Science of People - Logo

Codependency: What You Need to Know (& How to Overcome it)

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

If you feel like you are responsible for other people’s happiness, you may be dealing with codependency. Sacrificing your own well-being for the sake of your relationships may seem selfless. Still, it can actually lead to poor boundaries, low self-esteem, and/or an inability to be alone.

Fortunately, you can heal from codependency by focusing on self-love, boundaries, and communication. Use this guide and quiz to find out if you may be codependent, plus 5 actionable hacks for overcoming codependency and cultivating healthy relationships.

Disclaimer: Nothing on this website should be misinterpreted as medical information. While we reference official psychological literature, everything in this article is for information purposes only. Codependency is a mental health condition that may require help from a licensed therapist or mental health professional. For a good resource for therapists, you can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list or the National Register of Health Service Psychologists.

What is Codependency? (Codependency Definition)

Codependency is a preoccupation or extreme dependence on another person for a sense of identity, self-worth, and value. Often called a “relationship addiction,” codependency is an unhealthy dynamic wherein a codependent person relies on others to feel valued. This need to feel needed often leads to one-sided relationships, people-pleasing, self-destructive behavior, and poor mental health.

Are You Codependent? (Codependency Quiz)

If you’re wondering whether you may be engaging in codependent tendencies, this quiz can help you understand how these dynamics show up in your relationships. Please keep in mind that the results of this quiz should not be interpreted as a diagnosis or implication of any medical disorder, such as codependent personality disorder. This information is purely for self-awareness and learning purposes. 

Disclaimer: We are so honored to help you overcome codependency and form healthier relationships! However, no content found on this website is not to be considered professional medical advice. It is always best to consult a doctor or licensed therapist with any questions or concerns in regard to your physical or mental health.

  1. Does your mood change based on the behaviors or moods of people close to you?

a. Yes. If someone else is upset, I am upset.

b. Sometimes, but I know how to bring myself back into my own energy.

c. No, I have control of my mood and don’t let other people affect me too much.

2. Do you tend to become a “chameleon” in relationships? In other words, do you change and cater your preferences and desires to what other people want?

a. Yes, I will do whatever it takes to make others happy. I want them to like me, so I often change

myself to feel more likable.

b. Sometimes, but I retain a strong sense of my own likes and dislikes.

c. No, I know who I am and what I like. I respect our differences.

3. I tend to put aside my own needs so I can selflessly help others.

a. Of course! I always put others before myself because I need to in order to feel like a good person.

b. I sometimes sacrifice my needs for others, but I also prioritize myself.

c. No. My self-care and well-being come first because I know that I have to be happy and healthy

before I can help others.

4. My emotions and experiences are not as important as the people I care about.

a. Agree. I am much more concerned about how my loved ones feel.

b. Neither agree nor disagree.

c. Disagree. My emotions and thoughts are just as important as anyone else’s. We are all humans with

valuable perceptions and experiences.

5. Do you feel responsible for other people’s happiness?

a. Yes. If someone is upset, I usually think it is my fault. If someone has a problem, I want to fix it.

b. Sometimes I worry that other people are upset with me, but I also know that I need to take care of

myself first.

c. No, I understand that the moods and feelings of others are not my responsibility.

6. Do you find yourself connecting with others through cycles of drama, chaos, or overwhelming circumstances?

a. Usually, I get easily roped into drama and feel the need to stand by my loved ones at all costs. I

take on their problems as my own.

b. Sometimes, I get wrapped up in other people’s chaotic lives.

c. Never. I avoid drama, and I maintain strong boundaries around my inner peace so I don’t get too

involved in other people’s problems.

7. Do you trust your own intuition and intellect to make decisions?

a. No, I have difficulty making my own decisions, especially in my relationships. I usually seek

guidance from others.

b. Sometimes, I ask for advice, but I also trust my gut.

c. Yes, I believe in myself, and I know I am capable of making decisions on my own.

