A codependent relationship usually starts with an exciting, thrilling love bombing phase, where one partner (rescuer) feels idealised and loved, finally finding their soul mate. There is no longer an endless craving for unconditional love and the perfect partner, as they have found the person who completes them. However, the level of attention and fixation on them is untenable; as a relational addiction sets in, roles are reversed as the rescuer (codependent) continually sacrifices themselves to keep the relationship working or intact. The power dynamic becomes one-sided and emotionally damaging to both parties, as boundaries are not upheld or intruded upon. The rescuer neglects their own needs and desires to meet the demands of their partner, repeating childhood patterns of unhealthy attachments due to lack of parental nurturing and attunement, formulating poor self-esteem and self-worth.
The following are common signs of Codependent relationships:
1 The Tendency to Choose Immature Partners
The codependent has learned through childhood experiences to sacrifice themselves for others to compensate for their inner emptiness and lack of meaning. They instinctually choose emotionally immature partners who are controlling, impulsive and irresponsible, incapable of emotional intimacy or a relationship with emotional depth, awareness and integrity. They unconsciously seek out people they can rescue and fix, people who may need them with all their faults and indiscretions., and anyone giving them attention.
2. Trouble Trusting and Articulating Feelings
Codependents are brought up in environments where their thoughts are ignored, and feelings and emotions are numbed out. They have learned their opinions and ideas don’t matter, adapting their behaviour and thoughts to what others want to hear and how they believe they need to be perceived. Black-and-white thinking and lack of emotional clarity and depth make it hard for them to share or trust their inner experiences. A learned unwillingness to express their needs and desires due to parental abandonment, rejection, or hostility leads to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness without the other person in their life. They start to take everything personally and become sensitive to the person’s displeasure and discomfort. This can derail them, creating confusion and disorientation where they may become obsessed with figuring out what to do or say to restore peace, even if it’s self-sacrifice in an abusive environment.
3. A Constant Need for External Validation and Approval
Due to a lack of self-esteem, underlined by an unconscious self-contempt and lack of self-love, the codependent seeks out love, approval, and acceptance from others. A constant need to be liked supports their idealised self-image of the perfect carer and unselfish person; they feel tremendous guilt if they feel they have caused others pain or suffering by their actions, even if it involves looking after their needs and interests first. As they have a fragile sense of self, they are constantly second-guessing how others perceive them or feel about them, fluctuating between intense clinging or sudden withdrawal. In codependent relationships, one or both partners feel incomplete, are obsessive and clingy, and perceive an inability to function without the other.
4. Avoiding conflict
The codependent has an inherent willingness to take responsibility for friction or disharmony in their relationship, allowing their partner’s inappropriate or abusive behaviour. This keeps an imagined peace, to sustain the belief their partner is a good person, maybe a little lost but still loving, who genuinely cares about them. This upholds their moral conviction in humanity, where people are always good, denying any need to exploit, manipulate, or coerce people. Avoiding any confrontation, demands or consequences keeps the fear of abandonment at bay and the reliving of their inner emptiness. They begin to “walk on eggshells” around the other person, afraid of doing or saying something that will displease or anger them.
“Codependents are reactionaries. They overreact. They under-react. But rarely do they act.
5. Unbounded Loyalty
Codependents tend to remain in unhealthy relationships for too long; they are far too forgiving with vague attempts to hold onto a relationship. As they are unable or unwilling to be alone for sustained periods, they shift from one unhealthy relationship to the next. As they seek happiness and fulfilment through their partners, their loyalty is extreme and boundless, as they don’t believe in or have never experienced some form of inner satisfaction. This boundless loyalty becomes another virtuosity, a skill only they possess, one which makes them special and unique. However, if this bond breaks, they might start to experience deep resentment or be overwhelmed by suppressed negative emotions and start living within a reality based on lived experience and not idealised objects
6. Poor Communications Skills
As the codependent seeks to be mirrored, due to a lack of inner trust, they constantly feel misunderstood if they don’t receive the validation and clarification they need. In unhealthy relationships, their words are used against them, often made to feel crazy, and their opinions are criticised, rejected or discounted. They cannot be assertive and maintain any stance or conviction without apologising for holding such a position. The codependent will often blame, bribe, or beg others to get what they want. Instead of clearly stating what they want or need, they may choose to make a statement indirectly by sighing, stomping around, or slamming doors. Their partner may feel resentful, frustrated, taken advantage of, or unfulfilled, expected to be a mind reader. During their childhood, speaking their mind, expressing an opinion or sharing their emotions led to emotional or physical withdrawal, reinforcing low self-esteem and abandonment issues
7. They Live Vicariously Through Others
As the codependent clings and becomes enmeshed with their partner, their partner’s mood, anger, love, or lack of emotional expression profoundly impacts their own emotional state. Due to the lack of psychological separation, they may convert or deny their own feelings to warrant their partner’s behaviour. They have difficulty figuring out what their authentic responses are or should be. As their partner permits them to mobilise their grandiose self, to provide them with a sense of identity where they become alive and live a life with meaning, As their zest for life resides in every movement and response of their partner, they become hypervigilant and sensitive to any slights or gesture just like a young child and its parent.
“In all codependent relationships, the rescuer needs the victim as much as the victim needs the rescuer.”
8. Expected Reciprocity
The codependent has learned to give way more than they receive during childhood; they have adapted to a world of sacrifice, making others happy first. This is how they learned their partner or parent would reward and acknowledge, and love them. This is how to remain in contact, ensure that the relationship continues, and keep idealised images intact and unblemished. When their efforts are not reciprocated, when they feel demoralised, exhausted and still not validated, they will feel deep resentment and frustration, a feeling of being exploited and taken for granted. They are always caught between a rock and a hard place, where both options are terrifying or unbearable, and their physical and mental health may be impacted, leading to long term damage.
9. Lack of Boundaries
Codependents find it very difficult to implement boundaries that show their partner a set of guidelines of how they want to be treated and where the breaking point or limit to any behaviour resides. Boundaries mean closing the door to what you do not want in your life, a declaration of what you are unwilling to tolerate from another person. This means one has to be willing to leave, walk away and find the courage to face themselves when alone and abandoned. A boundary would allow the codependent to find time for themself and for the things they love doing instead of imprisoning themselves to their partner’s needs, wants, and desires. Setting healthy boundaries ensures that relations in any area of life can be mutually respectful, appropriate, and caring.
10 Can’t Make Decisions
A major problem for the codependent is their capacity to trust in their own judgement and ability to make and stick with their decisions. A codependent was never taught to listen, reflect open and discuss the consequences of their choices whilst being supported and guided by their parents. Self-doubt prevails when small decisions become significant, challenging and overwhelming, and responsibility and power are relinquished and readily handed over to their partner. A harsh inner critic patrols every thought or idea, ready to pounce, punish, diminish and discard any attempts at autonomy or self-assertion. Every choice may be plagued by perfectionism and the urge to be flawless, causing them to study every purchase, rehearse personal conversations, and shun new experiences, stifling creativity, imagination or spontaneity