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The Relationship Drug

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

Can we talk about codependency?

“Whenever you feel compelled to put others first at the expense of yourself, you are denying your own reality, your own identity.” David Stafford

We all have people in our lives that we love or have a great deal of affection for. But there’s a distinction between who we are and who other people are.

Codependency sets us at the centre of those people’s lives either as the forever-fixer of all problems, soother of all emotions and cause of all problems. Codependency blurs the lines that distinguish how different one person is from others so much so that one loses their own sense of identity in the other.

What is codependency?

Codependency noun

  1. A specific relationship addiction characterized by preoccupation and extreme dependence—emotional, social and sometimes physical—on another person.

  2. The NEED to be needed; in which lose ourselves in being needed, only comfortable in relationships where we feel our partners cannot live without us.

Codependency is a way of behaving or interacting that you learnt or absorbed at some point in your childhood or formative years. If a child notices that the only way to be respected, loved and given attention is through serving others, they may end up with struggles with codependency. If a child grows up in an environment that is unstable, emotionally neglectful, where they are not nurtured and cared for, struggles with codependency may arise.

This is because the child learns to rally around other people’s needs. It often occurs in friendships, intimate relationships and families.

Codependency and people pleasing

People-pleasing is the emotional need to please others often at the expense of one’s own needs or desires. Past experiences including those in one’s childhood have proven that the only way to feel worthy and love is by serving everyone else. Some researchers have found that “codependents are people-pleasers, but not all people-pleasers are codependent”.

Codependency and manipulation

Even though those people who struggle with codependency are often preyed upon by manipulators, codependency is its own form or manipulation. People who struggle with codependency use people-pleasing tactics to control the emotions of the people around them or the outcomes of specific struggles and events. Their way of attaining love and care is by putting other people’s needs in first place. When their care isn’t reciprocated, they are likely to act out through passive aggression or even violently.

Codependency and empathy

Codependency can easily be confused with empathy because both concepts involve feeling other people’s emotions. However, there is a stark difference between codependency and empathy.

The key difference is that people who are more empathic tend to take other people’s emotions IN while people who struggle with codependency tend to take other people’s emotions ON. People struggling with codependency tend to feel responsible for other people’s feelings.

While empathic people will understand the circumstances and emotions that other people are going through, people struggling with codependency also NEED the person struggling to be okay or happy so that they can be okay or happy. Empaths understand that they can be there for someone without trying to fix their struggles and emotions.

A person struggling with codependency NEEDS to fix another person’s struggles even when the solutions they provide aren’t helpful because their own feelings are tied into the struggle.

It’s important to note when you are taking on other people’s emotions and struggles as your own especially when this starts to affect your life. Identify these moments and call them out or naming them to distinguish between what you are taking IN and what you are taking ON.

Signs that you might be struggling with codependency

The NEED to be needed.

You feel responsible for solving other people’s problems. You’re also likely to go into relationships in which the other person is extremely dependent, needy or in crisis because this serves your codependency. Because being needed is a NEED, you feel hurt when you’re not praised for the sacrifices you make.

The Giver.

You find it hard to say no and give more to others. You feel it’s your responsibility to keep the relationship functional, peaceful or even alive.

Trust issues.

You don’t think anyone is in your life because of you as a person but only for what you can do for them. You’re also unable to trust yourself either because you have a pattern of ending up in dysfunctional relationships. Lack of trust in oneself may also come from the fact you don’t really know who you are.


While struggling with codependency, perfectionism is seemingly rooted in the fear of abandonment; the fear that if the people around you notice a slip-up or a mistake, they won’t need you any more and if they don’t need you, your worth does not exist.

Inability to be alone.

People who struggle with codependency are willing to do things they aren’t always comfortable with, as long as the other person demands it of them.

Effects of codependency