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How to Spot Codependent Behavior Early & Regain Your Self-Identity

Codependent behavior is destructive and sabotaging, especially in relationships. So you need to be aware when you have this in yourself so you can fix it.

codependent behavior

Codependent behavior is a dysfunctional reliance on someone outside yourself for approval and acceptance. Although codependent behavior may initially seem like simply relying on someone, it’s often much more complicated than that.

Codependent behavior is not merely depending on someone for something, but it allows you to be overwhelmed and basically defined by someone else. Your entire world revolves around them, and you need them in a way that’s neither cute nor romantic.

In fact, codependency can also lead to toxic relationships.

The bigger issue here is that codependence isn’t a healthy person relying on a healthy person for this assurance. The codependent person enables the other person’s bad habits, addictions, or immaturity.

And most importantly, being codependent is not the opposite of being independent.

It is the idea that your independence relies on your relationship with this person. Even if it’s easy to need someone excessively, you need to remember you were your own person before them.

[Read: How to stop the codependency for a healthy relationship]

What is codependent behavior?

Codependent behavior is a very complicated psychological term. In fact, there have been numerous books written about it.

Some people lean towards codependent behavior in all their relationships, from romantic to platonic and even familial. Others only have these tendencies in romantic relationships.

The reasons that cause this behavior are not simple. They are varied and significantly differ from person to person. It could be caused by your parents, a past relationship, childhood bullying, and a never-ending list of other things.

But what makes codependent behavior so common and acceptable is the lack of transparency.

What may seem like caring and devoted behavior is often codependency hidden behind a veil of love. Nearly every TV romance is built on the idea of codependent behavior. To many of us, it seems awfully romantic rather than brutally problematic. This is why being able to spot the signs of codependent behavior is so important.

There is a good chance you could be in a codependent relationship right now and not even realize it. Once you are able to identify codependent behavior, you’ll be surprised by how often you notice these traits in TV, movies, and your everyday life. [Read: Why your codependent friendship is more unhealthy than you think]

What makes codependent behavior so toxic?

Codependent behavior is toxic because you’re relying your entire individuality and happiness on someone else. No matter your reason for being codependent, it’s not healthy to be this way. Even if you were raised like this or something terrible happened in your childhood, codependent behavior will ruin all your relationships and friendships.

You’re putting so much pressure on the other person to make you happy, and you need them to the point you can’t function without them.

When you’re codependent, this also means your decisions are dependent on them. You value their choices and approval so much that you can’t stand on your own or think for yourself.

That right there is codependent behavior and if you have this particular behavior, you have already lost the essence of who you are. Being codependent means you can’t be at ease without their presence, approval, validation, or actions. [Read: What does a healthy relationship look like? The guide to build one]

My experience with codependent behavior

For many people, spotting codependent behavior doesn’t occur until you’re in therapy. A therapist will identify this right away. If you go into a session and talk more about someone else than you do yourself, you often show signs of codependent behavior. [Read: 20 signs you’re a people pleaser and don’t even realize it]

That is how it worked for me anyway. When I first went to therapy years ago, my therapist almost immediately explained codependency to me. I spent the bulk of my appointments talking about someone in my life who happened to be an addict.

I complained about them and about their problems, attitude, and presence in my life. Letting them and my relationship with them essentially define my happiness. I couldn’t let go of that person’s problems and focus on my own. If they weren’t functioning at full capacity, I couldn’t be either.

It took a long time, but eventually, I was able to worry about them without letting it get in the way of me living my life. I salvaged the relationship into something that was healthier for me. It took a lot of practice, but, when something came up with them, I took a deep breath and let it pass through me.

Just as most of us wouldn’t let something that happened on a TV show personally affect our lives, I couldn’t let this person’s life affect mine. [Read: The martyr complex – How to recognize it and stop inflicting it upon yourself]

Signs of codependent behavior

For me, codependent behavior happened to be pulled from both my childhood and a dear friend’s addiction that mimicked a situation earlier in my life. For you, it may very well be different, but the signs of codependent behavior will be glaringly similar.

