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How to Spot Codependent Behavior Early & Regain Your Self-Identity

Knowing what codependent behavior is and being able to identify it is the best way to reassess and redefine yourself for a better, fuller life.

codependent behavior

Codependent behavior is a dysfunctional reliance on someone outside yourself for approval and acceptance. Although codependent behavior may initially seem like simply relying on someone, it is often much more complicated than that.

Codependent behavior is not simply depending on someone for something, but it allows you to be overwhelmed and basically defined by someone else.

The further issue here is that codependence isn’t a healthy person relying on a healthy person for this assurance. The codependent person enables the other person’s bad habits, addictions, or immaturity. Being codependent is not the opposite of being independent. It is the idea that your independence relies on your relationship with this person.

But, relationships are complicated, even the healthy ones, so how do you spot this behavior? How do you know if you show signs of codependent behavior?

[Read: How to stop the codependency for a healthy relationship]

What is codependent behavior?

In reality, codependent behavior is a very complicated psychological term. In fact, there have been numerous books written about it. Some people lean towards codependent behavior in all their relationships from romantic to platonic and even familial. Others only have these tendencies in romantic relationships.

The reasons that cause this behavior are not simple. They are varied and greatly differ from person to person. It could be caused by your parents, a past relationship, childhood bullying, and a never-ending list of other things.

And what makes codependent behavior so common is the lack of transparency. What may seem like caring and devoted behavior is often codependency hidden behind a wall of love.

[Read: Why your codependent friendship is more unhealthy than you think]

Nearly every TV romance is built on the idea of codependent behavior. To many of us, it seems awfully romantic rather than brutally problematic. This is why being able to spot the signs of codependent behavior is so important. There is a good chance you could be in a codependent relationship right now and not even realize it.

Once you are able to identify codependent behavior, you’ll be surprised by how often you notice these traits in TV, movies, and your everyday life.

[Read: What does a healthy relationship look like? The guide to build one]

My experience with codependent behavior

For many people, spotting codependent behavior doesn’t occur until you’re in therapy. A therapist will identify this right away. If you go into a session and talk more about someone else than you do yourself, you often show signs of codependent behavior.

[Read: 20 signs you’re a people pleaser and don’t even realize it]

That is how it worked for me anyway. When I first went to therapy years ago, my therapist almost immediately explained codependency to me.

I spent the bulk of my appointments talking about someone in my life who happened to be an addict. I complained about them and about their problems, attitude, and presence in my life. Letting them and my relationship with them essentially define my happiness.

I couldn’t let go of that person’s problems and focus on my own. If they weren’t functioning at full capacity, I couldn’t be either.

It took a long time, but eventually, I was able to worry about them without letting it get in the way of me living my life. I salvaged the relationship into something that was healthier for me. It took a lot of practice, but, when something came up with them, I took a deep breath and let it pass through me.

Just as most of us wouldn’t let something that happened on a TV show personally affect our lives, I couldn’t let this person’s life affect mine.

[Read: The martyr complex – How to recognize it and stop inflicting it upon yourself]

Signs of codependent behavior

For me, codependent behavior happened to be pulled from both my childhood and a dear friend’s addiction that mimicked a situation earlier in my life. For you, it may very well be different, but the signs of codependent behavior will be glaringly similar.

#1 You let their mood change your mood. When you are around this person and they had a bad day, you feed off of their energy. If they are in a bad mood, you let it define your day. Your day is now revolved around their mood.

Do you walk on eggshells around them so you don’t further annoy them? Do you do everything you can to improve their mood?

#2 You take responsibility for their feelings and even actions. This is very common. If your partner does something wrong, you take responsibility. You claim that if you hadn’t done A, they wouldn’t have done B. If they have a bad day, it’s your responsibility to improve it. And if they did something wrong, it is because you didn’t do something right. [Read: The hidden signs of a one sided relationship we all choose to ignore]

#3 You place their struggles on yourself. A common codependent relationship is one between an addict and a sober person. The sober person takes on the addiction as a project, yet end up enabling their partner.

Whether the partner gets drunk or high, the codependent person will take care of them and give them what they want to make it better, but it only leads to more bad behavior. By doing this, the addict’s sobriety begins to define the sober one’s sense of self.

#4 You crave their approval. You want this person to approve of you. Certainly, you want them to like what you cooked and approve of your outfits. If they aren’t proud of something you did and you are, you lose passion and excitement over it. You won’t cut your hair if they don’t want you to. Your self worth depends solely on their vision of you. [Read: How to be less codependent and enjoy your life as it could be]

#5 You cover up for them. This is a hard part of codependency as it can put you in a tough position. It can be in both big and small things. Say your partner drives drunk and runs over your neighbor’s mailbox. You will take the blame or come up with a lie to ensure your partner is safe.

You will call them out sick from work when they are hungover. Unfortunately, you will even lie to the law to protect them. You will essentially put their needs and safety above your own every time.

#6 You feel unworthy of something more. Deep down you know you are unhappy. You may even feel stuck in this relationship or friendship. It is even harder when it’s family, but you feel like this is just the way it is and there is no way out. Why do you feel that way?

Someplace deep inside, you’ve lost your sense of self so much that you don’t believe you deserve something more than this. You don’t believe you deserve to focus on yourself and your happiness. [Read: The 15 signs of a taker in the relationship – Are you a giver or taker?]

#7 You “need” them. You feel like you won’t make it without them. You need them in your life. Even if they make you miserable, you cannot be apart from them. Just the idea of breaking up gives you anxiety.

#8 You try to change or fix them. You put all your effort into making them better. It could be their addiction, immaturity, lack of focus, or growth that you’ve assigned to yourself. This is your goal.

You desperately believe that if you just do one more thing, they will see all you do for them and appreciate you and change. But, all the while, if they do change you will lose your sense of self because that has become defined by their issue. [Read: Should you try and change your partner for the better?]

#9 You don’t know who you are without them. You can’t think of anything without them in mind. If you want to join a workout class, you can’t do it without their approval. You want to try a new recipe, but you can’t because it isn’t their thing. If someone asks you what you want, you immediately respond with what they would want. Who you are has become this relationship.

[Read: How to not be codependent and learn to stand on your own feet]

If you are experiencing these signs of codependent behavior, it is not a life sentence. You can break away from this pattern of destructive behavior and regain your self-identity.

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Samantha Ann
My name is Samantha Ann. I am 28 years old. It was always my dream to become an advice columnist, so after years of off and online dating and eventually finding...