I’ve been doing a lot of research about co-dependency and how to get the answer to the question, are you co-dependent? I’ve always thought of codependency as more about ‘enabling’ someone’s bad behavior, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a learned behavior that originates in childhood, formed from the emotional environment in which you were raised and how much navigating you had to do through the moods and emotions of others in order to maintain a peaceful environment or to feel safe. The behaviors that you learned as a child served you well in childhood, but as adults, those same behaviors make it difficult to set boundaries and to express your own emotions freely, and usually lead to bad relationships.

Co-dependency is about putting the feelings of others ahead of your own, which is exhausting as well as crushing to your own self-worth and self-esteem. By taking slow steps toward self-love and self-care, you can emerge from co-dependent relationships and embark on healthier, more balanced partnerships.

Below is a list of five behaviors that I feel are the foundation of a co-dependent character profile. If you see yourself in these descriptions and want to learn more, I encourage you to do some research of your own because there is a lot of really good information readily available online.

Caretaker: Do you often put your own needs to the side when you feel they conflict with the needs of someone else? Do you take better care of the people around you than yourself? It is empathetic to show care for others and to be considerate of their feelings, but when you find yourself putting the needs of others before your own on a regular basis, it’s can be a sign of a codependent personality. If you feel as if everyone is getting their needs met except you, chances are it’s because you are choosing to put the needs of others first. Don’t expect others to refuse your assistance or worry about your needs the way you worry about theirs, it’s up to you to create a balance.

Control: Do you feel you should know what your partner is doing and thinking? Do you want to know where he/she is and who with? Do you give your opinion and advice even when it isn’t asked for? Do you try to manage your partner’s life? Do you feel offended or hurt when your partner doesn’t take your advice? Are you a ‘control freak’? Do people say you’re ‘bossy”? Control helps co-dependent personalities feel ‘safe’ in the world. Humans are contradictory and erratic, which makes a co-dependent feel uneasy and insecure. The more you think you know how someone will or won’t behave and the more you can control their behavior (either through guilt, tears, or under the guise of ‘love’), the safer you feel, but it’s a false safety because people are unpredictable no matter how much you try to control them, and eventually, your controlling nature will push people away. You need to seek the feeling of safety and security inside yourself and make it independent of what others are doing.

Communication: Co-dependents have a difficult time expressing their feelings, wants, and needs – and often, don’t even know how they feel, or what they want and need. They are so concerned with how the other person feels and making sure that the other person is okay, they lose touch with their own emotions. Even if they know what they want and need, they won’t voice it for fear of ‘rocking the boat’ or upsetting someone. Instead, they go along with what everyone else wants so they’re not thought of as ‘difficult’ or ‘demanding’. This is crushing to their soul. If you are constantly sacrificing your needs on the ‘altar’ of the needs of others or are afraid to state your needs for fear of upsetting someone, you are likely co-dependent. If you live under a fantasy that ‘one day’ the person you’ve been sacrificing yourself for will ‘wake up’ and suddenly appreciate all that you’ve done for them, trust me, that day will never come. Be your own saviour and your own best friend. If you don’t advocate for yourself, you can’t expect someone else to do it. Shout your dreams, desires, feelings, and needs from the rooftops! Those who love you will do all they can to help see them come true, anyone else isn’t worth your attention.

Boundaries: Co-dependents are terrible at setting boundaries. Most of them don’t even know what boundaries are. They may have seen or heard the term, but they don’t really know what it means or what it looks like to ‘have boundaries’. (If you want to read what I’ve written about personal boundaries, click here for a previous blog post). The easiest way to know what your boundaries are is to pay attention to how you feel. If someone does or says something that feels painful or hurtful to you, it’s a sign that a personal boundary of yours has been crossed. An emotionally healthy and self-aware person will immediately recognize that a boundary has been crossed and will speak up and say something about it. They will not tolerate bad behavior or make excuses for it. They call the other person out on it and make sure their displeasure is known. If the other person is also emotionally healthy, they will stop the hurtful behavior, apologize, and not repeat it. An unhealthy person will dismiss your feelings, make excuses, or deny their guilt completely. If there is nothing else you learn to do in your lifetime, learn to set and maintain personal boundaries; they are crucial to a happy life.

People Pleasing: One of the most obvious traits of a co-dependent is people-pleasing. This is a person who is running around like a chicken with its head cut off making sure that everyone around them is satisfied and stress-free while they have stress coming out their eyeballs! Trying to please everyone else is a futile endeavor, you can’t please everyone. And the primary ‘displeased’ person is going to be you! Co-dependents feel that saying ‘no’ makes them a bad person. They feel extrememly guilty if they say no to a request of their time, energy, and resources. And usually a co-dependent pairs up with a ‘taker’ – someone who is all too happy to let the co-dependent give. Emotionally healthy relationships are give and take, and emotionally healthy partners want to give to you. Learn how to give and receive. Let others know what you need so they can feel the joy and pleasure of giving it to you. And you should only be giving to others from a place of joy and love inside yourself, not out of a sense of obligation. Give your energy, time, and resources to yourself first, and your happiness and satisfaction of life will spread to the loving people around you.