Identifying Common Tendencies and Characteristics of Codependency (continued) (IV)

Another running theme of codependency is the individual's inability to set and maintain clear boundaries and the lack of clearly established boundaries in their family of origin relationships. The blurring of boundaries between self and other, me and you, is often the key factor distinguishing dysfunctional relationships from healthy ones.

Codependent relationships are merged ones. Relationships are need-based and are a means of filling emotional holes. A codependent's well being rests in the hands of the other person. The source of emotional sustenance is externalized -- outside of themselves. The other person becomes the codependent's 'raison d'être, or life's purpose. Codependents often put themselves into the role of savior or hero, desperately needing to be needed, to feel important, and that they matter.

In a previous newsletter, I posed the question, Are you preoccupied with your partner's addiction or other problems? (Are you codependent?) This question points to the kinds of things that happen when there is a lack of clearly established boundaries. We know that codependents often find themselves depending on others who are unstable and consumed with their own problems, and who are often in the throes of some kind of addiction themselves. In the guise of caring, the codependent bears the burden of responsibility for problems that are not his or hers to fix. "If you love someone, that's what you do!" 

The relationship between a codependent and drug addict is a case in point. The codependent can not distinguish between whose problem is whose, and who is ultimately responsible to address it. Unaware of attributing the cause of the problem to him or herself, the codependent will get over-involved and exhausted by relentless efforts to 'help.' Denial blinds them to the fact their enabling only makes the situation worse and that feelings of self-doubt, shame and inadequacy, are rising insidiously.

I worked with a patient who made sure his wife attended her treatment sessions by transporting her to every one. In so

doing, he kept her from being responsible for getting to them on her own. As a result, her commitment to get the help she needed was never established. He was afraid of the possibility that she wasn't going to get herself there, which, as it turns out, was the case. He was driven by his need to see himself as a loyal and loving person who was going to be there for her when she needed him most.   In his mind, he was trying to save their relationship, as if he could do it all by himself.

During the course of therapy, he began to understand his relationship was a 'merged one.' He was relating to her as if she was an extension of himself, not as a person in her own right. He was basically having a relationship with himself. The relationship served as a means of relief. He was so desperate to  fill emotional holes, he lost sight of whose problems were whose to fix. He also began to understand how to take care of himself, and to tap the abundant resources deep within himself, and become able to act in his own best interests. After several months, he realized their relationship was over and moved out.   

Codependent versus Healthy, Intimate Relationships

Basic relationship building principle number one is the definition of intimacy. It is the coming together of two separate selves in a joint-effort creation. You and Me make Us.

If you are going to enter the sacred space of co-creation where You and Me become Us, it's necessary to have a self to bring. Having a self means being able to act autonomously and reliant on an array of internal resources, and that your well-being or sense of self-worth does not depend on someone else or a relationship. You must have a relationship with yourself upon entering into the sacred space. At the bare minimum, self-awareness in involved. Your behavior is internally based and purpose driven.


Write your own
  • arlene escalada

    arlene escalada

    26th Sep 2010

    everything said is true....i've been a codependent for a while then a volunteer facilitator for codependents in a government rehab center here in the philippines for almost 10 years.....if addiction is a lifetime disease then so is codependency....and i can say that majority of us (filipinos) are codependents by with or without addiction in any family, there is codependency.....thanks for this great article.....god bless!

  • Toni


    27th Sep 2014

    Hi Lisa, I really eoyjned your post as well as the comments that followed.As a therapist specializing in working with the loved ones of people with addictions, I see a lot of clients with codependency issues and I am a recovering codependent' as well. Today, my simple definition is that we are behaving in codependent ways when we put other people's needs ahead of our own on a fairly consistent basis. Many of us, especially women, fall into this trap after being socialized and taught that this is what we should' be doing in our relationships, so we often unwittingly become people-pleasers I know I did. I clearly remember the day I reached my bottom with codependency I knew I wanted to stop behaving that way but didn't have a clue about how to change it. Then I found some wonderful programs like Al-Anon, ACOA, and CODA which helped me tremendously. Now, all these years later, I no longer have these kinds of relationships in my life and I am able to help other people develop healthier behaviours as well.I'd like to encourage anyone who is struggling with this very debilitating issue (it's disastrous to our self-respect!) to reach out and get some help either from a therapist who specializes in this, or from a support group such as the ones I've named or perhaps both. A much happier and healthier life awaits those of us who choose to recover from codependency!

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About Daniel Linder, MFT

Daniel Linder

Relationships. I was born with a keen sense about relationships, was always assessing how close and intimate people are with each other. I had a knack for relationships. The importance of relationships cuts to the core of who I am. The combination of clinical training, 25 years of professional experience treating dysfunctional, non-intimate couples and families, as well as rigorous self analysis has given me a lot to work with. I put what seemed to come naturally to me under a microscope in an effort to break the process of building healthy relationships down to concrete essentials: Understanding of Basic Principles, Communication Skills, Self-realization and Intimacy.

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