If you research “what is codependency”, you’ll find different definitions, even in scholarly articles. Based on my experience and the research I’ve conducted on codependency, here is how I define the term:

Codependency is a learned behavior, the tendency to obsess over someone else’s actions, behaviors, decisions, and to take little to no control of his or her own life.

No one is born codependent. We become this way over time based on our environments. It’s even been shown that codependent traits can be developed by watching certain television programs, which is why I use the term “learned behaviors”.

A typical codependent relationship involves one person playing the “enabler”, and the other who is being “rescued”. The “dependency” part of the term exemplifies that the enabler is dependent on how much they think the other person “needs them”.

Codependent behaviors show up in all parts of life, personally and professionally. Codependents typically have very low self-worth, and one of their main needs is to receive validation from external sources to make them feel that they are valued and needed.

When does someone become codependent?

These behaviors are most commonly developed during childhood when a family member has one or more of these factors are at play: significant family stress caused by addiction, and/or mental or physical health issues. Those who experience this environment as a child, or even later on in life, likely experienced a trauma related to:

  • Being told you’re unlovable, inferior, unacceptable, etc
  • Being judged harshly
  • Being blamed inappropriately for things you didn’t do or couldn’t control
  • Being ignored
  • Being abused or hurt by people who love you
  • Being told your feelings don’t matter
  • Not receiving guidance, appropriate rules, and boundaries
  • Not having your boundaries respected
  • Not feeling safe to be yourself
  • Regularly feeling scared, anxious, or on-edge
  • Experiencing your caregivers as inconsistent, unpredictable, untrustworthy
  • Not having your emotional and/or physical needs met

These traumas translate to behaviors such as:

  • Seek other people’s validation
  • Have trouble thinking on behalf of themselves
  • Addiction to relationships that struggle with boundaries.

The overarching theme for codependents is that we are here to serve others, people who are unwilling to take care of themselves.

I was a major people-pleaser! It was bad. In any conversation, I would apologize unnecessarily and always agree with whatever that the other person was saying regardless if I actually agreed or not. I made it seem like I was entirely on their side because I wanted them to like me. This explains why I never really was able to develop my own opinions around things, including what I wanted, valued, and what my own goals were. I was constantly looking for external sources of fulfillment and acceptance. You can read more about my story here.

A good example from 2020 was when I, while working three jobs, offered to build my friend a website for his business even though he said he wasn’t ready to create it.

Did I listen? Nope, I was convinced that he needed it ASAP, I thought it would make him happy, so I took it into my own hands.

I spent a long time, like way too long, trying to create this for him. Collecting pictures, testimonials, getting design colors, and of course fighting technology.

I wasted a lot of time, time I could have spent making money doing my work, the work I actually should have been doing.

Once it was done, the other person was upset that I went through and made it. I was then resentful, thinking “after all the time and effort I put into doing this, and you’re upset with me?!” So I told him he could do it himself if he wasn’t happy with what I made.

 A few months later, it hit me. I was projecting my own codependent behaviors onto him. He told me not to build it even before I started, but I went ahead with it. I wanted to have somebody else see value in me, I wanted to please them, make them happy, and of course, thought I had the ability to do so. I ended up calling him to apologize and explain. Luckily, he understood completely.

This is just one recent example of my codependency, how I sacrificed my own time being the martyr, and then when it didn’t work out the way I expected,  I became resentful and felt like a victim. I got stuck in the Drama Triangle [see below image], a trap far too many codependents experience.

I also believe my own codependency showed up at a very much younger age when I was beginning to get into the workforce. I believed all I wanted to do was help others (people-please) regardless if it was something that would make me successful (I didn’t have any personal goals so it didn’t matter at the time). I chose jobs in the nonprofit and philanthropic field because of this. Subconsciously, I didn’t feel I would ever reach success so I felt I might as well make other people happy. This limited my earning capacity, my ability to advocate more for myself, and it also limited my own personal confidence. I felt more like a doormat than anything, and that I wasn’t making the direct impact I wanted to, and my self-esteem continued to plummet.

Can codependents get better?

The answer is always yes. It’s not our fault that we’ve developed these beliefs and behaviors, but it is our responsibility to change them if we want a better life for ourselves. We can unlearn these beliefs that we have about ourselves and others. Once codependents are able to catch themselves in this role, they can slowly begin to replace the challenging behaviors with healthier ones. Slowly they can start to see their own value, and become capable of living their own lives based on what they truly want, need, and deserve.

I’ve dedicated my Money Coaching practice to focus on women who have experienced codependency as this has been a sore spot for me in life. If you’re ready to begin overcoming your codependent traits and becoming independent, especially financially independent, I’m here for you.

Let’s start the journey to see how you’re valuing yourself, how your codependent traits came to be, how they are impacting various aspects of your life, and how to start shifting those beliefs.

Are you ready to know how t to nurture yourself, your money, and become independent of anyone else in your life? Schedule a call with me and I’ll help you get on your way.