Co-dependency used to be a word reserved for those in a relationship with alcoholics or other addicted people. But the term has been expanded to include people with lopsided relationships—people who are partners, parents, family or friends with dysfunctional people. Dysfunctions can include all sorts of addictions from drugs to sex, and emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Being co-dependent means you put up with bad behavior from those close to you, possibly because you don\’t know how to have a happy, healthy relationship. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, it\’s what you are familiar with, so you perpetuate the situation. You have low self-esteem—because the dysfunctional one is always the center of attention and their needs are more important than yours. So you look for a way to feel better. You need to be needed.

If you are co-dependent, you often have the best possible intentions. You try to help your loved ones. They are sick, after all, and their needs come before yours until you lose yourself and who you are at your core.

The Problem: As a co-dependent, you perpetuate the dysfunctional behavior of your loved one. In other words, you\’re not really helping. You\’re only prolonging their unhealthy behavior by enabling them to continue while you suffer harm.

The Symptoms: As mentioned, many co-dependents have low self-esteem. Another symptom is the inability to distinguish between your thoughts, feelings, needs and your loved ones\’. You have allowed the boundaries between you and others to become blurred. You feel responsible for other people\’s feelings and problems. You feel the need to fix them. This is okay up to a point—healthy people are compassionate and helpful. But unhealthy behavior is when you put other people ahead of yourself to your own detriment. Sometimes when others don\’t want help. And you continue even when they don\’t take your advice.

A co-dependent believes that others are the ones with the problem, and you find it difficult to face up to your own role in the situation. You either keep trying to fix the other person, or go from one co-dependent relationship to another. You don\’t recognize that you, too, have a problem because you suppress your own feelings and needs. Your focus, instead, is on others\’ feelings. You want other people to like you and sometimes avoid contradicting them or voicing your own thoughts. After all, if you say what you really feel, you might upset someone else. You might not even know what you feel, so focused are you on someone else. And that person could reject or abandon you—a fear that drives you to allow the lopsided relationship to go on too long, even when you suffer pain and abuse.

The Solution: It is difficult to recover from being co-dependent because it is often passed down from generation to generation. Habits are deeply ingrained. But, if you recognize yourself as having some of these symptoms, you have already made the first step to building your self-esteem. Professional guidance and support will go a long way to help you gain a positive, healthy and happy life.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: