate you sharing what you’ve gone through, in order to bring hope to others trapped in this way of living. I also love how you said it takes time to process new thoughts before committing emotionally to something new. That struck a chord with me, regarding life in general. Just another fantastic post all around! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! Your words ring true, for there were times I despaired ever being able to come out of the tunnel. I’m grateful that I did, and am able to speak objectively about it to help others find the path to their own healing and place of wellness and peace. It is a journey, at times a marathon, and other times it requires crawling into a cocoon to nurture the spirit to be able to emerge stronger.

      Blessings on your journey! I’m grateful if my experiences are able to help you to continue to step forward on your own journey!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Exactly! Codependency is a survival mechanism we develop when we’re in those situations. Learning about it is empowering when we learn that we aren’t at fault for surviving! Thanks, I appreciate your supportive words, I’m grateful for the learning curve, and to have been given the opportunity to grow and learn.


  6. I think a lot of people that feel they were not supported by their parents become more co-dependent in relationships. Or people that have faced abuse or trauma as children. I’m sorry you went through all that with your ex but I’m glad you were able to grow out of your codependency and work towards being better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly! Codependency is a survival mechanism we develop when we’re in those situations. Learning about it is empowering when we learn that we aren’t at fault for surviving! Thanks, I appreciate your supportive words, I’m grateful for the learning curve, and to have been given the opportunity to grow and learn.

      Liked by 2 people

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