Mental Help Net
Relationship Problems
Basic InformationMore InformationLatest NewsQuestions and AnswersBlog EntriesVideosLinksBook Reviews
Therapist Search
Find a Therapist:
 (USA/CAN only)

Use our Advanced Search to locate a therapist outside of North America.

Related Topics

Family & Relationship Issues
Homosexuality & Bisexuality

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFTDarlene Lancer, JD, MFT
A blog about Women’s Issues, Self-esteem and Relationships

Are You Codependent?

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT Updated: Jul 15th 2009

Do you wonder if you are codependent? Do you regularly sacrifice your opinions, needs or wants, then feel resentful? When you say no or choose what you want, do you feel guilty? Do you relate to the Barry Manilow song, "I'm glad when you're glad, sad when you're sad"? Are you controlled by, or do you try to control, your partner? Do you not speak up in fear of rejection or anger? Fear, resentment, and guilt are the hallmarks of codependency, a term once used only to describe the enabler of an alcoholic, now more generally applied to relationships where low self-esteem and dependency leads to problematic patterns and often depression.

person with question markThe seeds of codependence are in childhood where the child has no choice but to accommodate a parent who is controlling, selfish, depressed, addicted, and/or abusive. Such children don't get the sense that their wants or needs matter. The households may vary from one of addiction and neglect, where the child has to take over a parental role and in the process loses touch with themselves, to a family that looks loving and perfect and sends their children to the best schools, but expects perfection or adheres to rigid rules and beliefs, leaving no room for a child's individuality to flourish.

Codependents are often caretakers in relationships where it's not reciprocated. Caring and helping others is fine, but if it's at the expense of oneself, or if you don't believe you have a choice - that it would be selfish to do otherwise - then care taking is not just behavior, but it becomes an identity and the source of self-worth. This can have unhealthy consequences to the giver, receiver, and relationship as a whole.

Codependents learn in childhood to attune to the needs and moods of others, so much so that they usually don't know what they want or need. Sometimes, they don't even know what they think or feel, and have little sense of themselves. They often have difficulty describing themselves or their feelings, and when asked, soon shift to talking about family members or their job.

A codependent conversation sounds like this:

Him: "Where would you like to eat?"
Her: "What do you feel like?"
Him: "Whatever you want."
Her: "Do you feel like Chinese?"
Him: "Do you? Would you like Italian?"

You get the picture. Neither person will assert a position. No one will take responsibility for a choice. Sometimes this deteriorates into an argument or blaming one another. Often, one or both don't want to dine out. Perhaps one person wants to watch a TV show, but doesn't want to disappoint the other, or thinks they can't afford it, and feels ashamed to admit it. It's impossible to problem-solve or compromise if you don't take a position. In this way, subjects and feelings are avoided, problems don't get talked about, never get resolved, and resentment builds.

Codependents frequently become obsessed with another person. Their thoughts, motives, and actions begin to revolve around someone else instead of their own feelings and goals. They start to talk and act in ways to subtly or overtly control the other person's feelings, reactions, and behavior towards them. The codependent may be giving in order to get a certain response or be loved, such as "buttering up" to get a reward or mollify their partner's anger about something. They give with an expectation, and when it's not fulfilled, they are not only hurt, but also resentful and feel owed. Healthy giving is for the pure joy of it.

Codependents don't set limits and boundaries with themselves and others. They may be overly invested in someone else's problem or their employer's project, working long hours on the job, to the detriment of their family or their own health. They never say no. Usually, they have been taught that it is selfish or "un-Christian" to assert their will, and don't notice that someone else doesn't mind using up their time and resources. They may be the "go to" person at work or in an organization or be a martyr at home, never asking for help and never heeding their own needs for rest and rejuvenation. They get satisfaction in feeling needed and being relied upon, but eventually at a great price to themselves and family. If they are self-employed, they may always be running behind because they give each client extra time over their hourly fee. Unconsciously, they believe they aren't valued if they don't do extra work and fear losing the relationship, job, or client.

In a codependent relationship, one partner appears more needy and dependent on the other person. They may be possessive, jealous, call frequently, and constantly seek reassurance and attention. These are controlling behaviors, and often they precipitate arguments. However, the other partner is frequently codependent by accommodating his or her behavior to these unreasonable demands.

Low-self esteem is characteristic of codependence. John Bradshaw and many leaders in the field believe shame is the core feeling. The actions and/or blame and criticism in childhood imprint feelings of being unlovable or unworthy. Codependents are hard on themselves. They push and judge themselves, often perfectionists never satisfied. This sets them up to be in an abusive relationship or one where their emotional needs are not met. They put up with it, often despite being attractive, smart, or successful in their work, because underneath they believe they don't deserve better.

