If you have recently had any of the following thoughts, then you might be engaged in some “Co-Dependent” thinking: 

  • “I can’t live without you!”
  • “If only they would change, everything would be ok” 
  • “I’m fine, they are the one with problem”
  • “Everyone tells that they aren’t healthy for me but I can’t let them go” 
  • “I’m not happy in this relationship but the idea of being single/alone is terrifying” 

“Co-Dependency” is a common or pop-psychology term often been used to describe a problematic approach to relationships.  In my work as a Clinical Psychologist, I have helped many people who are struggling with these concerns and it can be a very painful and disorienting state.  “Co-Dependency” is a somewhat vague, catch-all term that can have a number of definitions depending on the source.  It can relate to a dysfunctional state in a familial, occupational or romantic relationship.  However, my own conceptualization of Co-Dependency focuses on the individual. I describe it as: 

  • A state where an individual excessively focuses on another person or a relationship, to the detriment to their own well-being.  

This definition deemphasizes the process between two people and instead focuses on what the individual brings to the dynamic.  This approach means that a person cannot be “ok” as long as there is any relational strain.  Someone then may then engage a number of unhelpful strategies to try to secure the relationship such as enabling, waiting, demanding, controlling, self-sacrifice, etc.  Many people with these tendencies are often so preoccupied or even obsessed with focusing on the other person that they forget that they have their own feelings and preferences.  People in a “co-dependent” state can often feel depressed, anxious, worried, overwhelmed but redirect this energy externally as opposed to engaging in self-care. 

This external focus could then lead to self-sacrifice, externally manipulative behaviors or both.  Self-sacrifice could come in the form excessive giving, deference or accommodating for the other person’s unhealthy behaviors (such as drinking, anger, spending, controlling, etc.).  Often times these pains are endured with the idea that by “taking care” of the other person, that eventually they will reciprocate.  A frequent trap is people become “givers” in their relationship and their partners become “takers.”  In a healthy relationship I would argue that there is a fair amount of “reciprocation” so that both people feel respected and that their needs are met.  Reciprocally, a “co-dependent” person could engage in highly focused efforts to get the other person to change.  This can be through subtle or even aggressive controlling strategies with a belief that if only the other person would change then everything would be ok.

As a psychologist, I work with Co-Dependency by helping individuals to develop better boundaries between themselves and others.  When boundaries are established, individuals are then better able to engage in self-care, self-management, and experience emotional relief even in the context of relational strain.  Working on Co-Dependent considerations can not only relieve the individual but can also lead to healthier, more intimate relationships.  Signs of healthy boundaries could include:

  • Learning to be assertive
  • Using “I-statements” to describe needs, wants and preferences 
  • Maintaining respect for someone else’s decision making, even if we don’t agree
  • Being able to tolerate (or even enjoy) periods of time alone or with people outside of the relationship 
  • Pursuit and engagement in activities or hobbies that you enjoy

It is an act of courage to attend to your-self and therapy is one option to help improve this ability.  I have helped many people over the years to find their own voice and learn how to express it respectfully to others.  You deserve to be happy and with some effort and support you can find your self in healthier relational dynamics.  If you would like to learn more about my counseling services and how I could help, please send me a direct message through this web site or give me a call at 619-414-0042. 

All the Best, 

Dr. Chad K. Cox PsyD 
Licensed Psychologist PSY23320 
San Diego, CA 


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