Co-dependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement, often to their own detriment.

The most common characteristic of co-dependency is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and identity. Co-dependents typically place a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.

Co-dependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships.  Co-dependency does not refer to all caring behaviour or feelings, but only those that are excessive to an unhealthy degree.

Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to ‘be themselves’. Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine – and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.

They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become ‘benefactors’ to an individual in need. A wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a truant child; or a father may ‘pull some strings’ to keep his child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behaviour.

Co-dependency is usually rooted in childhood. A child who is constantly called upon to meet the needs of others will learn to suppress his or her own needs and may become addicted, in a sense, to filling the caregiving role. For example, someone who grew up with a drug-addicted or alcoholic parent, or who experienced abuse, emotional neglect, or the reversal of the parent-child role (in which the child is expected to meet the needs of the parent) may develop codependent behaviors, and these patterns tend to repeat in adult relationships.

Psychotherapy can help people understand why they overcompensate, fulfill everyone’s needs but their own, or put themselves last. An experienced therapist can help a person identify co-dependent tendencies, understand why the behaviours were adopted in the first place, and develop self-awareness in order to heal and transform old patterns.

Book a session with Annie to discuss if you have difficulty maintaining your own identity when in a relationship, or your inability to prioritise your needs and/or boundaries, or any other characteristic that prevents you from being authentic much of the time.


If your happiness depends on whether someone around you is happy, you may be co-dependent.