The first step in change is awareness. Joining group or 12-Step Program is effective, because it's important to share, get feedback, and hear struggles and successes of others. Therapy or an assertiveness class will help you identify your needs, feelings, and try out new behavior. It's hard to change patterns on your own, because it's difficult to see outside your own mindset, and you'll need the support when risking new behaviors that create guilt and anxiety. The risks are worth it. You are worth it. Take back yourself!

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for 27 years and coaches internationally and is the author of two books: Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies. Her ebooks include: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind - Become Assertive and Set Limits, Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps and Codependency Recovery Daily Reflections. Ms. Lancer is a sought after speaker at national conferences, on radio, and to professional groups and institutions. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, and, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Find her on, Twitter @darlenelancer, and Facebook.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Attended CoDA for 18 months. What now? - Anonymous - Jun 30th 2013

i started attending CoDA meetings about 3 years ago.  Chronic loneliness, confusion, despair, the works.  But felt different from other codependents because I was never in a relationship, in fact had never been in a relationship.

In my mid 30s now, left meetings after 20 months.  Couldn't get a sponser, no one wanted fellowship.  Whole thing started feeling predictable.  Didn't know what else to do.  Therapists are not helpful; somehow they expect you to know what to do (?) in therapy, I never did.

Feeling very stuck. Still never been in a relationship, but no one asks me out so I'm not breaking any hearts.   Feel like an untouchable.

perverted picture -- reply to JP - Kostya B - Feb 13th 2012

"Codependency", in one form or another, and certainly to varying degrees, exists or existed in the lives of every human being who ever walked this earth...


Well not exactly. With “codependency” every single aspect of human relations is exaggerated to the degree when things that are “normal” in humans start causing problems rather than bring comfort and satisfaction. While interhuman communication is what makes us humans happy, “codependency” leaves one UNhappy and DISsatisfied instead, and that to the degree when one starts questioning his own adequacy.

Much like blood pressure: everyone has blood pressure, yet high blood pressure is KNOWN to cause problems to the extent of being terminal in many cases. And mere knowledge that "everyone has blood pressure" doesn't help those suffering from high blood pressure to come back to normal.

A person who proves himself capable of genuinely facing his own issues and putting forth his own solution, is responsible for, not powerless over, himself in every single way, including his ability to overcome any tendency he has toward "co-dependency".  "Co-dependency", just like drugs and alcohol, has no power, except a power that one falsely gives it.  The answer then is to embrace your power - to empower yourself -  not deem yourself powerless.   “


Yeah, I've heard and read a lot of this embrace-your-own-power bla-bla-bla...

Just tell us what it is which YOU have to offer to help one to “embrace his own power” and to use his own ability to overcome his tendency toward codependency. The author of this blog has given clear counsel and is ready to give more.

Now where can one find YOUR offer?

Or are you essentially trying to say something like “what these folks are offering is BAAAAAAAD!!!” ?


very, very interesting and helpful - Kostya B - Feb 11th 2012


Thank you very much for an interesting blog.

My goodness! These articles are inviting one to study the most interesting thing: one's own precious self! Not something like math or literature, which can be interesting to some and boring to others. It is yourself, the origin and source of all you have in life...

Seeing all this it is surprising there are so little comments under the articles in here. But it is truly sad to read comments that imply “lack of logic” in so clearly written and well explained articles. Alleging that those articles are only written in order to “trap” people into some kind of “program” -- THIS is lacking logic. Why, there's enough told in here to identify the problem, the source and the way out! Just do it yourself if you're that sort of a DIY man!

It is nothing bad, though, that people who can explain things so well also offer practical help. However, unless I am mistaken, you pay no fee for reading all this, huh? No, but the WRITING took some time and effort, not mentioning the time spent for study itself.

It is for these things that I want to thank the publishers of this blog.




A Rebuttal - Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT - Dec 1st 2011

To JP and and other skeptics:

I'm very glad you've pointed out your concerns with 12-Step programs and my competence. You are absolutely right to be skeptical. First, let me say, that the article about 12-Step programs was to explain how they work for those working them - it wasn't to advertise them. There are many people who don't work the steps in the way I described, and they DON'T change, although they may be sober.

