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What is a Codependent Personality?

By N. Swensson
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term codependent personality is used to describe a person who intensely focuses on the needs of others, causing harmful or unhealthy effects. Codependent people usually tend to ignore their own needs and are devoted to caring for friends, family members, and others. Although taking care of others is often a good trait, a codependent personality is not capable of knowing when to let others work out problems on their own. He or she may also have difficulty ending abusive or unhealthy relationships. Treatment, such as psychotherapy and medication, is usually recommended to prevent other conditions, such as addiction, panic disorders and eating disorders, from developing.

One situation in which codependency often causes problems is in a parent-child relationship. Although taking care of a child's needs is important, if a parent does too much, the child may not learn to be independent. Codependency also can become an issue when a codependent person takes care of another who has an addiction problem; in this case, the codependent person may become an enabler, making it easier for the addictive behavior to continue.

In some cases, codependent relationships can be mentally or physically abusive as well. In these cases, the codependent person often is unwilling or unable to put a stop to the abuse. A person with a codependent personality may have unhealthy relationships in all aspects of his or her life.

There are a number of personality traits that are typical to a codependent personality. Denial, or the refusal to accept or acknowledge problems, and low self-esteem are two qualities that codependents often display. Because they can have difficulty putting themselves first, codependents are often skipped over for promotions at work and are likely to ignore their own medical problems or illnesses. A codependent personality may also have difficulty making decisions, may participate in activities they don't enjoy to make other people happy, and might frequently offer unsolicited advice.

Seeing a counselor or psychologist to work through codependency is one treatment option, which can sometimes be combined with medication. Other therapies that are similar to the 12-step program used by organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous might also be helpful for a codependent personality. A number of self-help books have also been written on the subject.

If not treated, codependency can sometimes lead to other problems. Social anxiety, panic disorders, eating disorders, and addiction are some examples of self-destructive behavior that can result from this personality disorder. Codependent people also may suffer from depression or other stress-related issues.

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Discussion Comments

By suntan12 — On Mar 03, 2011

SurfNTurf - I recently read that people with codependent characteristics tend to come from homes that were cold and unloving.

They seem to try to recapture the love that they never received in childhood with a mate that is very troubled.

They usually do not pick healthy people because they are not healthy themselves. They also have an intense fear of abandonment and are addicted to painful relationships because they feel that they can fix the situation and always dream that the situation will get better.

Codependency characteristics like these are very destructive to one's sense of self.

By surfNturf — On Feb 28, 2011

Bhutan - I don’t know how some of these codependent people stay in relationships where they are so disrespected like that.

Many of them make excuses for their husbands or think that they are somehow going to change them.

They think that they might be able to rescue them from their misguided and destructive behavior.

The best thing that you can do in a codependent situation is to go to therapy to understand why you think so little of yourself.

You can also look into support groups for additional help. For example,family members of drug addicts can go to AL LATEEN and AL ALON is for family members of alcoholics.

There you can see how to deal with these family members to that you cannot feel guilty about leaving them.

By Bhutan — On Feb 25, 2011

GreenWeaver - I agree with you. I know that people in a codependent marriage are doing the same thing. There was a case on television about a woman who was discussing the fact that she supported her husband for sixteen years while he tried to find work.

No one tries to find work for sixteen years. I think that people that put up with this behavior have to have very low self esteem. The women had to feel on some level that no one better was going to come along which is really sad.

This also happens to women that marry men that are constantly unfaithful. It is disrespectful to the wife for the husband to be unfaithful yet some of these women accept the behavior and look the other way.

They don’t realize the damage that they are doing to their self esteem not to mention the likelihood of developing some sexually transmitted disease.

By GreenWeaver — On Feb 25, 2011

Having codependent personality disorder is really destructive to both the person that they are caring for as well as themselves.

Most addicts that are suffering from one form of addiction or another cannot begin to see how destructive their behavior is because they always have someone to rescue them in a codependent situation.

It is only when people reach bottom that they begin to see the error of their ways and seek help. People with a codependency personality can prolong the addiction that a loved one is experiencing because codependent people want acceptance and they do not want the person who is addicted to be mad at them.

However, the codependent person is actually selfish here because they are putting their needs of acceptance ahead of the needs of the addictive person to heal.

It is just like a wife that is married to an alcoholic and buys the alcoholic all the alcohol that they requested. By accommodating the alcoholic the alcoholic will be happy with the codependent person but the codependent person is creating an even larger problem for the alcoholic.

This is why interventions are so powerful because the family gathers together to tell the addict why they are worried about them and this dose of reality is what the addict needs.

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