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Co-dependency- Co-dependency is a learned behaviour that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioural condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with co-dependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Co-dependent behaviour is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behaviour.


Co-dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or drug dependence. Originally, co-dependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person. Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals. Today, however, the term has broadened to describe any co-dependent person from any dysfunctional family.


Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine - and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviours like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.


They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. A wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a truant child; or a father may “pull some strings” to keep his child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behaviour.


The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the co-dependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.” When the caretaking becomes compulsive, the co-dependent feels choiceless and helpless in the relationship, but is unable to break away from the cycle of behaviour that causes it. Co-dependents view themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in the love and friendship relationships.


Characteristics of Co-dependent People Are:


An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others


A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue


A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time


A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts


An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment


An extreme need for approval and recognition


A sense of guilt when asserting themselves


A compelling need to control othersLack of trust in self and/or others


Fear of being abandoned or alone


Difficulty identifying feelings


Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change


Problems with intimacy/boundaries


Chronic anger




Poor communications


Difficulty making decisions


This condition appears to run in different degrees, whereby the intensity of symptoms are on a spectrum of severity, as opposed to an all or nothing scale. Please note that only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of co-dependency; not everyone experiencing these symptoms suffers from co-dependency.


1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?


2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?


3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?


4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?


5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own?


6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?


7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?


8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?


9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?


10. Have you ever felt inadequate?


11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?


12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?


13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?


14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?


15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?


16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?


17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?


18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?


19. Do you have trouble asking for help?


20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?


If you identify with several of these symptoms; are dissatisfied with yourself or your relationships; you should consider seeking professional help. Arrange for a diagnostic evaluation with a licensed physician or psychologist experienced in treating co-dependency.

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