1. You let their mood change your mood

When you are around this person and they had a bad day, you feed off their energy. If they are in a bad mood, you let it define your day. Your day is now revolved around their mood.

Do you walk on eggshells around them so you don’t further annoy them? Do you do everything you can to improve their mood?

Have you ever wondered why this is the case? You’re not an empath; you might just be codependent! The fact your mood relies on theirs speaks volumes about your codependent behavior. [Read: What is an empath? 17 ways you feel deeper and stronger than other people]

2. You take responsibility for their feelings and even actions

This is very common. If your partner does something wrong, you take responsibility. You claim that if you hadn’t done A, they wouldn’t have done B. If they have a bad day, it’s your responsibility to improve it.

And if they did something wrong, it is because you didn’t do something right in the first place. You always take the blame, even when it isn’t your fault. [Read: The hidden signs of a one-sided relationship we all choose to ignore]

3. You place their struggles on yourself

A typical codependent relationship is one between an addict and a sober person. The sober person takes on the addiction as a project yet ends up enabling their partner. Whether the partner gets drunk or high, the codependent person will take care of them and give them what they want to make it better, but it only leads to more bad behavior.

By doing this, the addict’s sobriety begins to define the sober one’s sense of self.

You like fixing them, changing them, or saving them. If there’s something broken about your partner, you make a point to encourage their betterment. [Read: Dependent personality disorder – What it is & how to read the signs]

4. You crave their approval

It’s standard codependent behavior when you crave their approval and validation, and you don’t feel at ease without it. You’re not just a words-of-affirmation person, but you’re codependent on them! You want this person to approve of you. Certainly, you want them to like what you cooked and approve of your outfits.

If they aren’t proud of something you did and you are, you lose passion and excitement for it. You won’t cut your hair if they don’t want you to. Your self-worth depends solely on their vision of you.

If they say no, you won’t push through with something you wanted to do initially. In other words, their approval controls your decisions. [Read: How to be less codependent on someone else and enjoy your life as it could be]

5. You cover up for them

This is a challenging part of codependency as it can put you in a tough position. It can be in both big and small things. Say your partner drives drunk and runs over your neighbor’s mailbox. You will take the blame or come up with a lie to ensure your partner is safe.

You will call in sick for them to avoid going to work when they are hungover. Unfortunately, you will even lie to the law to protect them. You will essentially put their needs and safety above your own every time.

There’s a massive difference between making them a priority and taking the fall for them. You provide everything for them in a heartbeat, even before they ask you, and all the cost of your own life and well-being. [Read: How to stop being codependent and have a healthy relationship]

6. You feel unworthy of something more

Deep down, you know you are unhappy. You may even feel stuck in this relationship or friendship. It’s even harder when it’s family, but you feel like this is just the way it is and there is no way out.

Why do you feel that way? You’re stuck in this constant cycle of needing validation from them and making your entire life revolve around them.

You excessively need them to feel better about yourself. Someplace deep inside, you’ve lost your sense of self so much that you don’t believe you deserve something more than this. You don’t believe you deserve to focus on yourself and your happiness. [Read: The 15 signs of a taker in the relationship – Are you a giver or taker?]

7. You “need” them

You probably think it’s romantic to be told you’re needed. While you can need someone, it should never be at the expense of revolving your life and choices around them. Ever. Otherwise, that’s codependent behavior. You feel like you won’t make it without them. You need them in your life.

Even if they make you miserable, you cannot be apart from them. Just the idea of breaking up gives you anxiety. You feel like you can’t breathe without them, and they’re your only sense of purpose in life. [Read: How to stop being needy – Why people become clingy & how to fix it]

8. You try to change or fix them

You put all your effort into making them better. It could be their addiction, immaturity, lack of focus, or growth that you’ve assigned to yourself. This is your goal. Remember what we said about making them your personal project? You’re obsessed with making them into a better version of themselves.

You desperately believe that they will see all you do for them and appreciate you and change if you just do one more thing for them.

But, all the while, if they do change, you will lose your sense of self because that has become defined by their issue. Don’t you realize that their damage is also being inflicted upon you? [Read: Should you try and change your partner for the better?]