I certainly don't believe those programs are for everyone or the only or ideal way to change. However, people sick and in the throws of addiction and codependency often can't avail themselves of the benefits of therapy and other paths of change. They are focused on the object of their addiction (alluded to in the article about the usefulness of therapy initially), have no insight about their maladaptive thinking and behavior, are driven by fear, and are bent on controlling others while not taking responsibility or control of themselves. Unless you’re a recovering addict, or have experienced living with a practicing one, which usually includes emotional abuse, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like and how much it undermines your self-confidence. Reason and mobilization of ones will for the better is an abstract concept that most are unable to apply, particularly if their self-esteem has been damaged in childhood, which is generally the case. The average person cannot understand why a successful star like Rihanna would want to go to therapy to get back with her husband after what he did to her, but this is common. My point is it’s hard for someone healthy to understand the mind of a codependent in that kind of pain.

I’ve treated patients in a rehabilitation clinic that was an alternative to 12 Steps and in private practice, and many recover without attending 12-Step programs. Like therapy, those programs are effective in getting people to look at themselves and let go of their  self-destructive propensity to control, and to begin to utilize their will in a more constructive, purposeful manner. The program doesn’t encourage submission, but healthy acceptance of reality. The concept of “higher power” or God is left to the individual to define. For that matter, it could be the unconscious, their sponsor, or quantum mechanics. That step is a transition to trusting oneself – something codependents can’t do. They make their partner or their drug their god. Switching that dynamic is essential. Going from that to trusting themselves is too big a leap initially.

Another point is that therapy is costly, and those overcoming an addiction, which codependency is, need a lot of support in the beginning to change. It’s very difficult with once-a-week therapy, and meetings are free and daily. A combination is the best solution.

My book, “Codependency for Dummies,” available next May, addresses - from a psychological standpoint -  your questions about discerning codependency from healthy dependency and interdependency. When it’s healthy it supports you, rather than self-destructive.

I hope my comments are helpful. Feel free to email me with any questions.

AlAnon works for me! - Stan - Apr 3rd 2010

AlAnon has been a real blessing for me. I came from a fairly normal middle class family. My father was there but didn't acknowledge my feelings and my mom relied on strict religous beliefs. I turned 45 3 years ago I felt more depressed than ever... A friend suggested I attend 6 AlAnon meetings. I enjoyed the first meeting and enjoyed hearing the people share their feelings openly. I've never felt this before at home, in a bar or in a church. I attended more meetings and got to know some wonderful and supportive people. Long story short, I've attended for almost 2 years, got a sponsor and some books, slowly started going thru the steps. Hung out w/ people in my group sometimes and kept a journal to record my feelings. The change has been INCREDIBLE. I rarely feel the crushing anxiety or depression that used to make my stomach churn every day...I am changed by the program!!! (I had to do the work and be willing) I suggest that everyone give AA or AlAnon or any 12-step program a try. It may not work for you, but I know 12 people who have changed their lives SO WHY NOT TRY IT? I hope it works for you :)

honesty - confused - Jan 21st 2010

i am very confused at the moment and dont know where to draw the line between love hate friendship sex and everything else. i want meaning in my life and stability in my relationships. i want to get excitement from the right places in all the right ways with all the right people. its just everything i am right now is so very wrong.

i have lately been feeling very self destructive because of feelings of guilt from my ex boyfriend who i cheated on with a guy he had always been very jealous of and who i had always put on some sort of unreal pedestal. 

i agree that we all live with some codependency, but i think lately i have identified the root cause of my self destructive behaviour and really can only think of one thing: boredom.

i am feeling unworthy, rejected and unloved. and i want to change.

it is very easy for me to get exactly what i want, so now that i find myself capable of getting everything i ask for from other people, i find it impossible to get the things i want from myself. inner peace calm harmony joy balance life love beauty light laughter dance racing hearts and pulses, sleeping beside safety, waking up to enthusiasm and working because i want to.

i really need to find something that gives me fulfillment and not put all my hopes and dreams onto one single person who i think can save me. i guess that is why i dont think i am codependent because it is me that is looking for saving, and i would be the first to admit how selfish and silly and confused i am.

i want to be a better sister, a good daughter, and a trustworthy friend. how do i get back? how do i forgive myself for ruining what was once a perfect virgin? how can i ever get my self worth again? when will i ever find love and passion?

and i am so sorry for creating a ripple effect of bad energy last night. a guy i did not like that way kissed me and i kissed him back because i was afraid to reject him as he has been a good friend, and a guy i do like i kissed and he kissed me back but i felt like i wanted him to reject me to maintain some sort of balance.

it is dangerous to lead people on. we need to be honest and face the facts of how we feel and what we believe in. from now on i will walk towards a better today and dance my way into the life that this soul deserves. God has given me such a perfect spirit and my human weaknesses have led me to tarnish it and ruin it and damage it.

but i refuse to give it back to God until this life and soul has helped others find joy and beauty. i will only give this life back when it has improved the conditions in my country. i will return this life once i have given it the joy that a husband and children will bring. i will celebrate the lives of those who have gone by living and breathing honestly and hopefully.

