What is Codependency? 6 Key Symptoms Explained

In this article, you will learn what exactly codependency is alongside its core symptoms. Understanding the fundamental symptoms of codependency will help you know, with…


In this article, you will learn what exactly codependency is alongside its core symptoms.

Understanding the fundamental symptoms of codependency will help you know, with clarity, if you are experiencing this issue. Because once you know, the path to recovery becomes clearer.

Codependency and Its Symptoms

Very simply, codependency is the consistent pattern of focusing on others’ approval and wellbeing over your own. Codependency is fundamentally an overall pattern of living from a place of people pleasing in which you deplete your own physical and mental health.

From The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence

The healthy alternative by the way is interdependency where you balance your care for others with your own self-care and needs.

Related: Interdependence vs Codependency: 3 Clear Ways to Know the Difference

There are many symptoms of codependency though. This can then create a lot of confusion around getting an answer to the question, “Am I codependent?” To help reduce this uncertainty, the 6 core symptoms of codependency will be identified now.

Codependency Core Symptom #1: People Pleasing

Codependency often develops from trauma in relationships which can be in childhood and/or adulthood. Trauma is best understood here as any wounding experience with another person, or people (including family, coaches, and classmates) that made you feel “not good enough.”

Related: How Trauma Can Lead to Being a People Pleaser: Understanding the Cause to Heal

Seeking Approval from Others

All human beings need connection and belonging. This is an essential, primal need for our survival. Therefore, if you have a part of you truly feels that you are worth less or not as good as others, it makes sense you will focus on their approval.

Related: 4 Practical Ways to Learn How to Be Nice to Yourself

It’s important to see the tendency to people please as a survival mechanism. Give yourself compassion and grace – it’s ok to do this. And you can learn how to be more authentic bit by bit.

Codependency Core Symptom #2: Self-Disconnection

The single biggest sign a person has codependency is when they say either:

I lost myself or I never knew myself

This can present itself in big ways like feeling constant anxiety. Or in smaller, less obvious ways like always saying “I don’t know” when asked to pick a restaurant or your mind going blank when asked what your interests are.

Related: Why Do I Feel Like I Don’t Know Myself Anymore?

It Makes Sense if You Lost Yourself

The relationship trauma that creates codependency not only tends to make a person not feel “good enough,” it also tends to create self-disconnection.

Perhaps you grew up in a chaotic home and walked on eggshells around your mom. You learned to focus on keeping her happy rather than having the opportunity (which you always deserved but sadly didn’t get) to explore who you are in the world.

Or maybe, your relationship trauma happened in a romantic relationship as an adult. Perhaps you dated a narcissist who due to their gaslighting and other abusive behavior, you forgot who you were to try to keep them happy.

Related: What is Narcissistic Abuse in Relationships?

Codependency Core Symptom #3: Low Self-Esteem

Alongside feeling like you lost yourself, a sense of not liking yourself or being insecure is very common in codependency. After all, it’s hard to fully like or love a stranger.

The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle 

In codependency, people often struggle to believe in their self-worth. They often have a deep fear of abandonment and rejection which also manifests as anxious attachment.

Related: How Do I Heal My Attachment Style?

Codependency Core Symptom #4: Fantasy Thinking

Another very common sign of codependency is getting stuck in obsessive, fantasy thinking. Often, this takes the form of fantasizing about how another person will “save” you.

This person may be a romantic partner for instance. This can take the form of the “knight in shining armor” (or sugar daddy). Or you may think that if this person “picks” you then your life will have value and you will finally feel worthy. Or if your partner “heals” for you i.e., stops drinking, then you will finally matter.

This is an illusion of course because you are already inherently valuable. No one can give you that.

Another common fantasy in codependency is that another person can “heal” you like a therapist. But in reality, others can support you but you must do the personal work of healing.

Codependency Core Symptom #5: Minimizing or Denying Reality

Alongside fantasy thinking, it’s common for people in their codependency to minimize or deny reality. This is essentially when you gaslight yourself.

For instance, maybe you’re in a situationship that really hurts but instead of admitting this to yourself, you keep telling yourself that you don’t “need” commitment. Or maybe that you’re being silly. Or asking for too much. (Or you also have the fantasy that this person will suddenly “pick” you – see symptom #4).

Sadly, even while you’re minimizing your needs and how this situationship hurts, you may also be taking this person’s lack of commitment as further “proof” of that you’re not good enough (symptom #3).

Minimizing Abuse

Or if you’re in an abusive relationship (verbal, emotional, physical, sexual), you may say it’s “not that bad.” You may truly feel this way because it may be “less” abusive than other experiences you’ve had. Or maybe you are afraid if you’re honest about the abuse, you will have to leave this person when you don’t want to.

This pattern of minimizing and denying reality can, of course, being complicated by being gaslit by another person. It can become a vicious cycle.

Related: 7 Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist

Finally, you may find that you pressure yourself to be empathic i.e., because your partner had a “hard childhood” all the while forgetting your own needs, trauma, and pain. You may feel that you must only see the best in others.

Codependency Core Symptom #6: Communication Issues

Finally, another clear sign of codependency is a consistent pattern of struggling to communicate well with others.

You may find that in your people pleasing you’re really passive. This looks like never telling others what you need or want – even when you’re upset – because you don’t want to upset them or “burden” them.

Or you may be passive-aggressive. This is where you aren’t clear, direct or kind when making a point out of resentment or hurt. For example, you may be angry that your partner is going to play golf with his friends while you clean so you say “Must be nice having all this time to relax.”

Or another common thing is codependency is also aggressive communication. Here you may find yourself yelling or being really critical even saying things you can’t believe you would say out of resentment. This typically happens because you finally explode from stuffing your feelings, needs, wants etc. for too long.

Related: Good Communication in a Relationship: A Couples Therapist Explains

What to Do if You Relate to these Symptoms of Codependency

If you relate to these symptoms of codependency, please know that you can heal. At this stage, the most important thing is you’ve named with clarity what the problem is and now you can focus on healing.

codependency symptoms

Learning more about how to recover is the best focus now! Name it to tame it. You can move on now to learning about recovery.

You Can Completely Recover from Codependency

Fundamentally, when you heal from codependency, you will be able to have balanced relationships with yourself and others.

To get here, you simply need to take the healing process step by step:

Steps to Heal from Symptoms of Codependency

This blog is filled with many articles to do exactly this.

You may also want to check out my books:

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About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.

Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.

Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to krystal@confidentlyauthentic.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.

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