Codependency: Egoism Or Altruism?

People who have codependency issues are often in denial. This denial tells them that they are the victims of something and they are the good side of any relationship. This denial is driven by the drama triangle, the preferred method of codependency control. Codependents usually hold a good deal of resentment due to the sacrifices they feel they make and the lack of expected return they receive.

Anyone who has codependent traits need to test their motives continually as to why they are doing what they do. Many don’t and continue to live with the idea that they are being slighted and victimized. Part of this the natural urge to enmesh with others and lose identity. An essential element of managing codependency is the requirement to gain individuality and looks inwards rather than adopt an external focus.

While codependents often see themselves as victims (and sometimes are), there is also a darker side to codependency. They can often be extremely sensitive, angry people who can be extremely needy and smothering to anyone involved with them. On the other hand, they are extremely willing to do anything they can to be accepted, leaving the door open to manipulation and abuse.

An interesting question that often goes through my mind is just where does codependency lie on the egoism and altruism continuum? Are codependents manipulators themselves, self-centered and only worried about themselves? Or are they the sacrificial altruists they often claim to be? I personally see codependents as extremely controlling and can be dominating in a passive-aggressive manner but also have a measure of goodwill and a helping aspect to their actions. The answer is not clear and probably lies somewhere squarely in the middle and varies depending on the individual. Let’s look at the differences.

The contrast between egoism and altruism sheds light on the fundamental distinctions that exist between two extreme forms of human nature. Egoism and altruism are two distinct concepts that can be contrasted with one another. These examples illustrate two polar opposite sides of the human character. Egoism is the state of being overly concerned with one’s own interests to the exclusion of those of others. The opposite of egotism is altruism, which is the quality of giving without expecting anything in return. Psychologists have always been fascinated by the ever-changing nature of the human being, especially when it comes to the manner in which an individual’s acts might sometimes border on altruism and other times border on egoism. They claim that a variety of different elements influence the way in which certain activities interact with one another.

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Dr Nicholas Jenner


Egotism is another term that can be used interchangeably with egoism. The trait of having an excessively conceited or self-centered attitude can be understood as being a definition of this term. Someone who is egoistic tends to be inconsiderate of the feelings and needs of others and is singularly focused on him or herself. A person with this mindset would participate in any behavior that is harmful to others and advantageous to themselves. One could say that the sense of morality as well as the sense of moral obligation towards others is absent from them in this sense.

An illustration is the best way to comprehend this point. A man who is married and has two children makes the decision to abandon his family because he feels as though they are holding him back. The family is struggling financially, and the wife and children are unable to contribute to the household income. The man concludes that the circumstances are intolerable and that he should not squander his life on such a pitiful circumstance; consequently, he simply departs from the situation. In this kind of situation, the person is entirely preoccupied with themselves. He lacks any sense of responsibility or consideration for the other members of the family and acts in a thoughtless manner.

Some people have the opinion that being egotistic is inherent to the human condition. For instance, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes asserted that people are inherently self-centered in their behavior. His theory suggests that the fact that people are naturally self-centered is the root cause of the conflict that exists between humans. On the other hand, one cannot assert that every individual is self-centered. This can be grasped by gaining an understanding of the concept of altruism.

Altruism can simply be defined as unselfishness. It is when a person puts the needs of others even before himself. This is why it can be considered as the opposite of egoism. Such an individual is so concerned about others that he completely ignores himself. For example, take a soldier who sacrifices himself to save the others of his battalion, or else a parent that risks herself or himself to save the child. These are instances where an individual completely forgets his own self. In some situations altruism is at the cost of one’s own self. Then it is considered as a sacrifice.There is a strong moral obligation and also emotional attachment that makes the individual be altruistic. Some people believe that this should not be considered as altruism, because the individual puts themselves forward for another who is known to them. But altruism expands further. When an individual at a train station saves the life of another who is a complete stranger to them, risking their own life, this is also altruism.

If you read the above, most people would suggest that codependents are closer to the altruist end of the scale and they probably are. Most codependents are selfless and will often lose themselves in a relationship with scant regard for their own position. However, the resentment that builds from not receiving what they feel they should puts them very much in the egoism camp.

Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Russell Edwards

    I think this is a difficult one and often the lines are blurred. The best example I can think of is a comment my ex boss made to me when I worked in a supported living scheme for people with severe mental illness. A resident was in a psychiatric hospital so his key worker went to visit him on Christmas day. Sounds wonderfully altruistic. But as my boss said, whose needs were being met? In this example the person could be described as both altruistic and egotistical, depending on which way you look at the situation. Great thought provoking post. Thanks Dr Jenner.