The components and characteristics of codependency are many.  The following is among the traits that comprise codependency.  While this list is comprehensive, it is not all inclusive.

Care taking

Care taking basically means that an individual feels responsible for the well being of another. Is is markedly different than taking care (as opposed to care taking) of another individual. When one care takes another, they are giving the message that the other is not good enough or well enough to take care of themselves and therefore the codependent care takes as a way of taking control. It is important to note that anger and resentment are emotions that are often felt when their help is not effective.

The very essence of a care taker is giving. The individual feels best about themselves (on the surface) when they are in the giving mode. However, as this care taking behavior goes on and on, they get angry and resentful and unappreciated about the fact that no one is doing as much for them. Conversely, there are usually feelings of insecurity and guilt when others do give to them. One can therefore see the true battle that goes on in a care taker and the various emotions that are felt are truly overwhelming.

Low Self-Esteem

It should be obvious that the very basis and core of codependency is feelings of low self-esteem.  These individuals typically come from dysfunctional families. Keep in mind that dysfunction does not always mean overt physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The overt abuse can indeed cause great psychological damage to the individual and produce more than low self-esteem.

The dysfunction, however,  can be considerably more subtle and covert than the abuses mentioned above.  For instance, a person can be raised in an environment where conditional love is exercised (i.e. you are good enough only if you do something that pleases me).  The environment can also be such that there are unrealistically high expectations of the child where no matter what they accomplish, it will simply not be good enough.  The child starts to believe that they are not worthy and therefore engages in activities that bring him/her attention.
These feelings of insecurities can manifest themselves in a variety of emotions including fears of rejection, fears of rejection, fears of disappointing others, constant feelings of guilt, and fears of success or failure. The person can sometimes feel a great deal of shame in themselves and feel that no matter what they do, they are just not good enough. Making mistakes would cause great distress to an insecure person. Perfectionism can also  be observed with feelings of low self-esteem.

Unfortunately, and typically the individual has a deep belief that they do not deserve good or that they do not deserve to be treated well. These attitudes contribute adversely to any personal relationships that they form because there are no expectations to be treated well.


There is a significant difference between wanting to be in control and being controlling. I think as human beings we all strive to be in control and need that control to feel OK about ourselves. Being in control simply means that a person exercises control only over themselves (i.e. what they say, what they do, how they think or feel). Their actions, whether verbal or non-verbal is ultimately what the person only has control over.

The codependent typically is a controlling person. Controlling behaviors occur when a person tries to control their environment and others. These controlling behaviors can be overt (i.e. telling another what they have to do with showing little respect to the other's opinions), or covert and subtle (i.e. becoming manipulative by using guilt, helplessness, advice giving or coercion to get the other to engage in a behavior).  The controlling person is often times not accepting of the other individual and wants the other to do what he/she wants them to do. They believe that they have the ultimate solution to a situation and therefore the other should abide by their demands and/or requests.

Lack of Trust

Trust is often times a major issue for the codependent person.  The mistrust that the person feels is in regards not only to others but also towards themselves. There are feelings that the person can not trust their own feelings, decisions, or actions. Furthermore, they typically find the need not to be trusting of their partners. It is also worth noting that the codependent, if religious, sometimes believes that God has abandoned them and does not care for them as much as He used to.

Poor Communicator

For a number of reasons, the codependent individual has a difficult time in communicating appropriately and effectively with his/her partner. Direct communication is a difficult task for this individual. Therefore, healthy communication becomes an awkward job that does not get carried out. The individual, for instance, will rarely say what is truly on his/her mind. They would instead be indirect, manipulative and subtle in the message that they are trying to portray. Accusing, blaming, verbal attacking, and coercing are ways that this person communicates. The person rarely means what it is that they saying, or says what they are meaning. Furthermore, being assertive and standing up for themselves is close to impossible; they have a very hard time saying no. Confrontation, for example is terrifying and brings on considerable anxiety. Expressing their emotions are also a tough job in that they are not open, honest, and direct about what it is that they are truly thinking or feeling.


The Codependent typically tends to obsess greatly about other people and their problems. Their focus becomes other people, whether they are checking on them or working hard in trying to catch them doing something that is not right.  This obsessiveness leads to excessive worry, feelings of nervousness and anxiety, lack of sleep or restless sleep, and feelings of fatigue  and low energy. They are expending a great deal of energy in thinking about others and therefore have little time or energy for themselves and their own activities.


Denial is simply defined by not accepting reality. An individual who is in denial tends to ignore any problems that are happening, or pretend that a situation is really not as bad as it seems. Lying to themselves and others would be a good way in denying the reality.  The codependent so desperately wants things to be OK, that he/she ignores or minimizes the severity of the problems and his/her situation.  Furthermore, by keeping themselves busy, they hope that either the problems may get better as the days pass, or they will not obsess as severely about their situation. Workaholism may be a good out for the codependent so that they do not excessively worry.


Due to most of the traits listed above, the codependent may also feel dependent on others as a way of establishing feelings of self-worth. The codependent attaches himself/herself to the identity of another person and only feels good when the other feels good. There is seldom any peace, feelings of happiness or contentment for the codependent. Happiness does not come from within but rather is sought from outside sources. The codependent is consistently seeking for feelings of happiness through other people. This is due to the lack of self-love; the codependent does not love himself/herself. In fact, they believe that their parents do not love or approve of them either, and that others also do not or can not love them.

The codependent also does not engage in any activities by himself/herself but rather always has to do things with others.  He/she does not enjoy his/her own company; fun and enjoyment only comes about when they are in the company of others.

Weak Boundaries

It should be obvious that all of us as human beings need boundaries so that we may maintain healthy relationships. The boundaries protect us from harm (emotional or physical) that may come our way. The boundaries need to be stronger or weaker depending on who we are interacting with. Obviously, boundaries should be stronger when interacting with total strangers and weaker when interacting with individuals we are familiar with.  The key, however, is the "er" in weaker or stronger.  Weak or strong boundaries  interfere significantly with healthy and appropriate relationships.   If we have weak boundaries when interacting with others, we tend to tolerate behaviors that should not be tolerable. It will allow others to repeatedly hurt the individual with weak boundaries. While this will lead to anger and resentment for the codependent, he/she does not exercise appropriate boundaries and therefore the cycle of hurtful and inappropriate behaviors continue.

Some of the information for this page was gathered from  the book Codependent No More, 1992, Hazelden Foundation.