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Codependency, Counseling in Broken Arrow for Tulsa County Residents

By Alina Morrow, LPC-S, CAMS II, GC, CCTP

Disclaimer: The article below is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as direct advice, a personal diagnosis, or as an individual treatment plan. Always consult with a mental health professional or medical doctor if you have concerns.

Introduction & Overview

Codependency is a fairly common term used frequently by professionals and lay people to describe a dysfunctional relationship between people. Although this term seems to be present in daily conversations and used as an all-inclusive concept when a certain level of dysfunction is perceived as present, codependency continues to be difficult to define and recognize.

The term “codependency” was originally coined and studied in the context of alcohol/drug addiction. It described the behavior used by a family member to adapt and cope with the destructive behavior of the alcoholic. However, a similar behavior was observed in families where one or multiple members suffer from chronic physical or mental illness.

The broad definition of codependency is the addiction to a certain kind of relationship where the codependent's role is based on a 'rescue-driven' need, and where the codependent finds his or her value, strength and motivation by being needed by someone in constant need.

In psychological terms, codependency refers to a set of maladaptive coping skills, self-defeating and compulsive behaviors developed and learned during early years of one’s development as a response to a family characterized by great emotional pain, distress and chaos. These coping skills served as a survival method to a family dynamic where one or more family members placed their needs above everyone else’s.

In addition, the person labeled as codependent lived under an oppressive set of rules that affected their emotional development, view of themselves, purpose in life, and relationships.

Some of these oppressive rules include:

  • not to feel,
  • not to think,
  • not to speak the truth,
  • not to act on natural impulses,
  • not to trust out own instincts and opinions, and
  • not to trust.

However, usually by adulthood these skills no longer serve the survival role they had during childhood, and they will negatively affect the quality of the adult relationships when the codependent falls back on those old behavior patterns.

Codependency Symptoms Check List

Low Self-Esteem: Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame.Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.

People-Pleasing: It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.

Poor Boundaries: Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else.Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.

Reactivity: A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.

Caretaking: Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.

Control: Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control.Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.

Dysfunctional Communication: Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear.

Obsessions: Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears. They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”Sometimes you can lapse into fantasy about how you’d like things to be or about someone you love as a way to avoid the pain of the present. This is one way to stay in denial, discussed below, but it keeps you from living your life.

Dependency: Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.

Denial: One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem.Codependents also deny their feelings and needs. Often, they don’t know what they’re feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs. They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own. They might be in denial of their need for space and autonomy. Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they’re self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.

Problems with Intimacy: By this I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem. I’m talking about being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy. You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.

Painful Emotions: Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.

Source: Lancer, Darlene. (2012). Symptoms of Codependency. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 8, 2013, from

Characteristics of a Codependent Person:

  • The increased responsibility for the feelings, thoughts, actions, choice, wants, needs, and well-being of others.
  • The inability to disconnect, stop ruminating or being worried with someone else’s problems and feelings.
  • The compelling need to help others solve and fix their problems or lives.
  • Feeling safe and comfortable with oneself when giving to others and focus on making sure others are happy.
  • Feeling insecure and guilty when people give you or want to help you.
  • The presence of empty, bored, and worthless feelings when you don’t take care of someone else or solve a crisis.
  • Maintaining and staying in a relationship in order to feel loved while tolerating various form of abuse (emotional, verbal, physical, financial, religious).

Recovering from Codependency

Recovering from codependency is a process that requires patience and self-exploration. Since the oppressive rules that a codependent person grew up with restrained their ability to be themselves, understanding and exploring personal needs, wants, and emotions is crucial.This will help the person define who he or she is as an unique individual, and begin the detachment process.

Being detached in the context of codependency means becoming and incurring independence, a tool to reach peace of mind, not a tool to punish and manipulate. An emotionally defined individual is able to do things and take responsibility for themselves and their actions, able to recognize and refrain from joining other’s emotional crises, as well as allow others to do the same for themselves.

Another component of the recovery process involves examining and changing past decision-making habits. Since a codependent focuses excessively on others and finds reward by taking care of others, their ability to make decisions is altered. Fear of rejection, guilt, indecision, and the need to be accepted affects how a codependent person makes decisions, usually by setting their wishes and needs aside while becoming preoccupied and consumed with other people.

And last but not least, the recovery process will focus on the communication style used by a codependent person. Since a codependent person learns early that problems cannot be fixed and the emotions associated with the distress or pain is too much to bear, they learn to suppress them and build walls to protect themselves. Therefore, a codependent person does not feel comfortable to unveil, acknowledge, and talk about problems without finding excuses and explanations.

The recovery process seeks to guide the person that struggles with codependency to be “back in touch” with themselves and understand the roots of their difficulties.


Do you have a codependent personality? Want to break free and live your own life? Contact Tulsa Therapist Alina Morrow, LPC-S, today to make an appointment and get the help and relief you deserve. You can reach me by texting or calling 918-403-8873 or by Email.

Page Last Updated: July 24, 2022