What is codependency?

Codependency rather like the term narcissism is something that has spread to the mainstream from what initially started as a therapy term.

In effect we can be codependent, i.e. dependent on anything, alcohol, pain killers, tobacco, an early morning coffee, but also exercise, foodstuffs and relationships. So you can see that is a broad spectrum, how do we know if we are codependent? More importantly is it a problem for us.

Codependency is an over-reliance on something external to create an internal stability. So without the "other" we are not functioning as well as we might. For example, there is a difference between enjoying an early morning cup of coffee to give us a quick pick me up, and an automatic desperate reaching for caffeine to bring us up to our “normal”

In "Codependent No More", Melody Beatties seminal text on the condition, she looks at codependency in relationships, the concept of losing oneself in the name of helping another. This may well chime with many people. We focus too much on other people, endlessly trying to work out why they behaved the way they did. Have we been slighted, ignored, dismissed. Can we ever really know. So Beattie argues we need to focus more on our process not that of the other. Easier said than done if we are not used to it.

A crucial premise in her work is that we are really powerless to change anyone but ourselves. Those involved in the caretaking professions often struggle with this concept. Beattie states that codendent people may:

“think and feel responsible for other people - for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being and ultimate destiny”

Of course we can ebb and flow in relationships with partners changing roles within the spectrum of co-dependency. And ultimately within families, parents and children can change roles. But is codependency restricting you or your partner?

Sometimes it is not so discernible, but it can act as a slow strangulation on the relationship. It is only when we step back that we can see what is going on.

Codependent people struggle with control, although disguised as helping, we may be controlling others when we need to pay attention to ourselves.

If any of the above speaks to you, counselling and therapy can help. Not least by providing the space to think, reappraise and question how you are operating in your relationships.


Beattie M (1992) 2nd Ed. CoDependent No More. Hazelden Publishing.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, NW11 7PH
Written by Graham Allen, Bsc (Hons) Psychology, Dip Psych, PGCE, Reg MBACP (Accred)
London, NW11 7PH

Graham Allen is a counsellor/psychotherapist based in North London

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