8. I don’t know who I would be if I didn’t have a specific person in my life. They are part of who I am.

a. Agree. My relationship with a specific person is a key part of my identity. I have a hard time

imagining myself without them.

b. Somewhat agree. I could survive without them, but I feel very, very attached to a specific person.

c. Disagree. I love my significant other, family, and friends, but I know that I would be OK without

them. I have a strong sense of personal identity, irrespective of anyone else.

9. Do you regularly seek the approval of others? Do you value their opinion more than your opinion of yourself?

a. Constantly. I crave to be liked and accepted. I feel like I need compliments, praise, and validation

from others in order to feel worthy and important. If they don’t validate me, I don’t feel confident.

b. Sometimes. I want to be accepted and often seek out compliments in order to feel better about

myself. But I’m also OK if some people don’t like me.

c. No. I enjoy receiving compliments, but I do not depend on them for my sense of self-worth. I like

who I am, and I know how to validate myself.

10. Do you feel confident in yourself and like who you are?

a. No. Deep down, I feel insufficient, unlovable, and/or disgusting. I hate who I am.

b. Sometimes I feel good about myself, but I also feel insecure a lot of the time.

c. Yes, I love who I am, and I do not need other people to convince me of my worth.


Tally up your answers and use this guide to figure out what they mean. Remember, this should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis or medical advice of any kind. 

Mostly A: You may have codependent tendencies. Consider speaking with a licensed therapist or using the tips below to overcome codependency. 

Mostly B: You might waiver between codependent behaviors and interdependent behaviors. Consider working on your boundaries, assertiveness, and self-love.

Mostly C: You are unlikely to engage in codependency in your relationships. You may be able to use your confidence, strong boundaries, and secure attachment style to help others.

Signs of Codependency and Symptoms of Codependence

Codependency can show up in many ways in different relationships. These signs should not be used as a diagnosis. Instead, they can help you build awareness about your own codependent tendencies or notice unhealthy relationship dynamics in others. 

A codependent person tends to:

  • Depend on others for a sense of identity
  • Place other’s needs before their own
  • Feel responsible for the happiness of others
  • Lack of boundaries or the ability to say “no”
  • Take on a caretaker role (especially in romantic relationships)
  • Have low self-worth or a lack of confidence
  • Engage in people-pleasing behaviors
  • Feel the need to save or fix other people
  • Enable destructive behaviors from others 
  • Have an extreme fear of being alone

What Causes Codependency?

At its root, codependency is the longing to feel loved. Codependents try to give and give to other people so that they can feel loved and validated in return. This is a learned behavior that can be caused by:

  • Fear of abandonment: Codependents will often do anything to please others or stay in a relationship (even if it is unhealthy) because they may fear abandonment or fear being alone.
  • Childhood trauma: The term “codependency” was originally coined1 to describe children or significant others in a household with an alcoholic or drug addict. The codependent may support or enable the caregivers’ substance use disorder in order to avoid negative repercussions (abuse, neglect, etc.) and try to earn their love.
  • Attachment styles: Anxious attachment styles are prone to codependent tendencies because they define themselves by their relationships. Dysfunctional family dynamics or childhood trauma can cause insecure attachment in adults. Take this quiz to discover your attachment style.
  • Toxic or unhealthy relationships: Relationships with unhealthy or narcissistic people can cause someone to develop codependent behaviors as means of coping with emotional or physical abuse.
  • Low self-esteem: Without a solid foundation of confidence or self-esteem, some people fall into codependency because they don’t feel worthy of receiving love from other people. Therefore, they bend over backward to “people please” and prioritize others before themselves. 
  • Poor boundaries: People often end up in codependent relationships because they have trouble setting boundaries around how others can treat them. They may allow others to demean them, disrespect them, or take advantage of them as a means of people-pleasing. Because codependents feel insecure, they fear saying “no” or standing up for themselves because they want to feel validated by others.

What is Codependency in a Relationship? 

In a relationship, codependent people feel that they need to abandon their own truth or set aside their own needs in order to help or fix other people. They do this so that they can “win” the love and validation of someone else. A codependent person often feels worthless or helpless without another person to support or care for.

