What is codependency?

codependancy_child of an alcoholic_jo huey

What is Codependency?

So what is codependency? The dictionary says “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction who requires support.”
This isn’t specific to partners, it affects the whole family.  Ultimately it’s an unhealthy relationship, whereby each party is over-dependent on the other.  Each person is trying to get their needs met but their true identity is distorted. 
Codependent relationships works because both people avoid facing their worst fears and doubts. A codependent person “needs” to be needed, so that they can feel OK about themselves. The only way they can do that is by “giving themselves up or sacrificing themselves” for the other person. 
It’s not surprising then when you are in adulthood you struggle. You find it hard to accept who you are and your self-esteem is very low. Without the codependency you can often feel alone, inadequate and unworthy.

What is codependency?

Codependency in a home of addiction

You’ve learnt to adapt to dysfunction in a family environment. It’s passed from one generation to the next through rigid rules and irrational belief systems. It’s not surprising that you then grow up with a diluted sense of identity, and a need to control others in order to feel secure.
There were lots of rules in my home, my Dad was ex-military and very strict. Everything had to be his way (when he was around) and we hated feeling like we couldn’t move. 
Reflecting now I’d say that my sense of self was completely absent. I spent so much of my life focusing on everyone and everything else I didn’t know who I was. That was probably down to the fact every time I tried to be me, I was asked when I was going to change.
Alternatively I was faced with disapproval or some kind of judgement. My parents struggled to deal with difference. In reality, I was different to them and responded in ways they didn’t know how to cope with. 
Families develop patterns of behaviours which include denial, compliance and control. Allowing the family to deny what’s going on in an effort to avoid painful realities. This results in low self-esteem, fear and feelings of guilt and shame for the family.  These families are often referred to as shame-based, which gives rise to the following unspoken family rules:
  • Don’t talk
  • Don’t trust
  • Don’t feel

What you may have heard as a child

What is codependency?

If you’ve lived in a home with addiction and maybe were a child of an alcoholic,  then you probably learnt that your needs were secondary to your parents. You may have then neglected your needs, to attend to the needs of your parent(s), which made you feel valued.
When you tried to assert your needs, you were possibly faced with punishment (either the silent treatment), or being verbally attacked. It’s likely you learnt not to express your own needs. Going into your adult life probably meant you didn’t/don’t get your needs met.
Knowing that by asking for my needs to be met was selfish was hard, feeling like I should put what my parents wanted ahead of that is sad.  It should’ve been the other way around, in a healthy relationship anyway. I just learnt that to be good enough for my parents, I’d need to just bury any feelings and thoughts because they were insignificant. 

Codependency implications into adult life

When it came to my adult life, I really struggled to get my needs met. I’d been conditioned to put others first, otherwise I was being selfish. Always having to do what they wanted and when they wanted it. This was literally programmed into me. In order to be accepted by people, I thought I had to put their needs before mine. Nice eh? 
I was so afraid of losing friendships, the amount I compromised was ridiculous. I’m sure they wouldn’t want me to do that, it wasn’t that they asked me to either. That fear continued well into my late 30’s until I realised, I’m me and if people don’t like that, then that’s OK. 

Dependent on family

Being dependent on my family was also something that I did a lot. When I was at work I’d ring my Mum and older sister all the time, I was bored and wanted someone to chat to. I didn’t know how to occupy myself and give myself time. 
In one of my most toxic relationships I was well into my self-development, reading lots of self-help books and having therapy. I wasn’t in a good place, being obsessive and trying to fix myself. Having low self-confidence with a huge dose of self-doubt. My sister said to me that I wasn’t able to make any decisions. She was right, I was totally reliant on others., not knowing how to self-soothe. 
Finally I woke up, after much help I realised that I was obsessing about change. I’d lost myself down a very dark path and I needed others to make decisions for me. To tell me what to do as I was too scared to make the wrong choice. I depended on them and on reflection, this put a huge amount of pressure on them. 
Do you recognise any of yourself in this post? How did you act that was codependent? Do you still act that way now?
If you’d like to read my post on the signs and symptoms of codependency, you can do that by clicking here.

How to be more independent

You’re learnt that your focus should be on others, particularly the drinker. Maybe you felt responsible to help them and to make sure they were ok. If they felt ok and were happy then you were happy.  If they were unhappy then it affected your mood as well. 
Below are some thoughts on how to start to let go of any codependency you may still have, and develop your own healthier independence.
  • Start to consider what is important to you
  • What do you like and don’t like – make sure you do more of what you like
  • Consider how you can support yourself when you need it, rather than putting others needs first
  • Work on appreciate your needs and that they’re as important as someone else’s
  • Look at understand where the line is between you and others, you can be happy if someone else isn’t


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Next Steps

If you’d like to chat then do get in touch, I’m happy to gift you some time. Simply email jo@johuey.co.uk or call (07732) 403305. 
Remember you aren’t alone and you can always join my Daughters of Alcoholics Facebook group, where other daughters of alcoholics support each other with challenges they experience from the past or present.  You may have lived with an alcoholic in your past, but it’s still impacting you in the present. 
I also run the Two Roads Travelled podcast with my sister, click here to find out more. 

2 thoughts on “What is codependency?

  1. Anonymous Daughter of an Alcoholic says:

    Thank you for these blogs. They are comforting (in knowing that I am not alone) and very informative. My father was and still is an alcoholic. My mother suffers with manic depression / addiction to pills, and my sibling has complex special needs. My life has been a wild ride to say the least. I am just now (well into my 30s) starting my self healing journey after many years of denial. Unfortunately, I have found myself married into an all to familiar situation, where my child is suffering a similar fate to mine. I am, however, dedicated to educating myself so this cycle can be broken. I have already broken so many cycles.

    • johuey says:

      Thank you for your comment. You definitely aren’t alone. Sounds like you have had an awful lot to deal with. Well done for still being here.It’s really common to be in a relationship with someone with an addiction, someone in need and that we can rescue. Sub-conciously it’s our normal and what we know. How are you coping? Feel free to join my group if you haven’t already, “daughters of alcoholics”, you can post anonymously if that’s your preference. It’s a great place for support.

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