Codependency: What Being Addicted to Someone Means

Written by on August 10, 2014 in Psychology-Psychiatry, Relationships & Sex with 2 Comments

By Omar Cherif
Codependency: What Being Addicted to Someone MeansI was speaking to someone recently about random things when he told me that he was addicted to his girlfriend. A few days later, I came across a psychology article about codependency. And since the topic of addiction interests me, and I don't know much about this one type, I thought I would dig into it to learn more.





Codependency is sometimes referred to as relationship addiction. It may not be the easiest to define, so here are three definitions, which are a mix and match from what I found online:

A psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition — typically narcissism or addiction.

In broader terms, codependency is also defined as “an emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition which develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules.”

And in simpler terms, it is excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.




So, codependents revolve their lives around the problems of others – be it alcoholism or addiction to drugs, food, work or sex; or possibly a narcissistic boss at the workplace. It could also be a family member with a mental or physical illness.

By placing a lower priority on their own needs, codependent people depend on the needs of, or control by, the other person. They keep themselves excessively preoccupied with a child, or with someone who has a problem like a partner, parent, or coworker. Codependency occurs in any type of relationship, including family, friendship, work, and also romantic, peer or community relationships.

Like other types of addictions, codependency can be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, and excessive compliance or control patterns. Naturally, such people often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally and psychologically destructive and/or abusive.

There are two subtypes of codependency; they can be passive or active or some degrees of both.
Passive, meaning they can be people-pleasing, and those are usually fearful and avoidant of conflict. Active, means the bolder and controlling type who tries to manipulate the other.

Interestingly, because of the secret and hidden nature of their control strategies, passive codependents are perceived as more manipulative than active ones.


In addictive relationships, behaviours, thoughts, and feelings go beyond normal level of self-sacrifice or care-taking. Parenting, for example, is quite a responsibility which requires a fair degree of self-sacrifice and giving a child's needs a high priority; a parent, however, could still be codependent towards his/her own children if the parental sacrifice and care-taking reached unhealthy or destructive levels.

Generally speaking, a parent who takes care of his/her own needs — emotional and physical — in a healthy way will be a better caretaker; whereas a codependent parent may be less effective, or may even do harm to a child by crippling them with their extra attention and overprotectiveness. To look at it differently and as written in some of the sources I consulted, the needs of an infant are necessary but temporary, whereas the needs of the codependent are constant.


People who are codependent often take on the role of the overprotective mama hen. They neglect themselves and constantly put others' needs — like health, welfare, and safety — before their own, so they forget to take care of themselves; they lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of individuality. They simply forget who they are at the core as lose their personal identity in others and their problems.

For the codependent, the thought of being alone with no one needing them seems unacceptable. They often feel an intense anxiety around interpersonal relationships, and this preoccupation sort of convinces them that they are “needed.” They are addicted to helping others, they need to be needed. Dedicating themselves to the needs and wants of others makes them feel safe. The validation is received through the feeling of being needed and through seeing themselves as saviours.

This validation is one of the main reasons codependents have a hard time leaving the toxic relationships they are attracted to, even when they are clearly unsatisfactory. They are often locked into a cycle of trying to save their partner or the relationship over and over again, waiting for that “one day.” This act, though, keeps feeding their self esteem, which is naturally low. Such relationships can last for some time, but eventually they become unsustainable due the exhaustion of the helper's physical, emotional, or financial resources. Expectedly, they also cause tension, anxiety, and resentment.


Codependents find that their happiness depends upon another person, a relationship, or finding the right partner. They focus their thinking and behaviour around someone they cannot control, which naturally leads them to unhappiness.

When codependents get into arguments they tend to assume the victim mentality — the poor little me mindset. The times they do stand up for themselves, they feel guilty about it.

Therapists believe that by trying to constantly control, hide and regulate, codependents become part of the pattern, so their very existence reinforces the behaviour of the other. Sometimes, the addiction is so strong that the ‘help' the codependent believes is offering ends up by causing the other person to continue to be needy by supporting and enabling their addiction, or the underachievement or the poor physical or mental health. This behaviour is called ‘enabling'.

In the case of alcoholics and addicts for example, enabling can indeed be the reason why they stay addicted.

In some cases, when the addict recovers, codependents may move on to other relationships and undertake the saviour role again, looking for new validation and appreciation for their efforts.


According to Mental Health America the following are characteristics of codependency:

  • An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
  • A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
  • A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
  • An extreme need for approval and recognition
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
  • A compelling need to control others
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others
  • Fear of being abandoned or alone
  • Difficulty identifying feelings
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with intimacy/boundaries
  • Chronic anger
  • Lying/dishonesty
  • Poor communications
  • Difficulty making decisions




About the Author:

Omar Cherif Omar Cherif is a trilingual writer and researcher, photographer and blogger with degrees in journalism, psychology, and philosophy. After working in the corporate world for ten years, he took writing as a vocation and is currently finalizing his first book about dreams, the subconscious mind and spirituality among other topics.

You can follow Omar on here:
One Lucky Soul

And you can find more of his work on his blog and on Flickr:
One Lucky Soul


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  1.' Mervat hassan says:

    Good study of a very common problem

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