What is Codependency?

Codependency is a maladaptive coping technique that dictates how we act in relationships with other people, particularly when we are under stress.

We learn these techniques when we are young and subconsciously carry them into adulthood. Often, they go back generations.

Many of us have codependent traits in our relationships – but that does not make us codependent. Codependents have a much larger need to save or help others than normal and find people who are in distress, such as those suffering from addiction, attractive.

While we all want to take care of the people we love, codependency can be dangerous for all parties concerned. Codependency can be a significant barrier to treatment, and often,

codependents may make a relationship worse by enabling harmful behavior. They do this from a place of misguided care – they think they are helping – when they are making the situation worse.

Often, codependency stems from a dysfunctional upbringing or childhood. However, there is no open-and-shut cause for codependency. At Cirque Lodge, we know that our behaviors are the result of a complex set of factors. We also know the value a functional, loving family has on successful recovery.

We offer dedicated family counseling sessions that examine your relationships in detail and give you the guidance and space to heal. Just because a relationship was once codependent, it does not have to stay that way.

The History of Codependency

The History of Codependency

Codependency is a complex concept that originally described “persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person.”

The term was coined in the USA in the 1940s in the context of substance abuse treatment. The concept was developed by looking at behaviors associated with wives of people with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

During the 1960-70s, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) communities in the USA developed the idea further. People thought that loved ones of people with AUD might also have another form of illness or disease. Back then, the term codependency was interchangeable with enabling.

However, we no longer label codependency as enabling or a condition only associated with substance or alcohol users. At Cirque Lodge, we understand that codependent behaviors are simply survival strategies. Although dysfunctional, they originate from within a family that is experiencing extreme pain and distress.

Signs of Codependency

Signs of Codependency

In the 1980’s clinical and popular literature began to discuss codependency much more openly.

During this time, three models for the concept emerged, and each of them provided different viewpoints around the understanding of codependency. These models were:

  1. The disease model
  2. The personality model
  3. The interactionist model

Regardless of the model, there appear to be four elements consistently mentioned in all the literature that discusses codependency. These are:

  1. External focusing
  2. Self-sacrifice
  3. Interpersonal conflict and control
  4. Emotional constraint

In the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) is included, but codependency is not.

However, studies have found that people can exhibit codependency without displaying traits of other personality disorders, despite the overlaps. You can differentiate codependency from DPD because those suffering from DPD are dependent on people in general. In contrast, those who are codependent are dependent on a specific person or persons.

Codependency can also be separated from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) because, although they both include unstable interpersonal relationships, BDP does not class dependence on other individuals as diagnostic criteria.

Therefore, codependency can be defined as a psychological concept that describes individuals who feel enormous amounts of dependence on a person or persons in their lives. These people are generally loved ones, and the codependent usually feels responsible for the feelings and behavior of the other.

Types of Codependency

Types of Codependency

As well as the four elements we discussed earlier that usually present in codependent people; several signs correlate with a codependent diagnosis.

These are:

  • Dysfunctional within the family
  • Individual and familial stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Narcissistic traits
  • Difficulty expressing emotions appropriately (either overly expressive or under reactive)
  • People-pleasing traits
  • Difficulty maintaining healthy boundaries
  • Controlling tendencies
  • Difficulty communicating honestly
  • Needing to be in a relationship constantly
  • A compulsive feeling to care for other people
  • Obsessing over mistakes
  • Denying your own needs
  • Struggling around intimacy
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Abandonment issues
Codependency Questionnaire

Codependency Questionnaire

Just displaying a number of the above signs does not necessarily mean you are codependent.

However, a high number of them could indicate that you may have codependent tendencies. Another way to evaluate whether or not you may be codependent is to complete a codependency questionnaire like the one below.

These questionnaires can be a good indicator of whether you have codependency issues but should not replace a professional diagnosis.

We suggest you do the questionnaire and then contact one of our professionals at Cirque Lodge if you would like to explore the results further.

How to use the questionnaire:

  • Examine each statement and respond with a True or False
  • There are no correct or incorrect answers
  • Answer as honestly as you can


  1. I am my number one priority.
  2. I think I understand how other people feel more than I understand how I feel.
  3. I am happy in my relationship with my partner.
  4. I find it easy to appear okay on the outside, even though I am dying inside.
  5. I have a lot of great friends and relationships.
  6. I would not want to go on vacation alone.
  7. I am able to deal with whatever life throws at me in a calm or collected manner. I rarely ever lose my temper or get upset.
  8. I feel like I am underachieving.
  9. When a romantic relationship becomes toxic or makes me unhappy, I have no problem removing myself from it.
  10. I will always help others, even if it means putting myself out.
  11. I never get health anxiety.
  12. I am not happy in my closest relationship.
  13. I find it easy to let people know when I am angry with them.
  14. I do not enjoy spending time on my own.
  15. I find it easy to remove myself from a situation – I trust that issues can resolve themselves without my input.
  16. I regret a lot of things that I have done.
  17. When I was growing up, I found it easy to discuss problems with other members of my family.
  18. I often wonder why I feel like I have to do so much for other people.
  19. I set aside time every week for my own self-care.
  20. I find it difficult to make decisions.

Scoring Yourself in the Codependency Test

You get 1 point for every “False” you answered for odd-numbered questions and 1 point for every “True” for even-numbered questions.

The maximum number you could score is 20. The closer you are to 20, the more likely it is that you are displaying codependent tendencies. Remember, codependency is not black and white. It is a condition that lives on a spectrum. If you are even slightly worried about any of your answers to these questions, please contact our team at Cirque Lodge.

For years the concept of codependency has come under criticism for being loosely defined, however in the last couple of decades, more empirical research has been done to help individuals suffering from the signs and symptoms of codependency.  We are now fully aware that this is a relationship dynamic that can impact anyone with any sort of developmental trauma in their background, not just those with alcoholism or addiction running through their family.

The good news is that there are ways and means to overcome codependency. With professional help, you can understand that while you can have healthy loving relationships, each individual is responsible for their own feelings and behavior.

What is Codependency 1

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