Other Programs - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Jul 18th 2009

Hi JR,

I agree with you with behavior that is labelled as "co dependent." I also agree that lots of people without substance abuse problems engage in this behavior and I also agree that if that behavior is causing them or their marriage a problem, they should enter psychotherapy. It is true that 12 step programs are not the solution to all of life's problems.

With regard to substance abuse, there is an excellent program I have already written about. It is called Phoenix Multi Sport, located in Colorado. It is not spiritual, not twelve step, asks no one to be submissive and is built on the idea of community cohesiveness centered around sports and physical health.

Yet, when I made the mistake of mentioning that they are OKay with twelve step programs, the entire article was "shot down," in a blind and mindless way. They get many but not all or even most, referrals from twelve step in patient programs. What is interesting is that people, once they begin there, they stay and are very enthusiastic.

Take a look at it you and others can find it at:

Dr. Schwartz

Codependency. - JR - Jul 17th 2009

I found Darlene Lancer's blog quite interesting, up to a point.  As JP says, the sort of behaviour that she identifies as "codependent" is common in everyday life, whether addiction is part of the picture or not.  I have had that conversation about which restaurant to go to - often.  What I still have difficulty in understanding is why, in order to address this irritating but fairly obvious type of people-pleasing behaviour, it should be necessary or even desirable to subject oneself to participation in a 12 Step program, unless such a program is congenial in other ways ?

I was not surprised to find the statement that "joining group or 12 Step Program is effective" offered as a coda to Ms Lancer's blog; after all, "codependency" is part of 12 Stepping's stock in trade, and constitutes the sole justification for the existence of Al-Anon, "AA's wives and children's auxiliary", as Agent Orange describes it.  It did strike me that there was a lack of any clear connection with what went before. 

Matters become much clearer, however, when one visits Ms Lancer's website - - as JP did, and reads the articles therein.  The article Recovery in the 12 Steps - How It Works is of particular relevance, but others are also revealing - for example, Relationship as a Spiritual Path.  I am reluctant to comment on the quality or substance of Ms Lancer's reasoning and opinion - no doubt, it is acceptable for a "Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MF27909)".  People In Here may visit her site, and judge for themselves.  It is sufficient, in this context, to say that Ms Lancer is an enthusiastic proponent of 12 Stepping as a "spiritual" response to addictions of all sorts, and to the alleged accompanying "codependency".  The fact that the package is wrapped up in sub-Jungian ... language, rather than the late Bill Wilson's Dale Carnegie dialect, fails for me to make it any more attractive or convincing, to me at least.

One sentence struck me as interesting.  "Before taking this Step [i.e. the First of the Twelve], endless therapy sessions are spent by the alcoholic, wondering "Why do I drink?" and the spouse complaining about the addict's behaviour."  Ms Lancer's prose tends, sometimes, to lack ... connectedness, so I am not sure how this should be interpreted but - should it be taken to mean that there is benefit in going through "endless therapy sessions" as preparation to taking the First Step ?  If so, perhaps this is where I went wrong.  In any event, I am sure that the therapy sessions in question must be of benefit to somebody.

I should perhaps come right out with it and say that, sceptical as I am about AA, I am downright suspicious about Al-Anon, Alateen and all their codependent works.  AA may be a enthusiastic recruiter, but it is put in the halfpenny place by its codependency auxiliaries, which seem determined to induct any and every contact of an addicted person that comes anywhere within their radar.  These contacts are generally not sensible of having any "spiritual disease", and have in most cases never heard of "codependency".  The sole purpose of this, as of the organisations themselves, is to spread the "spiritual", "life-transforming", guilt-inducing, surrendering-disgused-as-empowering message of 12 Stepping to people who do not actually have problems of addiction of their own.  Of course, should they decide to step out with Al-Anon, they will know that a "spiritual disease" will always be with them.

MJ, you have my sympathy.  My wife and sister were both "love bombed" by Al-Anon but, being strong and sensible women, both resisted joining that Fellowship on account of my former drinking problem.  As to your feeling that you are "dealing with an overgrown child" - I think that that is the way I came across to my family while I was trying to turn myself into an AA True Believer.  When I finally withdrew from the Fellowship, my sister expressed relief - "The God thing and all that - it just wasn't you !".  I wish you and your mother well, and hope that, while staying off the sauce, she manages at least to attain a more balanced approach to participation in the Fellowship.

