Couples Counseling

What is Codependency?

Codependency is an often used, but frequently misunderstood term.  It is a form of dependency, but it also differs from dependency.  “Dependency” in and of itself is not a bad thing and doesn’t automatically imply weakness.  It is healthy to be vulnerable in a relationship and allow yourself to depend on another at times.  A certain amount of dependence, vulnerability, and reliance upon another is necessary for a successful partnership.  A healthy relationship requires a mixture of self-care and care of another and necessitates healthy boundaries giving knowledge of when to say “yes” and when to say “no”.

Struggling with Codependency? Schedule an Appointment with Sylvia Flanagan to Find a Better Way For Healthy Dependency.


It is true that codependency is a form of dependency, but the “co” implies two people are dependent on each other in different ways.  In a nutshell, a codependent gives, rescues, enables and over-functions and the other person is in some capacity dependent upon and under-functioning in the relationship.  A codependent is mostly focused on another person to the detriment of him or herself.  I like the following definition of codependency:

“Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.  Among the core characteristics of codependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and identity.”

what is codenpendencyCodependency prevents healthy relationships in a number of ways.  Codependency (and the corresponding dependency of the partner) keeps individuals and a relationship from developing the necessary transparency, intimacy, growth, vulnerability, and boundaries that are essential to a strong partnership.  The dependent remains stuck in his/her cycle and the codependent continues to achieve his/her sense of self and validation by helping, rescuing, enabling and over-functioning while ignoring his/her own growth and development.  Since a codependent has difficulty saying no and setting boundaries, true understanding doesn’t form in a relationship because the codependent keeps hidden his/her needs.  How can there be intimacy in a relationship when the needs of another are not expressed?  Eventually, resentment is experienced by the codependent as they tire of giving.  Below is a sampling of codependent traits.

  • Tendency to get involved with people who need to be “rescued” or “fixed”
  • Taking on the role of the caregiver
  • Experience guilt when saying “no”
  • Have difficulty identifying and communicating your needs
  • Fear of abandonment in relationship
  • Avoiding expression and sharing of feelings as a means to feel safe and have control
  • Emotional reactivity if someone disagrees or is disappointed in you
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor boundaries

If you think you might be stuck in a codependent relationship dynamic or have a pattern of unhealthy relationships where you exhibit many of the traits above with someone who under-functions in response to your over-functioning, then I suggest exploring that.  There are many good books on codependency and counseling can be very helpful if you want to replace codependency with a healthy dependency.  I see this issue so very often in my practice and have been working with codependency for almost 15 years.

Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. For more information about San Diego Counseling, feel free to call or email her.  Office hours are Monday through Thursday 10:00 to 6:00.


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I offer individual counseling, couples therapy and premarital counseling. The issues I work with are diverse and range from problems arising from sudden circumstantial changes to long standing and complex struggles. My approach to counseling is varied since individual needs and circumstances inform the methods I use. I don’t approach any two people the same and personalize my methods for each situation and client. Click the button below to book a session and we can begin your journey to rediscovery.


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