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What Is a Codependency Disorder?

Codependency disorder can be defined as an inappropriate or excessive preoccupation with another person’s life, thoughts, feelings, and problems. Codependency disorder can also be viewed as a compulsive need to be close to another person, perhaps as their caretaker or their muse. Many relationships that are labeled “codependent” may not actually be — rather, the person is behaving in a way that others may perceive as “clingy” or needing attention all the time. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, codependency stems from a chemical reaction in the brain that literally causes the need for another person. This process is similar to the way that a drug or addictive substance changes a person’s brain to need more of it, creating the cycle of addiction.


Traits and Misconceptions of Codependent Relationships

It can be difficult to hear that a relationship is overly codependent, but many will know that something is not right before they hear it. There are many types of relationships that can easily turn codependent and be detrimental for those involved. According to research published in  Addiction & Health, personality traits and the toxicity of a relationship can greatly influence whether traits of codependency also exist in that relationship. 

  • Romantic Relationships: Codependent romantic relationships are characterized by a compulsive need to be near each other. In some cases, a romantic partner may control the other’s movements through dishonest means or make them feel that they might still be unloved. A person may change aspects of themselves to fit with the other person or make them happy, not taking into account that they are not being themselves. This may be a toxic relationship rather than codependency disorder. Romantic relationships should exist with honesty and respect for each party. Everyone deserves a relationship where they are allowed to be their true selves.
  • Parent-Child Relationships: A codependent parent-child relationship can arise out of love, but feeling closeness to a parent or child is not codependency. Again, codependency is the obsessive fixation on another person. A young codependent child may constantly feel the need to be close or touch their parents, where older codependent children will never want to leave to be with peers or feel confident making their own decisions. Other codependency issues could stem from a child misbehaving when their parent is not around or being intensely frightened. 


Sometimes a child may not have a codependency issue, but a reactive attachment issue. Reactive attachment is when the child feels a strong bond and loves their parent, but may not have felt that bond or had the opportunity to bond as an infant or toddler due to trauma or stress. Now, the child is constantly testing and looking for ways to make sure the parent loves them unconditionally. As the parent continues to love and keep the child safe despite their bad behavior, the parent passes the test — but this is still not codependency. 

When a parent is the codependent one, the parent may spoil the child or have a hard time allowing them to leave. Many parents who pretend their child is ill to get attention may have codependency issues, along with serious mental health issues as well.

  • Child-Child Relationships: Much like a parent-child codependency issue, child-child issues often stem from early childhood when children bond together for comfort, safety, and love. Often, these children do not feel like they are getting comfort, safety, and love from their parents or caretakers, so they rely on each other. When these children reach adulthood, their past behavior can create problems and even child-like reactive attachment symptoms.
  • Friend Relationships: Codependency between friends is rare, but may be caused by shared childhood experiences or, again, the need to seek comfort, safety, and love from each other. Codependency between friends often causes issues when the friends begin new relationships, move, and/or have children.


Removing Stigma

If you feel like you may be in a codependent relationship, it is okay. The first step to creating healthy boundaries is realizing what is happening and seeking help to fix it. There is no need to feel shame or sadness for the changing nature of your relationship. Treating codependency disorder can be very effective when it is done correctly.


Treating Codependency Disorder

Start by being honest with yourself and whoever you have the codependent relationship with — you need help. The first thing anyone should do is talk to a therapist. A therapist can help you discover why a relationship has turned codependent, or understand why a person with codependency disorder feels the need to find love and safety from others who cannot always reciprocate. For many, this need began in childhood and is making their adult relationships intensely difficult. 

A few helpful therapies to treat codependency include family therapy, couples therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and individual therapy. Working together, a therapist can give you strategies for setting boundaries and help you determine which behaviors are healthy and which are not.


Codependency disorder is treatable, and you can overcome it. If you are struggling with codependency disorder and addiction, give us a call at RECO Intensive. At RECO Intensive, we understand the many challenges that come with codependency disorder and addiction and can help you manage them. We know there are consequences to your relationships, finances, health, and so much more that come with addiction and codependency can make treatment and recovery even more difficult. There is no shame in struggling with either condition. At RECO Intensive, our specialized staff and experienced alumni will help you create a treatment plan that is catered specifically to you. We offer treatment for many addictions, therapy, group activities, and a safe environment for you to heal. We also offer sober living facilities for when you are in recovery as well as intensive outpatient care if your needs are beyond our campus. Call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future.

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