When codependency becomes problematic

Codependency drawing

It sounds wonderful, to depend on your loved one…..  what could be more perfect? As long as your loved one also equally depends on you and you are both very happy and content, then everything is great. 

Codependency becomes problematic when you are unable to get out of a relationship though it is harming your mental and physical health.

Perhaps you’re someone who attracts partners who don’t want to be tied down. Or you might be a ‘friend with benefits’ while that’s not what you want. Or maybe someone is so obsessive about you that it dominates your life. Or he/she closes off to you by constantly sitting in front of a computer screen. Unfortunately, psychological disorders can also frequently play a role, for example; autism, depression, narcissism, anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD or avoidance personality disorder.

As someone who is codependent, your identity and sense of self worth depends on someone else’s approval of you. You have a strong desire to commit, be caring and loving so that he or she will change, and in return, you will receive all of the loving attention, understanding and recognition that was missing in a previous relationship or in your youth. When you’re not getting what you want out of a relationship and your desires and needs are not being met, you want to be with that person even more. Even when you feel rejected, are treated without love or respect or with physical abuse, you may be unable to end the relationship. For some reason, you find emotionally healthy people too predictable and boring. You are more attracted to partners who are damaged in the same destructive way that you are. This is what you know and it feels safe, but this is, of course, merely a false sense of security. Clients I see in my practice often come to the conclusion that they are not so much codependent (since they can’t really dependent on the relationship to begin with), as they are addicted to having ‘false hopes’. They find themselves stuck while ‘hoping for change’ even though this hurts themselves and is a waste of time.

Failure to break free from an unhealthy relationship can also be a combination of factors such as: (adrenaline) addiction to the emotional roller coaster, having an exaggerated sense of responsibility, self-criticism, not wanting to give up, poor recognition of one’s boundaries and being unable to communicate them, getting used to being in survival mode, fear, shame, guilt and the well-known ‘sticking your head in the sand’.

Perhaps you recognize yourself in these examples?

  • You justify your partner’s faults (he/she means well).
  • You put too much of the responsibility for the problems on yourself.
  • You think it will get better if you just try harder.
  • You want your partner to work on him/herself in the hope that he/she will change.
  • You feel that you are losing contact with yourself.

Your whole day is being taken up by thinking about how you can solve the problems in your relationship, how you can change the situation and find happiness together. The relationship has become an obsession. An obsession with a negative impact on your behavior, emotions and feelings and brings you enormous physical, emotional and spiritual suffering.


Denial can take the form of thoughts like:

  • No one is perfect.
  • We have a good time together.
  • I really love him.
  • He really loves me.
  • Therapy could work for us, but I just wish he’d come with me.
  • I can’t be alone.
  • It will improve if he/she works on the issues.
  • He/she can’t survive without me.
  • We belong together.
  • I’ll never find anyone like him/her again.

No matter how hard and forced you might try, it’s not going to get any better today, or tomorrow – it only gets worse. You become more and more consumed by the drama of your relationship. The people around you can not or do not want to helplessly stand by and watch you lose yourself any longer. First, they distance themselves from you and, in the worst case scenario, they leave you. You become isolated, lonely, steadily unhappier and begin to have doubts about your mental health. You no longer dare trust your perceptions and your ability to interpret the situation. But at certain point, you know one thing for sure: it has to stop, otherwise it’s going to destroy you.

If your (ex) partners have one thing in common, namely that they are not emotionally available to you, no matter how hard you try, then it’s a good idea to try and understand why this pattern keeps repeating itself. Codependency does not mean that you jump from one relationship to another. It means that you attract men or women who not able to commit emotionally. They are emotionally unavailable because they have been emotionally damaged themselves. They are not prepared or able to experience true intimacy.

It is not unusual for people who are codependent to have a history of trauma, neglect and/or emotionally unavailable parents during childhood as an underlying factor. Many codependent people have never received very much caring, positive attention or love while growing up. The result of this is that an unconscious fear of rejection or abandonment arises. Nevertheless, at first glance, rather than trauma or abuse, it was more a question of a family where everyday problems, emotions and feelings were not really discussed. There were often unspoken conflicts that created a distance between family members.

At an early age, you already learned what it’s like to feel emotionally abandoned. Your emotions went unnoticed (also by yourself) whereby you lost contact with your self-worth and inner voice. In adulthood, this has resulted in you being less able to protect yourself from destructive relationships and to make healthy choices. You have never learned how your consciousness is connected to your emotions and how to relate to that. You have no idea what a healthy relationship looks like. You subconsciously harbor an enormous amount of unresolved feelings, while at the same time, you have an enormous need for love, attention, affirmation, recognition and appreciation from the other. This makes you an easy victim for partners who are only prepared to give you small amounts attention and love.

In order to recover from codependency, things need to be completely turned around. Step by step you need to allow yourself to relive, recognize and express all the underlying pain and unsatisfied needs from your childhood, recognize and work through it, internalize it and then let go of it. You can learn how to satisfy your needs yourself instead of being dependent on another. In this way you develop self-worth, independence and autonomy. This means that you can begin to love yourself unconditionally. It means that you can treat yourself in a loving, respectful way, and give yourself permission to have a relationship with someone who is emotionally available. So that the strict inner critic, the doubter or the perfectionist takes up less space inside you. That you set boundaries and stand up for your own interests, desires and needs so that you become the best version of yourself and begin to live the life that fits you best.

Are you perhaps looking for support in this process? You can find it here in the practice. Take the first step by making an appointment with me for an initial consultation.