Each of us is unique in our own way, which means that even our codependent characteristics differ from one person to another. In fact, every problem that we might encounter, be it depression, anxiety, phobia or codependency, has its particularities.
Two people facing the same situation will most likely react differently. That’s because our actions, behaviors, words, decisions, opinions and pretty much anything our mind can conceive is shaped by our personality and character.
There isn’t an exact number of features or characteristics to say that a person is codependent or not. Simply put, it’s challenging to quantify codependency. Each person is different and has her own way of doing things. The characteristics of codependency vary from one individual to another, as well as how these features conjoin with our existence.
The following are many of the characteristics people who struggle with codependency usually manifest in their relationships at least some of the time. The primary purpose here is to build a portrait of your codependency characteristics. Like I said before, having a clear understanding of your problem is part of the healing process. You can’t defeat an unknown enemy and by the same logic, and you can’t overcome codependency unless you know some about the characteristics that make up this challenging condition.
⇒You fear rejection
Fear of rejection is one of the main characteristics of codependency. In general, this fear is the reason why we avoid social interactions. Those of us who struggle with this issue tend to perceive others as arrogant, aggressive or cynical. In reality, the people with whom we interact might be just as normal as us. It’s our own negative self-image that determines us to see others as superior or judgmental, making us feel uncomfortable in their presence.
However, in the context of codependency, the fear of rejection can actually make us clingier. If we somehow muster enough courage to be with someone, we might get overly attached to that person because he or she is the only one with whom we feel safe enough to be ourselves.
By following this ‘all in’ strategy, we basically set ourselves up for a codependent relationship in which we dedicate our entire time and energy to our partner and no one else.
⇒You take things too personally
Codependent individuals tend to feel somewhat vulnerable and fragile on the inside. Because of our low self-esteem and negative self-image, we often think that everyone (except our ‘perfect’ partner) is carefully watching, waiting for us to make a wrong move and criticize us for it.
The anxiety that stands behind our issues is the reason why our attention seems to be focused on identifying possible dangers. Maybe someone makes an innocent joke about our relationship and we immediately interpret it as a threat. We have to understand that when we’re in a codependent relationship, we tend to be extra careful in eliminating even the smallest thing that may put our relationship in jeopardy.
Bottom line, the tendency to take things personally can sometimes fuel our codependency and make us act all ‘paranoid’ which can actually do more harm than good, relationship-wise.
⇒You blame yourself for everything
As I mentioned before, our codependent tendencies often stem from a profound lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. When we don’t value ourselves as human beings and don’t believe in our own inner strength, we tend to take blame for everything bad that might happen to us or the people around us.
Self-blaming is one of the telltale signs of codependency and a sure path towards depression and other related issues.
But how can this emotional abuse that we inflict on ourselves influence our relationship? Imagine that your ‘perfect’ relationship is suddenly troubled by some unexpected negative events. This may result in some tension, a bit of arguing and some frustration on both sides. But since you’re a self-blamer, you’ll automatically think that it was you who caused the problems. On top of that, you’re too dependent on your ‘impeccable’ partner and you can’t blame him because he might get upset and leave you. This is what usually goes on in the mind of a self-blamer.
⇒You get defensive when others criticize you
Being defensive is actually a result of your tendency to take things too personally. In fact, these two behaviors usually go hand in hand.
You defend yourself because you don’t want others to see your ‘weaknesses’, you defend your partner because you don’t want him to think that you’re careless, and you protect your current friends because (in your mind) they are the only ones who will ever want to spend time with you.
⇒You reject compliments and praise
By now, you’ve probably figured out that your codependent tendencies are closely tied to your self-esteem. In other words, the more your self-esteem drops, the greater the chances of you getting involved in a codependent relationship. One easy way to observe this ‘trend’ is by paying close to how you react when someone offers you praise or compliments.
If other people’s appreciation makes you feel uncomfortable, this can point towards a profound lack of self-esteem or self-respect, which in turn can be a sign of codependent tendencies. Maybe, for some reason, you don’t feel worthy of respect and appreciation, or maybe your partner takes you for granted, and somehow you have the same opinion about yourself – that you don’t really matter.
Depriving yourself of positive feedback, such as compliments, tokens of appreciation and praise is equal to losing your self-worth, and when that happens, you’ll become the perfect candidate for codependent relationships.