9. You don’t know who you are without them

If there’s anything more evident among the signs of codependent behavior, it’s this particular sign. You lose your sense of self when you’re codependent, one way or another. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will eventually happen if you keep up this behavior. You can’t think of anything without them in mind.

If you want to join a workout class, you can’t do it without their approval. You want to try a new recipe, but you can’t because it isn’t their thing. If someone asks you what you want, you immediately respond with what your special person would want.

Who you are has become this relationship. It’s as if you’re obsessed with them and have made your whole life revolve around them, not you. [Read: How to spot selfish people and stop them from hurting you]

10. You lack independence

It’s a known fact that codependent behavior means you lack independence. You can’t be self-reliant, not even if you tried. So if you constantly find the need to be with your partner 24/7 and do something related to your relationship, you’re being codependent.

You can’t handle being on your own two feet, and you constantly lack the independence to be an individual person with your own set of hobbies and interests. 

Independence is very crucial in a relationship because without it, there’s much more pressure on your partner to always attend and cater to your needs. [Read: How to be independent even if you’re in a relationship]

11. Your entire happiness depends on them

If there’s a common sign of codependent behavior, it’s weighing your entire happiness on them. There’s nothing healthy about this when it comes to a relationship or even a friendship.

When you date someone, it’s essential that your happiness doesn’t rely exclusively on them, but they just complement the happiness you already have on your own. When you can’t be happy without them by your side or when you aren’t around them, that’s how you know that your happiness depends on them.

12. You people please

We all like pleasing people, one way or another. But if you tend to be a people pleaser all the time, you also have codependent behavior. You will go out of your way for someone and while this can be a good thing, your intentions are driven by being a people-pleaser.

This is also why your mood and energy levels are highly connected to how your partner feels. If they’re in a bad mood, you’ll likely be affected by this. [Read: 20 signs you’re a people pleaser and don’t realize it]

13. You have no boundaries

It’s typical codependent behavior when you can’t set any boundaries in your relationship, nor can you stick with them. So if you lack boundaries, you already know you’re codependent. You want to be with your partner 24/7, which is why you don’t bother setting any boundaries with them.

You don’t care about the invasion of your personal space nor do you feel disrespected when your partner snoops or keeps an eye on you without your notice. This is what codependency is. [Read: How to set personal boundaries & guide other people to respect it]

14. You feel claustrophobic

Since you’re codependent, you tend to feel like the weight of your relationship weighs down on every other part of your life. Sometimes, you may want to try something new or something by yourself, but the web of codependency holds you back from any new experience.

While you don’t generally dislike this feeling, there are times when you feel claustrophobic in the relationship. You feel stuck and burdened, and yet, you feel like you can’t get away from it. It’s like a blessing and a curse that you secretly enjoy and detest at the same time.

This makes you carry an invisible burden, no matter how much you love or care about your partner.

15. You find it hard to communicate

Communication will always be vital in any relationship, but it’s difficult for you to communicate when you have codependent behavior. You can’t take a stand for your boundaries or the things that bother you most, nor do you understand your own boundaries yourself.

Being codependent often means you’re unaware of your own wants and needs, and you don’t know how to express them to your partner. You feel that by communicating or being assertive, you’ll upset the other person – and that’s one of the signs of codependency.

[Read: How to communicate in a relationship – 16 steps to a better love]

So, how to spot codependent behavior?

Codependent behavior is easier to spot in yourself than you realize, but it is a little hard to admit.

After all, we never like admitting our flaws and realizing the self-sabotaging traits we have. But the longer you keep this behavior up, you will keep losing yourself until you feel even more empty and lost.

[Read: Do you have codependent traits that make you clingy & dependent?]

If you are experiencing these signs of codependent behavior, it’s not a life sentence. You can always choose to turn away from this self-destructive behavior and become better. And it all starts with acknowledgment and one small step towards a better life.

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Samantha Ann
My name is Samantha Ann. I am 28 years old. It was always my dream to become an advice columnist, so after years of off and online dating and eventually finding...