People who are codependent in their relationships are often dealing with issues surrounding denial, low self-esteem, compliance and control. They may have trouble identifying and expressing how they feel, or they remain in unhealthy situations because of a misguided sense of loyalty. Other people who are codependents in their personal relationships have a need to be ‘needed’ and may use gifts or sexual intimacy as a way to control other people.

Signs and symptoms that may mean you need help


Denial patterns

  • I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
  • I minimise, alter or deny how I truly feel.
  • I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.

Low self-esteem patterns

  • I have difficulty making decisions.
  • I judge everything I think, say or do harshly, as never ‘good enough’.
  • I am embarrassed to receive recognition and praise or gifts.
  • I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.
  • I value others’ approval of my thinking, feelings and behaviours over my own.
  • I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person.

Compliance patterns

  • I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.
  • I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
  • I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  • I value others’ opinions and feelings more than my own and am often afraid to express differing opinions or feelings of my own.
  • I put aside my own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.
  • I accept sex when I want love.

Control patterns

  • I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
  • I attempt to convince others of what they ‘should’ think and how they ‘truly’ feel.
  • I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
  • I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.
  • I lavish gifts and favours on those I care about.
  • I use sex to gain approval and acceptance.
  • I have to be ‘needed’ in order to have a relationship with others.

Characteristics of codependent people

  • They have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for them to be concerned with others rather than themselves. This in turn enables them not to look too closely at our faults.
  • They ‘stuff’ their feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express their feelings because it hurts too much.
  • They are isolated from and afraid of people and authority figures.
  • They have become approval seekers and have lost their identity in the process.
  • They are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
  • They live from the viewpoint of victims and are attacked by that weakness in love and friendship relationships.
  • They judge themselves harshly and have a low sense of self-esteem.
  • They are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment. They will do anything to hold onto a relationship in order to not experience painful abandonment feelings, which they received from living with people who were never there emotionally for them.
  • They experience guilt feelings when they stand up for themselves instead of giving in to others.
  • They confuse love and pity and tend to ‘love’ people they can pity and rescue.
  • They have either become chemically dependent, married someone who is or both, or found another compulsive personality, such a workaholic, to fulfil their own compulsive needs.
  • They have become addicted to excitement.
  • They are reactors in life rather than actors.


Codependents tend to:

  • ignore problems or pretend they aren’t happening
  • pretend circumstances aren’t as bad as they are
  • tell themselves things will be better tomorrow
  • stay busy so they don’t have to think about things
  • get confused
  • get depressed or sick
  • go to doctors and get tranquilisers
  • become workaholics
  • spend money compulsively
  • overeat
  • pretend those things aren’t happening either
  • watch problems get worse
  • believe lies
  • lie to themselves
  • wonder why they feel like they’re going crazy

Poor communication

Codependents frequently:

  • blame
  • threaten
  • coerce
  • beg
  • bribe
  • advise
  • don’t say what they mean
  • don’t mean what they say
  • don’t know what they mean
  • don’t take themselves seriously
  • think other people don’t take them seriously
  • take themselves too seriously
  • ask for what they want and need indirectly – sighing, for example
  • find it difficult to get to the point
  • aren’t sure what the point is
  • gauge their words carefully to achieve a desired effect
  • try to say what they think will please people
  • try to say what they think will provoke people
  • try to say what they hope will make people do what they want them to do
  • eliminate the word ‘no’ from their vocabulary
  • talk too much
  • talk about other people
  • avoid talking about themselves, their problems, feelings and thoughts
  • say everything is their fault
  • say nothing is their fault
  • believe their opinions don’t matter
  • want to express their opinions until they know other people’s opinions
  • lie to protect and cover-up for people they love
  • have a difficult time asserting their rights
  • have a difficult time expressing their emotions honestly, openly, and appropriately
  • think most of what they have to say is unimportant
  • begin to talk in cynical, self-degrading or hostile ways
  • apologise for bothering people

Sex problems

Some codependents:

  • are caretakers in the bedroom
  • have sex when they don’t want to
  • have sex when they’d rather be held, nurtured and loved
  • try to have sex when they’re angry or hurt
  • refuse to enjoy sex because they’re so angry at their partner
  • are afraid of losing control
  • have a difficult time asking for what they need in bed
  • withdraw emotionally from their partner
  • feel sexual revulsion toward their partner
  • don’t talk about it
  • force themselves to have sex, anyway
  • reduce sex to a technical act
  • wonder why they don’t enjoy sex
  • lose interest in sex
  • makeup reasons to abstain
  • wish their sex partner would die, go away, or sense their feelings
  • have strong sexual fantasies about other people
  • consider or have an extramarital affair


How do I get help for myself or my loved one?

The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A trained clinical psychologist can effectively perform a professional assessment, which will identify whether you have any problem areas, and will recommend the treatment most appropriate for you if necessary.

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