With very best regards,


I agree with JP wholeheartedly - MJ - Jul 17th 2009

Also, thanks for the informative article.  This has cleared up some things for me.

I've never been to a 12-step meeting myself, but my mother has recently recently realized she is codependent and has become obsessed with the 12-step philosophy. 

As much as it pleases me to see her finally thinking and feeling for herself, overall I feel JP's philosophy would be more beneficial.  As it stands, every time I talk to her I feel like I'm dealing with an overgrown child.  Now she views ANY concern for or generosity towards another as "codependency,"  and at the same time, she continues to try to emotionally manipulate and control those around her.  It's quite a frustrating situation to be in, and I feel unable to criticize her because she so ardently believes in what she's doing.

I'm hoping she'll figure out a middle-ground on her own someday and stop seeing a learned behavior as a "deadly disease."

'Anti-AA conversational threads' - JR - Jul 17th 2009

Dear me, Editor, and there was I thinking that "AA-related conversational threads" was a more accurate description !  And do I see a sly-suggestion of the old AA canard that anyone who differs with the Fellowship is "doing a dissersive to/killing the suffering alcoholic ?  Given the excessive heat and corrosiveness that has entered into the threads (and indeed readers' comments) on this subject recently, it might be helpful if everybody - and editors in particular - picked their words more carefully in addressing this subject.

Of course, it is reasonable for me, also, to point out that I, too, am a participant in this discussion both in the Community and under Readers' Comments, that I am an "AA sceptic", and that I hold AA not to be helpful in very many cases.  However, I am past the point ever of suggesting that anybody who finds AA helpful in any way, for any reason, should not participate in it.  Also, I recognise the value of AA-based treatment and AA participation in the early stages of recovery at least - as long as alternatives are clearly available and offered where, on reflection, an addicted person finds it unsuitable, ineffective or harmful to them.  I hope that is clear.

Best regards,


Nice Article - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Jul 16th 2009

To Darlene Lancer,

Thank you for a well thought out and clear explanation of the problem of co dependence. I am sure everyone will find this very helpful.

Dr. Schwartz

12 step corruption lives on... - JP - Jul 16th 2009

The following quotes are from Darlene Lancer's website:

"Often, therapists don’t realize that the 12-Steps are not merely an antidote for addiction, but are guidelines for nothing less than a total personality transformation."

"It is an awesome realization when you acknowledge that you or your loved one has a life threatening addiction, subject only to a daily reprieve, over which you are powerless. Now, with a modicum of trust, and either out of desperation or faith, one acquires a willingness to turn to a power beyond oneself. This is Step 2: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

12 steps are now guidelines for a total personality transformation?  Yikes.  As I see it, it is nothing short of criminal how 12 steps advocates have infected the world of addiction treatment, yet as is the case with infections, it continues to spread.  

"Codependency", in one form or another, and certainly to varying degrees, exists or existed in the lives of every human being who ever walked this earth.  Yet as is the case with all 12 step approaches, any otherwise determinable symptom is inaccurately identified as a separate entity - outside of oneself, that possesses a cunning, baffling, power which requires interference by the Almighty Himself, since He allegedly created us as "powerless".  (I'd be pissed if I were God and being perpetually accused of doing such a pathetic job with my creations)  

A person who proves himself capable of genuinely facing his own issues and putting forth his own solution, is responsible for, not powerless over, himself in every single way, including his ability to overcome any tendency he has toward "co-dependency".  "Co-dependency", just like drugs and alcohol, has no power, except a power that one falsely gives it.  The answer then is to embrace your power - to empower yourself -  not deem yourself powerless.   

Do people really still believe this 12 step nonsense?  I have images of "One flew over the cuckoos nest" when I read evidence of people continuing to embrace and pay tribute to the erroneous philosophy of Bill W and his Oxford Group, who have proven over and over again to be quite disturbed, fanatical, and who today are easily viewed as barbaric - much like the 12 steps.  


Editor's Note: I feel it reasonable to point out that JP is an active participate in some of our several anti-AA conversational threads.  That he dislikes and disapproves of 12-step philosophy in all forms is not news.  From my own perspective, 12-step philosophy will appeal and be useful to some and not to others, and those who find it useful should not be dissuaded from taking advantage of it by those with anti-AA viewpoints.  For those who do not find this philosphy useful, there are alternatives to explore.


Follow us on Twitter!

Find us on Facebook!

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.

Powered by CenterSite.Net