Codependency is most common in romantic relationships, but it can also occur within a parent-child relationship, a caregiver relationship, or a friendship. Examples of codependent dynamics include: 

  • A codependent parent relies on their child to provide them with a sense of meaning, often at the expense of their own well-being. Their entire identity is being a parent, and they don’t know what to do without their child. When they aren’t caring for their kids, they may feel lost, upset, or unimportant.
  • A codependent caregiver obsesses over caring for a sick patient or family member. They neglect their own health or well-being so they can prioritize being there for the patient at all hours of the day and night. 
  • Codependent friends place a disproportionate amount of their identity and self-worth in their friendship. They may have a difficult time socializing independently. 
  • A codependent person in a romantic relationship tends to be an over-giver and put all their needs aside in order to appease their partner as a means to “win” their love. The giver often enables the bad behaviors of the taker. Codependents may need their significant other in order to feel attractive, worthy, valued, confident, and happy. Without a partner, they may feel worthless or undeserving of love.

Why is Codependency a Problem? 

Being codependent is unhealthy because it involves depending on someone for your sense of self-worth. This leads to feelings of extreme disappointment or unworthiness when the other person doesn’t return your love, feel happy, or fill the void within you. Codependency makes it difficult to thrive as an independent, healthy, and happy individual. 

Codependency is like a relationship addiction; like all addictions, it ultimately destroys the mental health of the addict. Codependency can become a significant issue in your relationship with yourself and others because it negatively impacts your ability to form deep bonds and practice healthy communication. 

Codependent people can also be susceptible to:

  • A victim mindset
  • People pleasing behaviors
  • Feeling powerless
  • Feeling exhausted and mentally drained
  • Being controlled by others 
  • Emotional manipulation
  • Emotional or physical abuse
  • Narcissistic relationships
  • One-sided relationships wherein the codependent puts in all the effort
  • Enabling a loved one’s toxic behaviors

5 Tips to Break Free from Codependent Relationships

Suppose you want to break free from codependent patterns, create a more secure attachment style, and form healthier relationships. In that case, you may need to face this intense but humbling truth: Codependency could be a distraction that you created in order to avoid healing the part of you that feels unworthy of love. 

In other words, your codependent behaviors might be a projection of your own unresolved wounds onto other people. These tips can help you find inner peace and create boundaries for a stronger, happier relationship with yourself and those you love. 

1. Replace codependent patterns with interdependent thinking

Codependency may seem like a relationship problem, but really it is an issue inside yourself. Fortunately, many codependent patterns start with thoughts. And thoughts are relatively simple to change! All it takes is practice. 

The healthy opposite of codependency is interdependency. Interdependence involves a balance of self and interpersonal relationships. This means you are able to feel secure and independent on your own while still contributing to relationships or friendships in a way that is beneficial to you and the other person.

When unhealthy thought patterns arise, recognize them and approach them with curiosity rather than judgment. Ask yourself, “Why am I thinking/feeling this?” or “Where did that thought come from?” Then, practice replacing your codependent thoughts with reframed interdependent thoughts like these:

Codependent (Unhealthy) Thought PatternInterdependent (Healthy) Reframe
“When they feel uncomfortable, it makes me feel uncomfortable, so I NEED to help them.”“I care about them so I can be here for them, but I also know I am not responsible for their emotions or their happiness.” 
“I shouldn’t say that because they’ll think I’m weird or won’t like me.”“I’m not here to please anyone or make them like me. I will attract the right people when I am free to be authentically myself.”
“I should say ‘yes’ so they don’t get mad or feel disappointed in me.” “I can respectfully disagree or say ‘no’ so that I can honor our relationship and show up as myself. I don’t owe anybody anything.” 

2. Confront and remove the “savior complex”

A savior complex is a belief that helping or saving others is your purpose or calling in life. People with a savior complex tend to expend so much energy trying to fix other people’s problems that they end up burning out themselves. 

