Definition of Co-dependence

“Co-dependence” describes a set of behaviors and the pattern of functioning which can develop in an individual after prolonged exposure to a person or system with addiction or another compulsive behaviour, mental health problems or any kind of violence or abuse.  These systems and relationships discourage open expression of feelings and direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.  These rules are internalized and result in the development of a codependent or inauthentic self, which is presented to the world while concealing feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness and shame.

Codependence is characterized by a preoccupation with, and dependence upon, people or things, and a disregard for aspects   of the self such as feelings, boundaries and needs – often to the point of having little self identity and self definition.  It is further characterized by enmeshment in relationships, and by enabling, caretaking, controlling and approval-seeking. All of these behaviours represent attempts to reduce anxiety and create a sense of safety, self-worth and identity

Five characteristics of codependence:

1. People pleasing and approval seeking. A need to please others and a pattern of changing or denying needs and feelings in order to be accepted or approved of.

2. A strong need to have others depend upon them and to find their validity and sense of self in this dependence.

3. Guilt and anxiety if one says “no” or sets a boundary. Conversely, resentment when one says “yes” or collapses a boundary in an effort to avoid reeling guilty or anxious. This emotional double-bind is indicative of powerful conditioning to take care of others at the expense of self

4. Obsession with other; functioning, mood and well-being of self is perceived as being contingent upon functioning, mood and well-being of other.

5. Compulsive controlling and/or caretaking and/or enabling behaviours – which reduce anxiety and distract from painful feelings.

People at high risk for codependence include:

  • Friends and relatives of chemically dependent people
  • People recovering from chemical dependency
  • Adults from dysfunctional families
  • Helping professionals
  • Families with secrets or unresolved traumas.


Completing this checklist can help you become aware of ways you may be “rescuing” people without realizing it.  Some people call this kind of problems with boundaries “co-dependency”.

1. Is it hard for you to take time for yourself and have fun?

2. Do you supply words for someone else when she/he hesitates?

3. Do you set limits for yourself that you exceed?

4. Do you believe you are responsible for making (keeping) someone else happy?

5. Do you like to lend a shoulder for someone else to “cry” on?

6. Do you believe that the other person is not sufficiently grateful for your help?

7. Do you take care of someone else more than you take care of yourself?

8. Do you find yourself interrupting when someone else is talking?

9. Do you watch for clues for ways to be helpful to someone else?

10. Do you make excuses, open or mentally, for another person?

11. Do you do more than your share, that is, work harder than someone else does?

12. When someone else is unsure or uncomfortable about doing something, do you do it for him or her?

13. Do you NOT do things you would like because someone else wouldn’t like your doing so?

14. Do you find yourself thinking that you really know what is best for someone else?

15. Do you think someone else would have grave difficulty getting along without you?

16. Do you use the word “we” and then find you don’t have the other person’s consent?

17. Do you stop yourself by thinking someone will feel badly if you say or do something?

18. Is it hard for you NOT to respond to anyone who seems to be hurting or needing help?

19. Do you find yourself being resented when you were only trying to be helpful?

20. Do you find yourself giving advice that is not welcome or accepted?

– author unknown at this time –