What is co-dependency?

What is co-dependency?

Though not as common a term as depression or anxiety, co-dependency is a far more common problem than you might think.

When we aim to treat addictions to drugs, alcohol or other substances we have to look at the emotional background that very often acts as the trigger to substance dependency and many other types of personal problems.

Co-dependency is a common cause among them, and it is at the heart of problems that emanate from a poor sense of self-esteem. Since a great many of the people we treat suffer from poor self-esteem it is important to get to the root of the problem.

Self-esteem and Co-dependency


We all like validation from other people – to be liked, be told we’re beautiful, smart or fun, but ultimately you can only be truly contented in life when you are content with yourself and accept yourself for who you are, recognising your strengths and your weaknesses.

The idea that we should somehow be perfect and live up to impossible expectations – our own, or those of others – is not only damaging but unrealistic. Everyone is fallible and endowed with their own strong and weak points, and it is the latter you have to accept as a normal part of being human.

Too many people, however, fall prey to living their lives in the shadow of real or perceived expectations from others, criticising themselves for not being perfect and/or defending themselves against unspoken criticism from those around them. Many think they are talentless, ugly or somehow undeserving, but fail to see that most people around them – including very happy and/or successful ones – are just the same in most ways.

When your self-esteem is low in this way you inevitably seek the approval of others to validate yourself and somehow feel like a whole person. People in this situation align their personalities and actions to receive validation, but they can just as easily become defensive and overreact when faced with criticism. We should all be able to deal with criticism and setbacks, but people who are co-dependent are too easily swayed emotionally by the reactions of others.

Living your life in the shadow of others is never good, be it your parents, friends, colleagues or partner, and as it doesn’t make for good, evenly balanced relationships it only serves to lower your self-esteem further. Moreover, the emotional swings and inherent dislike of themselves makes co-dependents more vulnerable to substance abuse as a means of escape and dealing with the results of unhealthy interpersonal relationships.

Co-dependent people are also more prone to becoming fixated on others, harming themselves, committing acts of extreme desperation or using alcohol or drugs to enhance their personality and effectively become the person they want to be. In essence they are desperately trying to send a message that they just want to be loved and accepted. But whereas others might be willing to do this, the co-dependent is very often the actual obstacle to breaking the cycle, as they are locked in the wrong dialogue with themselves.

Overcoming co-dependency

The first step to overcoming co-dependency is to stop making someone else your facilitator – the person you blame for your drug abuse, behaviour, lack of energy or ambition, or any of the other factors that stop you from being a whole and contented person. Having the strength to recognise this takes you to the next, all-important step – the process by which you stop rejecting yourself (for it is you and not others who do so) and begin accepting yourself for the normal human being that you are. Complete with good and bad sides.

Look around you and realise that you are, after all, not so different from the rest of the world, many of whom battle with the same insecurities. You have to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and be proud of your strengths, learn to look at yourself in the mirror and not shy away but be able to love yourself. It is only once you feel contented with who you are that you can truly love others. Friends and family can support you but it has to come from within, for only you can recover your self-esteem and become whole.

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