It is normal to want to help others and be a kind person. However, someone with a savior complex takes this to the extreme. They sacrifice their own well-being while trying to save someone else from their issues. For example:

  • Someone with a relatively easy upbringing feels drawn to someone who experienced childhood trauma and constantly tries to psychoanalyze them or offer healing advice. However, the relationship leads to a toxic dynamic where the “savior” takes on the traumas of the “victim” and tries to be their therapist rather than their partner.
  • A financially successful person becomes close friends with someone who is struggling with money and constantly pays their bills, bails them out of debt, or enables irresponsible spending habits. 
  • Someone who is in a relationship with an alcoholic or addict may feel like it is their responsibility to heal the other person’s addiction, so they spend large amounts of money and time to do so. 

If you often find yourself in “fixer” mode, here are a few habit shifts to help you conquer your savior complex:

  • Daily affirmation: Repeat yourself, “It is not my job to fix other people’s problems. I am only in charge of myself. I respect their ability to find their own way.” 
  • Re-route your focus with journaling: Instead of focusing so much energy on saving others, put that energy toward supporting your own personal growth and evolution through journaling. When you find yourself hyper-focused on other people’s problems, grab a sheet of paper and reflect on your own thought patterns and desires with curiosity. Ask yourself: Why am I reacting this way? What about them triggers me? Why do I feel responsible for their issue? What can I improve upon in my own life?
  • Improve your listening skills: When someone you love is sharing their problems with you, practice listening rather than offering unsolicited advice. Face them, maintain eye contact, and stay silent until they are done talking. Validate their feelings with statements like, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” Better listening will help you avoid jumping into “fixer” mode. Many people simply want to feel valued and heard rather than relying on you to solve their problems.
  • Practice neutrality: Hold a neutral stance when someone shares an injustice or issue in their life. For example, if your significant other is ranting about how someone at work did them wrong, try not to become protective over them or angry at the perpetrator instantly. Instead, remind yourself that every story has two sides, and it is not your job or your business to fix this problem. 

The desire to save others often comes from a subconscious desire to be saved from oneself. Codependents tend to care deeply about other people, and their empathy can become their superpower once they liberate themselves from the need to fix other people’s problems. 

If you want to help others while still working to overcome the savior’s complex, reframe the situation like this: I am giving others the gift of being their own hero

3. Beat insecurities and build confidence with these daily rituals

Codependents often have deep-rooted insecurities that leave them yearning for attention, affection, and compliments from others. Learning to love yourself may be the golden ticket to releasing yourself from anxious and codependent patterns. 

Start building your confidence with these small daily habits:

  • Validation Habit: Whenever you find yourself hoping for validation from someone else, use it as an opportunity to validate yourself. For example, if you’re craving for your significant other to reassure you, take the opportunity to validate yourself by saying, “I am important, and I am valuable.” Then, tell yourself all the reasons you are important and valuable, such as your uniqueness, your kindness, and your special quirks.
  • Mirror Affirmation: Every time you see a mirror, tell your reflection, “I love you,” or, “You look amazing today!” Think about the way you adore all the little flaws of someone you love. If they told you, “I hate the way my hair looks today,” you might even respond with a compliment like, “But I love your hair; it looks great!” Consider doing this for yourself. 
  • “Says Who?” Exercise: Any time you notice self-criticism or an insecure thought arising in your head, use curiosity to find the root of the issue. For example, if you leave a conversation and start beating yourself up, thinking, “Oh my gosh, I sounded like such an idiot; I never should’ve said that. Now they’re going to think….” Stop the thought and ask yourself (silently or aloud), “Says who?” Who actually thinks that you sounded like an idiot? It’s not the other person. It may not even be you. You’ll likely find that the critical inner voice is not rooted in reality, and you are fully capable of replacing harmful thoughts with loving ones like, “That’s not true. You did your best and are still likable even if you slipped up on your words.”
  • Self-Love Massage: Grab your favorite moisturizer and go to a quiet place. As you rub lotion on your feet, say, “I love my feet.” As you rub lotion on your legs, say, “I love my legs.” Focus special attention on parts of your body that you feel embarrassed or ashamed of. If you hate your freckles, rub lotion on the most freckled part of your body and say, “I love you, freckles.” If you feel insecure about that extra fat on your stomach or the cellulite on your thighs, moisturize those areas and say, “I love you, stomach,” “I love you, thighs,” and “I love you, skin.” This may feel funny at first, but this is a great way to learn to accept and appreciate every part of your physical self. You can even start with a simple self-hug if that’s too much.

