Let’s Recognise Codependency For What It Is

  • Post author:

At the time of writing, the term “codependency” cannot be found in any diagnostic manual anywhere. It is simply not classed as a recognisable disorder and as discussed earlier, some doubt it even exists in the form we accept today. This also includes many therapists who like to see it as a symptom of something else and treat it as such . I have had many referrals from other therapists who are not willing to follow their client down the path of codependency. The whole subject divides opinion amongst professionals as well as those who suffer on a daily basis.

I tend to believe that other disorders such as depression and anxiety as well as negative attitude and outlook are symptoms of codependency rather than the other way around. There is no pill that one can take that will cure codependency and maybe that is just as well. We have all seen the disadvantages of the “cure symptoms only” approach that exists in the medical profession. Codependency recovery is only sustainable when the root cause is found and healed, and the symptoms managed.

Codependency will not give you a sore throat, you will not need to stay in bed or take antibiotics or other medication to feel better. However, in my experience of treating codependents the world over, there is a set of definable characteristics that can be assigned to the behaviour associated with people who have codependent tendencies. If you assess this against a typical childhood scenario that fosters the development of codependency, you have quite a picture of misery that sufferers go through.

Many codependents are seen as genuinely nice people and they mostly are. They will not usually say no [even though they sometimes want to], they are usually the first to jump in and help anyone [as a martyr, expecting return] and will often anticipate others needs before they do [control and enabling]. They will usually avoid conflict and will only confront someone when their expected return is not forthcoming [control].  However, what you see on the surface is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. What is going on underneath is a melting pot of emotions and core beliefs that drive codependent behaviour. This is where treatment is targeted and needs to be effective.

Where women especially are concerned, much of this behaviour comes from conditioning. They see their parents behaving in the same way and see this as a blueprint for relationships.  There is an old saying that is relevant here. “If a girl has a dysfunctional relationship with her father or other males in the family and it goes untreated, she will spend the rest of her life trying to fix it with other men”. How true this is.

The socialisation and conditioning that instigates this starts almost from birth. Many women will learn that they have to subdue themselves around male members of the family in an overt or covert manner. They learn that they must let men take the lead, to be pleasant, avoid certain behaviour while learning others. In effect, they learn that they must let the man shine and they must stand back and work hard for affection and validation. This is often passed down from one generation to another, backed up by societal and religious concepts. Even if on the surface, everyone is equal, many women see their mothers, aunts, grandmothers in codependent relationships and believe that is the way it works. These women “struggle” on in relationships that mean their needs are not being met. Their partners are often hopelessly emotionally distant and unhelpful. Family and societal roles are fixed in stone and passed on to the next generation. Any women who tries to break this might be seen as “difficult”. Some very educated and academic women have described such a situation to me and find it hard to shake it loose.

Many men consolidate this in their search for a partner. Often, a man will be looking for a woman who looks after his needs while he provides. For many the definition of a “good woman or wife” can be compared directly to codependency. In many relationships, women will assume the role of carer.  Some will even give up good jobs in order to do so, mirroring what they experienced in childhood. Years spent in this type of situation can bring resentment, anger and confusion as to “how this happened”. This is where I usually find clients, just after a break up and trying to make sense of it all.

The power of conditioning is sometimes overwhelming and can dictate on an unconscious level how we live our lives. The conditioning we are subjected to is not our responsibility, but it is 100% our responsibility to change it if we feel it is needed.

Subscribe to Dr Jenner's Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5,497 other subscribers


Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. glitterfluff

    Great article.

    I like Ross Rosenberg’s ‘Self-Love Deficit Disorder’, because however it arises, it’s what the problem is. When you don’t value yourself (or your own opinion of yourself), then you have to look for external validation. And when your only way of control is to try to create an unspoken ‘debt’ of some sort (with repayment enforced by passive aggression and manipulation), then that’s what you do.

    I think in particular to ‘the old saying’ – I was always trying to win the approval of my mother, not my father. And families are so complex – all the members playing different and twisting/swapping roles….. But I think there are families with a long line of codependent men at the mercy of toxic women too. But whatever way it happens, toxic families are producing children with no coping skills except dysfunctional ones. How often do we hear, ‘well if he did that to me, I wouldn’t speak to him until he apologised’ or similar?

    So I definitely agree on the societal norms – many men look for a codependent, and many women become codependent – but then neither are happy with that status quo because society’s ‘normal’ is not *healthy*.

    Not just romantic relationships, but all relationships can be about interdependence and not some form of societally justified co-dependency. So in a way, NPD is a gift, because it has opened up that conversation.

    1. I think there needs to be a discussion opened regarding codependency. There are still people in my field who doubt its existence or see it as a symptom of some recognised disorder. I take your point about men and toxic women. I have worked with such relationships but it also staggers me the overwhelming amount of women who are codependent and as you say, not just in relationships but at work and in friendships too.