If you're in therapy with me, you might have heard me use this term: codependency. And it may have struck you as an odd description. Because I thought the same... "I'm not codependent, I'm as independent as it gets. I'm not needy and I certainly don't depend on others; I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself!" Or so I thought...

So let me bust the myth about codependency...it has nothing to do with being needy! 

And I promise, if you do meet the "criteria" for codependency, you are not taking care of yourself as much as you think you are...and here's why...


Hi...I'm Dana...and I am a codependent. Why does that sound like I just came out of an AA meeting? Because that's where the term codependency was formed. It used to be defined as "a person living with or in a relationship with an addict."

Well, we've learned that codependency can rear its ugly head in many different relationships. So the definition has since been shifted to "a specific relationship addiction characterized by preoccupation and extreme dependence—emotional, social and sometimes physical—on another person." 

"But Dana, you said it isn't actually about dependency? And now you're calling me an addict?!" Correct...and yes. Codependency is not about being needy, it's an addiction to the concept of being needed. The main "symptom" of being codependent is being so busy taking care of others, that a person forgets to take care of themselves, resulting in a loss of identity. 

So no, you are not needy, far from it. But you are putting a disproportionate amount of energy into taking care of others. So much so, that you lose your sense of self. Your identity has now been fully shifted into what you are doing for others.

Let me tell you how I know when I am talking with a fellow codependent. I will have a conversation with them and I hear all about the laundry list of tasks they are doing to take care of others. I hear some exhaustion in their voice. I hear intense amount of pride when talking about other people's accomplishments as if it were their own (because they think it is). And I hear resentment and frustration when others are not doing what they want them to do, "how do they not know that's what's best for them?" They feel personally slighted when a loved one does not make what they deem a necessary/beneficial change, and feel as though that person "must not love them" when they don't change. And the easiest way to identify a codependent is when I persistently ask them about themselves and how they feel, and they (without realizing) consistently respond with how others are doing.

What is the consequence? Codependents spend so much energy on taking care of others, that they forget who they are. So this means that they may stay in a toxic relationship longer because they think they can help a person...but in reality, they have no idea who they are and what their purpose is if they remove themselves from that loved one. And they also think they are helping by being so involved, but what is happening is they are not giving their loved one enough autonomy to make changes on their own, which usually means they don't change. And then the codependent becomes frustrated, angry, and resentful; thus only perpetuating the toxic dynamic. 

Am I striking some nerves now? Sorry not sorry. I had to hear this tough reality about myself too. Good news though, you can change this! AND your relationships will improve. Most importantly you'll get the opportunity to discover who you are and start truly taking care of yourself. And you will have the wisdom and confidence to learn which relationships are worth improving and which ones you need to let go.



"Codependent No More" by Melody Beattie was a lifesaver for me...and if any of the above resonated or struck a nerve with you, it could be a lifesaver for you too. I can promise as someone who has lived it and has worked "the steps", that I'm so much better off in my relationships because of it. Every time I get over involved, I'm not surprised to find that I'm exhausted, angry, and resentful...and for no benefit because the change I'm hoping for doesn't happen. And yet every single time I recognize my codependency behaviors and take a step back and let go and have faith while working on soothing myself, the change that I need always happens! So let me leave you with my favorite variation of the serenity prayer:

"[God] grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me."

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