We hear the term thrown around all the time but I suspect that most people don’t fully understand what codependency is. Why do I think this? — Because I have a hard time wrapping my head around the numerous definitions and complexity of this topic. It’s hard to discuss Codependency without bringing up family dynamics, intimacy issues, coping styles, boundaries, addictions, etc. It’s a complex topic that deserves much more than a little post but, heck, I’m up for the challenge, so here goes. I’ll try and put a dent in it. This post will be inadequate, I know, but should get you thinking and feeling.ray-and-marie


  • A dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed during childhood by family rules.
  • A set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive a family’s pain and emotional stress.Β 
  • Doing for another what they can, and should be doing for themselves (taking care of someone’s emotional, physical, needs, when they’re perfectly capable) We keep people stuck so that we can play our role and avoid looking at our own stuff.

General COVERT rules set-up within families that may cause codependencyΒ 

  • It’s not okay to talk about problems. Be closed and secretive.
  • Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep unpleasant feelings to self
  • Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as a messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation.
  • Be strong, good, right, perfect
  • Make us proud beyond realistic expectations
  • Don’t be selfish
  • Do as I say, not as I do
  • It’s okay not to play or be playful
  • Don’t rock the boat
  • We share one ego mass – individual thinking and feeling is frowned upon
  • Change is not permitted
  • Learn how to read covert signals, learn the rules of the family and stick with them
  • Boundaries are either too strict (anxiety) or too lax (chaos)
  • We are responsible for each other’s choices but especially for maintaining the facade.

These maladaptive behaviors hinder family member’s development. The system (usually parents and relatives) has been developed in response to a problem such as alcoholism, mental illness, a shame issue of some kind, etc. We can usually go back a generation or two and we’ll find the “problem” or shame. The rules are multi-generational.

What’s important to remember is that as children, our coping behaviors are acceptable – we survive any way we can. Children are not responsible for their choices while surviving a dysfunctional system. Parents are responsible for taking care of their children’s emotional needs not the other way around. The problem is, that when we grow into adulthood we take those maladaptive behaviors with us instead of leaving them behind — and they definitely don’t work in adulthood. They will constrict and strain the development of healthy INDIVIDUAL self-esteem and hurt our relationships.


  • controlling behaviors, demanding
  • Distrust
  • perfectionism
  • avoidance of feelings
  • intimacy problems (both emotional and physical)
  • Care taking behavior
  • Hyper vigilance – a heightened awareness for potential emotional or physical threat
  • Boundary issues – get angry with self for letting your own boundaries get broken
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fixing the damage caused by another person’s behavior
  • Placing other people’s needs ahead of one’s own
  • Relying excessively on other people for approval and identity.
  • Inability to say, “NO.”
  • Avoids confrontation and conflict at all costs – to the point of compromising integrity
  • Blame themselves for everything, feel responsible for other people’s behavior

So, is everyone codependent?? πŸ™‚ No, but most of us can identify with some of these symptoms. If you look at both lists and feel this describes your family, and these feelings and behaviors describe you in large part, then it might be worth exploring the possibility that you have co-dependency issues. No worries. These behaviors are “maladaptive” which means they can be undone with a little work, time and a new understanding. Codependency can be conquered. It’ll feel very uncomfortable to go up against dysfunctional family rules, but in the end, your relationships will be stronger, healthier and more honest if you do. You’ll enjoy new self-approval!! Good for you!!