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Codependency and Dysfunctional Family Characteristics

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.


What Is Codependency?

Codependency (also known as “relationship addiction”) is a learned behavior that is much more than clinginess to another person. It is often passed down from one generation to another. This behavior affects a person’s ability to sustain a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship.

It is frequently emotionally destructive and/or abusive, resulting in low self-esteem. Everyone has moments of self-doubt and uncertainty, but when these thoughts occur so frequently that they stop you from living a happy, healthy life, it may be time to get some help.

The codependent person often plans their whole life around pleasing another individual (the enabler). The codependent person needs the other person, who needs to be needed. This circular relationship is exactly what the experts mean when they refer to the “cycle” of codependency.

Codependency Disorder

This disorder was identified around ten years ago during the study of interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. This behavior is learned by watching and imitating family members who exhibit this kind of behavior.

This disorder may affect a spouse, sibling, parent, friend or even a co-worker. The pattern of this disorder may also be seen in families with chronically or mentally ill people.


Characteristics of a Codependent Person

Some of the most common characteristics of the codependent person include:

  1. An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  2. Fear of abandonment or being alone
  3. Confusing love and pity with a tendency to love those they can rescue or pity
  4. The tendency is to do more than their share every time
  5. When people don’t acknowledge their effort they are hurt
  6. The codependent person will do anything to hang onto the relationship to avoid the feeling of abandonment
  7. The need for recognition and approval is extremely abnormal
  8. Feeling guilty when they are asserting themselves
  9. Compelling need to control others
  10. They have difficulty in identifying their own feelings
  11. Severe lack of trust in themselves or others
  12. Very difficult to adjust to any change
  13. Difficult problems with intimacy or in setting boundaries
  14. Chronic anger issue
  15. They often lie or are dishonest
  16. Poor communication skills
  17. Difficulty in making decisions

What Is a Dysfunctional Family?

Members of dysfunctional families live with anger, fear, pain or shame, which is ignored or denied by the enabler.

Typical characteristics include:

  • A family member addicted to alcohol or drugs, relationships, work, food, sex or even gambling
  • Existence of emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • A family member suffering from a physical or mental illness

Members of dysfunctional families live in denial as they do not acknowledge that any problem even exists. Since problems are not talked about, family members learn to repress their emotions, disregarding any of their needs.

Ultimately, they are survivors that deny, avoid or ignore difficult emotions. They detach themselves from the situation, and they usually won’t talk about it.

They never confront and usually don’t trust other family members. Therefore, these family members don’t develop an identity, and their emotional growth is inhibited. They simply become survivors.

All the attention is focused on the person who is addicted or ill. The codependent person often places other people’s welfare or health above their own.


How to Identify a Codependent Person

Codependency runs in different degrees, and a qualified professional can make a diagnosis. These are some of the possible questions to identify codependency.

  1. So you keep quiet to avoid any argument?
  2. Do you worry about other people’s opinion of you?
  3. Have you ever lived with a person that belittles you?
  4. Have you lived with a person that has a problem with drugs or alcohol?
  5. Are the opinions of other people more important than your own?
  6. Are you feeling rejected when your significant other spends more time with their friends?
  7. Are you having any difficulty adjusting to work or home changes?
  8. Do you feel uncomfortable when expressing your own views?
  9. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
  10. Is it difficult to receive compliments or gifts?
  11. Do you or have you felt inadequate?
  12. Have you felt like a bad person when you make a mistake?
  13. Do you feel humiliated when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
  14. Do you often wish someone could help you get things done?
  15. Do you believe the people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
  16. Do you have trouble talking to people and authority, like the police?
  17. Do you have confusion about who you are or where you are headed in your life?
  18. Are you able to ask for help?
  19. Do you have trouble saying “no’ when asked for help?
  20. Do you have so much happening at one time that you cannot do justice to any one thing?

Identifying with several of these questions indicates you should seek professional help. Arranging for a diagnostic evaluation with a licensed physician or psychologist experienced with codependency.


People who are codependent often have very low self-esteem, and they look for anything outside themselves to feel better. This may cause many self-destructive behaviors, although they often have good intentions.

As codependency is typically rooted in childhood treatment, therapy will often explore your early childhood issues. Treatments often include education and individual and group therapy in order for the codependent person to rediscover themselves. They are guided to identify their self-defeating behavior patterns. The end goal is to allow people to experience the full range of feelings again and to establish healthy relationships.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Pamela Oglesby