We are a species prone to addiction. No other species on the planet can become so attached to behaviors and substances that are unhealthy for them, unless they mistake them for food. But our intricate mental makeup that enables our vast intellect and imagination comes with the potential for some heavy burdens.

Co-dependency has been recognized as a human behavior pattern for at least the last forty years. Originally thought to only affect the family members of alcoholics and drug addicts, it has become increasingly apparent that many people all over the world are co-dependent. It has become an addiction of its own, sapping the life force from people as they slowly but surely give away their power.

What Is Co-dependency

In short, codependency is when one person sacrifices his or her own needs in service to another person. Usually the person receiving the caretakers attention has an addiction, mental condition or disorder, or is highly immature or incompetent. The co-dependent often becomes dependent on the other persons affliction to fulfill his or her own emotional needs. This can spiral into a feedback loop of mutual enabling, where the illness of one feeds and reinforces the illness of the other.

This is separate from the normal relating and empathy in healthy relationships. In a healthy relationship, both parties consciously choose to provide attention and care to the other person in a way that inspires that persons health and evolution. Both parties are usually able to honor their own needs in the process of caring for the other person.

But for co-dependents, the care giving is compulsive and feels obligatory. They may be motivated by a fear of abandonment or dissolution of the relationship, or that the other person will suffer if they do not sacrifice themselves in service.

Over time, this compulsive martyrdom becomes an addiction unto itself, robbing both parties of autonomy and the ability to evolve.

How to Tell If You Are in A Co-dependent Relationship

At first, it can be challenging to know if you are simply being very empathetic and generous, or actually indulging in co-dependent behavior. But if you observe yourself and your partner vigilantly, certain patterns will reveal themselves. You can ask yourself (or your partner) these questions to discover if your relationship might be co-dependent.

  • Do I feel like I need to help my partner?
  • Do I ever feel physically, verbally, or emotionally abused?
  • Do I ever feel manipulated, or that I am manipulating my partner?
  • Do I (or my partner) feel like one of us might die if the other person leaves the relationship?
  • Do I have an individual identity, separate from my partner?
  • Who am I, other than a wife/husband/partner/parent?
  • Are we still passionate about each other, with a strong intimate connection, or is there more of a parent/child or doctor/patient dynamic?
  • Do I feel a fair give and take of energy, ideas, support, and affection in all of my relationships?
  • How comfortable am I being alone?
  • Do I trust myself?
  • How would I feel if this relationship ended?
  • Do I lie or hide my needs to make my partner feel safe or comfortable?
  • Am I willing to do anything to ensure that my partner stays with me, whatever the cost to me?
  • Do I believe that my partner can take care of him/herself?
  • Do I have well-defined boundaries?
  • Do I know how to say no to my partner?
  • Am I capable of asking for what I need?

Answering these questions honestly, especially if they make you uncomfortable, can give you insight into the health of your relationship, and help you spot any co-dependent patterns.

Treating Co-dependence

It is important to be kind to yourself in the process of unraveling any co-dependent patterns. At the heart, co-dependency is an impulse to give love, which has gotten twisted into an addiction. It is helpful to treat yourself with all the compassion and care you would give to an addict.

Healing any type of disorder begins with self-love. Find ways to nurture and care for yourself, as you have been doing for others (and encourage your partner to do the same). Reconnect with your passions and purpose outside of the relationship. Remember the work and art that brings you joy. Explore your connection to the natural world.

Many co-dependents are helped by working with mental health professionals. Talk therapy, somatic therapy, Hakomi, and cognitive behavioral therapy have all been useful in supporting co-dependents to return to their sense of self.

Co-dependency was first recognized as a coping mechanism in the loved ones of addicts. But it has become clear that co-dependency is a type of addiction itself. When two people feel like they need to be together more than they love each other, when one persons needs become paramount to anothers, then co-dependency may be present. Cultivating self-love and sovereignty is the path to healing and healthy interdependence, free of the traps of martyrdom and dependency.