psychology of co-dependency

It’s Only Love When It Hurts!



Codependence as a relational problem that often, but not necessarily always, occurs in conjunction with familial alcoholism. Previous research has shown that various etiological factors resulting from recurring stressful circumstances experienced in childhood or adulthood may contribute to this…

To examine different ideas on what may constitute co-dependence we borrow from the introduction of this study as it gives a good insight into a possible psychological process which occurs in child who become codependent.

From our knowledge and experience of codependency some of the following seems to accurately describe this disorder.


“The term “codependence” was originally used to refer to a psychological problem that can occur in individuals who live with an alcoholic (Go´mez & Delgado, 2003). Some studies, however, conceptualize codependence as a multidimensional problem influenced by a variety of factors in addition to having an alcoholic in the family (Carson & Baker, 1994; Reyome & Ward, 2007). These include circumstances that are characteristically stressful to children and often prevent the healthy development of personality, thereby encouraging codependence (Fuller & Warner, 2000). Family violence, the early loss of a parent due to death, separation, or abandonment, and the chronic physical or mental illness of a close family member are typical stress factors.

To cope with such losses, children may develop denial as a psychological defense mechanism associated with the compulsive need to imitate adult behavior and assume the behavior of caretakers toward other people, creating the appearance of premature autonomy (Viorst, 1987). According to transactional analysis theory, although these defenses enable a person to survive stressful situations in childhood, they remain as fixations of early types of relationships through dissociated ego states in the personality, while arresting “natural” development (Berne, 1961; Schiff et al., 1975). Children do this by adopting survival conclusions known as early decisions (Goulding & Goulding, 1979), such as “Hurry up and grow fast in order to help other people solve their problems.” These early decisions are transformed into sometimes paradoxical injunctions, like “Don’t grow up” or “Grow up fast,” “Don’t think what you think,” “Don’t feel what you feel” and “Don’t be you.” Such internalized injunctions (or unconscious beliefs) about what the individual is “supposed” to do can become the basis upon which a personal life script is built (Berne, 1972/1974).

A personal life script is “an unconscious life plan based on a decision taken in childhood, reinforced by the parents, justified by subsequent events, culminating in a chosen alternative” (Berne, 1972/1974, p. 476). The injunctions may enable a person to develop a codependence script acted out in adult life by compulsively repeating the need to become involved in paradoxical affective links (Bowlby, 1979/1986), which in turn involves situations of abuse, rejection, or abandonment, combined with the feeling of “satisfaction” in helping and having been supportive to another (in these cases, abusive) person while simultaneously preserving the affective bond.

Codependent persons maintain strong links with their partners, despite the stress, suffering, abuse, and lack of compensation in these relationships. Like substances for addicts, the relationship with their partners becomes “addictive.” At one level, the codependent person recognizes that she should abandon the partnership because it is unhealthy, but does not do so because at the same time she denies her problem through some form of self-deception, in which she tends to believe essentially that her happiness depends on changing the other person.


  1. Noriega, G., Ramos, L., Medina-Mora, M. E., & Villa, A. R. (2008). Prevalence of Codependence in Young Women Seeking Primary Health Care and Associated Risk Factors. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 78(2), 199-210.



3 replies »

  1. This reminds me so much of a poem I once wrote. I’m pasting it below. FYI my blog is now under the website Looking forward to seeing you there!

    One said skip a meal or two
    She said, can it help?
    He said you’re only decent, you
    Are nothing to me now
    She said if I can’t skip meals
    Then maybe I can vomit
    And hell, I think I’ll pop a pill
    The bathroom is my haunting
    She knew that there was something wrong
    That something wasn’t right
    But maybe she did not know love
    With all its lovely lies
    And so she popped another pill
    Some for good, some bad
    And threw food down the wishing well
    Tried not to look so…sad?
    She saw that walls were closing
    So deep, so hard, so fast
    She let a haunting, chilling scream
    He rescued her, at last
    She pushed, she pulled
    She screamed, she hit
    He let his way back in
    She popped, she threw
    She hugged, she bit
    He showed her every sin
    And was she ever innocent?
    Is she good right now?
    What kind of person, grown and tall
    Can not enjoy a meal?
    She knew it was his time to leave
    But she needed just one more
    And there was the moment she
    Found herself on the floor
    And suddenly he disappeared
    And though she looked forever
    He was gone, and he’d been there
    And so goes the tale of Ever
    Forever and forever

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