How To Stop Being Codependent

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated March 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Codependency, often called "relationship addiction," is a behavior where people engage in one-sided relationships focused on their partner's needs to the detriment of their own. Codependent people often have lower self-esteem and higher social anxiety than those who are not. Working on codependent behavior patterns and creating healthier relationships with someone you consider dependent can be challenging. If you're wondering how to stop being codependent, you may benefit from learning more about these unhealthy relationship patterns or contacting a professional to understand them further.

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Constantly sacrificing your needs for others?

Defining codependency patterns in relationships

Codependency in relationships is a pattern of behavior in which one person's needs and emotions depend on the other person's behavior. Codependent behavior can occur in any relationship, such as one with family members or friends, and is not exclusive to romantic relationships. It’s often defined by specific relationship dynamics that arise from insecure attachment styles. In codependent relationships, one partner may struggle with one or more of the following:
  • Substance use disorders
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Gambling disorder
  • Other mental illnesses 
  • Physical health challenges, such as chronic diseases
  • A disability 
  • A history of trauma or abuse

A codependent partner may give more than they receive, which can make their partner dependent on them. Over time, a codependent partner may become resentful and experience hostility as they feel stuck in a caregiving role. This unbalanced caretaking often leads to neglect of the codependent partner's own needs and well-being as they prioritize their significant other's welfare above all else.

For example, a codependent person married to someone with an alcohol use disorder may seek to help them overcome their disorder by showing them an abundance of affection. However, the codependent partner may be enabling them by hiding destructive behaviors instead of addressing the underlying cause of alcohol use. They might also spend time focusing on their partner and lose sight of taking care of their own life.

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Understanding personality types

Codependency can be a personality type rather than only a relationship dynamic. It can often be associated with various risk factors. For example, growing up in a dysfunctional family or one that fails to provide safe attachment may lead children to experience low self-esteem, neuroticism, and a compulsive desire to please people.

According to an analysis of individuals with self-identified codependent personalities, a reduced sense of self, extreme emotional, relational, and occupational imbalance, and problems related to control and abandonment during childhood drove codependent behavior. 

Common traits and signs

The following are signs commonly seen in people with codependent personalities:

  • Consistent caregiving for a partner 
  • Loss of individual identity
  • Trust issues
  • People-pleasing 
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Indecisiveness
  • Reliance on a partner 
  • Obsessiveness 
  • Difficulty saying "no"
  • Denial of relationship challenges 
  • Difficulty communicating effectively
  • A desire for control 
  • Unable to create healthy boundaries
  • Difficulty with emotional intimacy
  • Fear of rejection or abandonment 

If you feel you are living in the shadow of your partner or have a compulsive need to care for your partner, even if it means sacrificing your own needs, it can be a sign of a codependent relationship

Learning the behavior and understanding how to stop being codependent

Codependency is not classified as a mental illness; it is a learned maladaptive behavior of self-sacrifice. For some, the first step in how to stop being codependent is addressing unhealthy behavior related to codependency and acknowledging its existence and the need for support. 

If you are experiencing signs of codependency or feel your partner's behaviors and thoughts are central to your self-worth, you may want to consider whether you have a codependent personality. Addressing underlying substance use disorders, mental illness, and low self-esteem may be a start. You can also try the following.  

Do your homework on psychotherapy

In addition to psychotherapy, you may find it helpful to use workbooks to develop a deeper understanding of your self-esteem. You might also keep a journal about your feelings and relationship dynamics. Try to reflect on the following questions: 

  • Can you find examples of codependency in your relationship? When does it typically occur? 
  • How does your relationship dynamic make you feel? 
  • Do you know when this dynamic first occurred? If so, do you know what might have incited it?

Journaling can be a form of self-care that helps you identify unhealthy behaviors and organize your thoughts between therapy sessions. According to research published in 2017, psychoeducation can be a crucial element of effective therapeutic treatment, potentially helping you overcome codependency, take your own feelings into account, and have more healthy relationships.

Research patterns on your own

You can learn more about codependent patterns from reputable sites like the American Psychological Association (APA). Learning more about codependency and how to stop being codependent can help you identify codependent tendencies and establish boundaries for healthier relationships. However, therapy is often recommended to address the underlying factors contributing to codependency.

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Constantly sacrificing your needs for others?

Talk to a professional 

Codependency can be confusing and complex. Therapists use different modalities to effectively address trauma, mental illness, and low self-esteem that may drive codependent behavior. In particular, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may help address unhealthy patterns in codependent individuals. During CBT sessions, therapists or other mental health professionals work with clients to empower them to identify, evaluate, and reframe maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In some cases, individuals might benefit from couples, group, or family therapy. 

If you find it challenging to discuss your emotions with others, seeking therapy from the comfort of your home may be more appealing. A 2022 study of online cognitive-behavioral therapy found that it effectively improved young people's self-esteem and their ability to use healthy coping mechanisms.

Sites like BetterHelp offer therapy from licensed therapists with experience using CBT and other modalities to address concerns like codependency. In addition, you can choose whether to attend therapy sessions over video, phone, or live chat. For those with busy schedules, online therapy can be a more convenient way to find support.

Takeaway

Codependency is a common maladaptive behavior that can occur in any relationship. While it’s frequently discussed in regard to people with alcohol use disorder, unhealthy codependency can occur in any relationship, regardless of physical or mental health challenges. Often, codependent personality traits are driven by low self-esteem and self-worth. While you can learn about codependency independently, addressing these complex personality traits and relationship dynamics with a licensed therapist may be most beneficial. Consider reaching out to a provider online or in your area for further support.
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