Make sure you consistently nurture your self-esteem by accepting other people’s compliments, so that you will never feel the need to ‘tie’ to someone else, so that you can feel valuable. Simply say, “Thank you.”
⇒You think your happiness and well-being depends greatly on others
In general, codependency is a dysfunctional pattern unique to dependent personalities. One of the main signs of both codependency and dependent personality is our inability to find happiness and well-being on our own. Basically, one of the core beliefs of a codependent individuals is that in order to find real, authentic happiness, he/she needs to be in a relationship with someone who will help him/her achieve this goal.
But just because the quest for happiness can be a common goal doesn’t mean you can’t embark on this journey by yourself. In fact, there are times when making happiness a personal mission may be more interesting and enjoyable than taking a ‘co-op’ approach.
It’s perfectly ok to share your happiness with a significant other, but make sure you also invest in personal projects and activities. You can pick up a hobby, invest in a new skill, or simply spend some time alone with your thoughts.
⇒You don’t want to assume responsibility for your life
One of the fundamental truths about codependent people is that they find it challenging to take responsibility for their own life. Either because they were never taught how to take care of their needs and desires by themselves, or because they can’t tolerate the frustration that results from tackling life’s difficulties on their own.
As a result, they choose to put their life in the hands of other people, constantly waiting to be groomed, spoiled, satisfied or rescued from difficult situations. At first glance, it sounds like a pretty good deal, but the odds can quickly turn against them.
In most cases, the moment when we finally realize that our responsibility issues are detrimental to our well-being is when our partner decides to leave us or when he no longer wants to be a ‘safety net’.
But you can avoid this hassle by slowly learning how to care for yourself, as self-care will become one of your highest priorities in codependency recovery.
⇒You take excessive responsibility for other people’s lives
Not all codependent individuals are running away from responsibility. In fact, some of them tend to take excessive responsibility for their life and for the lives of others too. Usually, the tendency to be overly responsible stems from guilt or shame. More specifically, we think that we ought to be competent and strong enough to take care of others and solve their problems, while taking care of our own business too.
Sadly, feeling too responsible for your partner’s happiness and well-being can indicate the presence of codependent tendencies. In other words, you can’t let go (or you don’t want to) of a complicated relationship because you think that your partner won’t be able to cope and that makes you feel guilty or ashamed. To avoid these unpleasant feelings, you choose to remain in that relationship, even though taking care of yourself and your partner completely drains your energy.
In such cases, you need to remember that the most important person in your life should be you. Only after you’re strong enough to assume responsibility for yourself should you start lending others a helping hand. lLet’s not forget that a relationship is a pact between two independent people who choose to spend quality time together. Notice the word ‘independent’. It means that the two of you should find a way to split responsibility; not pass it from one to the other.
⇒You may struggle with obsessive tendencies
Just because you have a few obsessive thoughts now and then doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). However, obsessions can sometimes point towards codependency, especially when the content of your obsessive thoughts is related to your partner or your relationship.
Thoughts like “I have to check him/her constantly”, “I have to know where he/she is all the time”, “It’s been an hour since we last talked. I have to call him/her”, “I have to marry him/her, no matter what”, etc. are actually obsessions that result from your insecurities.
These irrational have’s can quickly transform you into a suffocating and overly-attached person, who seeks to control every little aspect of the relationship. But the same obsessive thoughts that nurture your codependent tendencies can drive a wedge between you and your partner, making him/her less willing to continue this suffocating interaction between you two.
Once you deal with your insecurities and come to terms with whatever bad experiences that may have left you emotionally scarred, your obsessions will slowly fade away, leaving room for confidence, trust, and respect.
⇒You deny and repress your true self
Once again, we’re forced to bring up the topic of shame and guilt. It appears most of us are too ashamed to discuss our codependent issues openly. Besides, knowing that codependency affects our relationship can often make us feel guilty.
According to many experts, shame and guilt are two of the most ‘perverted’ feelings that blitz our minds. The reason why these emotions are completely useless and irrational is that they keep us in a constant state of idleness. In other words, we pity ourselves, and we don’t do anything to get out of our miserable situation. That is how shame and guilt restrict our freedom, trapping us into all sorts of unpleasant situations like codependency or other types of dysfunctional relationships.
But we don’t want to accept this truth. It’s too painful to talk about it, so instead, we choose to bury it deep down inside. Unless we find the strength to bring our codependent tendencies out into the open, we are doomed to fall into one toxic relationship after another.