Want more? Here is How to Love Yourself in 17 Ways (Even If You Don’t Know How)

4. Give your love languages to yourself

What if all the energy you pour into others could be redirected to yourself? Many codependents are self-proclaimed martyrs. They think sacrificing their needs for others will somehow win them the love they crave. 

It’s natural to feel upset when your love and effort are not reciprocated in a relationship. Instead of getting resentful toward the other person for neglecting your needs, consider channeling more energy into your own self-care. 

The idea of love languages was developed by Dr. Gary Chapman to help married couples resolve communication issues. But love languages aren’t just for romance! We can use them to love ourselves more, especially if we aren’t receiving the love or attention we crave from others.

Try giving yourself your most important love languages. For example:

  • Is your love language gifts? Take yourself on a mini shopping spree at your favorite store, or take some time to create a special gift for your future. You can even wrap it!
  • Is your love language physical touch? Try hugging yourself before bed or creating a self-handshake to do after any small accomplishment. 
  • Is your love language quality time? Take yourself on a date to your favorite restaurant, movie, concert, or museum. Get dressed up, take photos, and make it a special experience. You can also do this with a friend or family member who you don’t feel codependent on.
  • Is your love language words of affirmation? Post sticky notes with your favorite quotes or reminders all over your home and car where you can see them every day.
  • Is your love language acts of service? Imagine giving acts of service to your future self. Your present self may not want to do the laundry or clean your house, but your future self will be so grateful that you showed them love by doing so. 

Whenever you are yearning for affection or love from someone else, turn it around and find ways to give that love to yourself. 

5. Create strong boundaries

Last but certainly not least, boundaries are the essential “secret sauce” to liberation from codependent relationships. Codependents tend to let people treat them however they want because they fear that standing up to them will lead to abandonment. The problem with this is you are essentially neglecting your own needs and betraying yourself in an effort to gain the approval of others. 

Start creating boundaries by…

  • Sticking to your own schedule: Create blocks of time specifically for yourself and your own work. Rather than moving around your schedule to meet the needs of other people, stand strong in your time boundaries. For example, don’t cancel plans with your best friend for a last-minute date with your partner. 
  • Speaking up when you feel uncomfortable: Use “I” statements to explain why a comment or situation made you feel the way you feel. For example, “I felt unappreciated when you forgot to thank me for the gift I got you.” 
  • Saying “no” when you want to say “no”: The key to a strong “no” is saying it without worrying about how the other person will react. Their feelings about your “no” are reflections of their own reality, not yours.

Read our complete guide on How to Set Boundaries: 5 Ways to Draw the Line Politely.

Key Takeaways: Overcome Codependency with Self Love, Reflection, and Boundaries

If your relationships feel impossibly draining, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Self-love, inner reflection, and setting healthy boundaries could be the antidotes to your codependency. 

Instead of pouring all your energy into others, prioritize healing yourself by:

  • Reframing unhealthy thought patterns
  • Removing the “savior complex” and understanding that you are not responsible for fixing other people’s problems
  • Building self-confidence through daily self-love and self-validation rituals
  • Gifting your love languages to yourself
  • Creating strong boundaries and saying “no”
  • Seeking help from a professional therapist or licensed mental health practitioner 

Want to learn more about healthy relationships and how to cultivate them? Take this quiz on The 5 Relationship Patterns: Which One Are You?

How to Deal with Difficult People at Work

Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Get our latest insights and advice delivered to your inbox.

It’s a privilege to be in your inbox. We promise only to send the good stuff.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.