⇒You can’t tolerate uncertainty
Life consists of ups and downs and this can influence our relationship in a positive or negative way. However, it’s not the ups and downs of our relationships that cause us to feel uncertain, but the fact that we can’t predict the future course of our relationship, marriage, friendship, affair, etc.
Although most of us have simply accepted uncertainty as a normal part of life, codependent individuals seem to struggle with this issue a lot. They are desperate to know the exact course of their life in advance. I can relate to this so much. I tend to like to know what’s going to happen, or I’ll struggle with a lot of anxiety.
If you find yourself feeling confused and discouraged by the fact that your life seems chaotic and uncontrollable, the worst thing you can do is trick yourself into believing that someone else can provide you with that beautiful sense of control that you desperately crave.
⇒You feel like an outsider
Codependency can often make us feel like we’re some kind of ‘weirdo’ or outsider. Consider this next scenario. Everyone around you seems to move on with their lives and engage in all sorts of exciting projects, and here you are, stuck in a relationship that feels increasingly more like a prison – and you feel like you wouldn’t fit anywhere else.
For you, life seems to have stopped long ago, and the only thing that’s keeping you afloat is this relationship that you don’t even find satisfying or fulfilling anymore.
Such grim perspectives can make anyone feel discouraged, sad, or even depressed. It’s like your existence is no longer yours anymore, and you can’t seem to find a way to regain your thirst for life.
And people around you are visibly worried about you. Some of them might pity you; others might offer a helping hand or a few kind words. Since shame determines you to deny your codependent tendencies, any intervention from a friend or family member will be immediately blocked by a barrage of rationalizations and ‘carefully-packed’ explanations.
The bottom line is that people will slowly begin to distance themselves from you. Soon enough, the only person left will be the one with whom you share the same codependent relationship.
⇒You feel like a victim/prisoner
Since codependency keeps you trapped in a toxic relationship, it’s somehow normal to feel like a detainee. But this is a special kind of prison, one in which you are the warden, the guard and the prisoner all at the same time. For many of us, getting rid of our codependent tendencies seems like a scattered dream, but there are plenty of ways to escape.
What most of us probably don’t know is that there is a huge difference between being a victim/prisoner and acting like a victim/prisoner. Codependency makes you adopt a victim-like attitude and behavior, and since you’ve probably played this role for quite some time, you’ve become accustomed to it. In other words, you’re not really a victim or a prisoner, (because you have the power to overcome this issue) – you’re just acting like one.
Second, since you’ve built this prison with your own hands (or your own attitude), it means you know its every weakness. Moreover, you are the one who holds the keys to every door. In short, you can escape anytime you want.
⇒You find it difficult to make a decision (even a trivial one)
When codependency is built into the foundation of our relationship, even the simplest decision, like what to eat for dinner, becomes an overwhelming challenge. Since we don’t trust ourselves with anything and we almost always rely on our significant other to do the job for us, at some point, we simply give ourselves entirely to that person. But that’s not the only explanation behind our unwillingness to make even the smallest decisions.
There are situations when we avoid making decisions because we don’t want to upset our partner in some way. We are so terrified by the idea of being single and facing life’s challenges by ourselves that we give up on making our own decisions, hoping that he or she will feel ‘important’. In short, we put our partner on a pedestal, and we let him/her be the boss.
⇒Your relationship feels like a roller coaster
The life of a codependent individual unfolds between extremes. Relationships are marked by ups and downs, moments of intense passion followed by ridiculous drama. One day you’re on a wonderful vacation together and the next day you’re sleeping in separate rooms. The main problem is that in time, these constant shifts between love and war will deteriorate your relationship.
But why is this happening to us? Why do we keep jumping from one emotional state to another? The answer is relatively simple. It’s an internal struggle between two conflicting desires. On one hand, you want to express your originality and free spirit and on the other, you don’t want to let go of that wonderful sense of security that your codependent partner might provide. It’s also a coping skill you picked up most likely as a child.
Unless you find a way to reconcile these two opposite desires, your relationships may go through the same reckless circle of sublime bliss and profound agony.
As always, write down all the characteristics that describe your behavior and attitude towards your current partner. If you’re single, think of a past relationship and try to identify what were the telltale signs of your codependent tendencies back then.
This will be the portrait of your codependency and as you move forward, and you can keep this portrait in mind when it comes to healing and growth. This is the “false” you that will be moving toward the “authentic” you.