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What Causes Codependency?

by Lisa K. Stephenson

Codependency is one of those buzz words now often used to describe an unbalanced attachment in a relationship. This can be between two lovers, friends, or even a substance. I remember spending quite some time studying this concept once my relationship ended in 2015. I found myself, oddly enough still willing to work on a relationship with a man who had lied, physically abused me, and fathered a child with someone outside of the relationship.

I wondered if I were desperate, had low self-esteem, was pathetic…I needed answers because I never pegged myself for the type. Then it dawned on me that perhaps I did have a codependent relationship. “Codependence is an imbalanced relationship pattern where one partner assumes a high cost ‘giver’ role and the other a ‘taker’ victim role.” Says Shawn Meghan Burn, Ph.D. So, what does this mean exactly?

During the last two years of my relationship as my then partner was preparing for the birth of his child with his sidepiece, I remained completely oblivious to any of his indiscretions. However, due to my lack of knowledge, he was able to convince me that I was not putting enough effort into the relationship, thus, making me want to do more and so, I did.

I planned birthdays and made trips to pick him up from work all while wearing a cast and trying to heal, amongst other things. I did not want my relationship to end. I fell victim to the high cost ‘giver’ role while he became accustomed to his ‘taker’ role. This lead me down a very dark rabbit hole. I kept telling myself, “If I do everything and give a bit more then I can make him happy. We will be okay.” I was highly mistaken.

Most codependent givers are empathetic, forgiving, competent and sort of a rescuer, making it easy for the codependent taker to groom his/her prey. This individual is typically a combination of needy, under-functioning, immature, addicted, entitled, and in my case, a full-bred narcissist. In a relationship such as this, the power shifts, and you, the codependent giver leaves the door open for the taker to continue to take as you continue to give. You become emotionally exhausted.

Most, if not all codependent takers rely on the givers to take care of them, assume or even soften the negative consequences of their actions, and overcompensate for their under-functioning. I remember vividly that when I did learn of his fathering a child outside of the relationship his immediate reaction was to blame me for his actions and for finding out.

He then went on to accuse me of not “trying hard enough” or “not forgiving him quickly enough” …his exact words I believe were, “Either you get over it or I am going to leave you in it.” Immediately, I felt the pressure to forgive and move forward because that is what he said to do.

Related articles: Toxic Codependency

So maybe you’re in a codependent relationship and you’re wondering, how did I get here? Well, studies have shown that both emotional abuse and neglect put us at risk for codependence. Usually, this begins in childhood, learning from an early age to put your needs and wants aside, even emotions as to not upset or irritate a parent may lead you to seek codependent relationships later on in adulthood.

According to Burn, you may also have beliefs or personality traits that make it easier to fall into a codependent relationship. “You can over-internalize religious or cultural values that prescribe self-sacrifice for others. Being the giver in a codependent relationship can also satisfy needs such as the need to matter to someone, the need to feel competent, the need to feel close to someone,” she says. “As far as takers go, they are sometimes selfish and manipulative, irresponsible and entitled. But some are just troubled or addicted or lacking in life skills.”

This was once a very hard pill to swallow as time went on and the mask began to slip from my narcissist. I had to learn, I had to evolve and through my efforts, I grew stronger and wiser, you can, too. Signs you’re in a codependent relationship are accepting bogus explanations, you seem to have taken up the responsibility of fixing the relationship when things aren’t necessarily your fault – this allows the codependent taker to neglect their life progress. Never growing, never learning, never changing, and eluding accountability.

Once you have identified that you are in a codependent relationship the next step is changing your behaviors. You have to do the hard work in realizing what the relationship is costing you. Whether this is your peace of mind, your health is deteriorating, your happiness is non-existent, or you’re finding it difficult to set and keep your boundaries due to the others person's resistance and your guilt; what are you doing that needs to change?

Healthy relationships are mutually beneficial, providing love and support to both parties. One-sided relationships can be draining and hard to maintain long term. In cases like this, it is necessary to put distance between yourself and the troubled partner. Although it is not always easy to do this, I can recommend something that may work…


I know that sounds strange. But often like with any other addiction it can be hard to go cold turkey when you’re looking to kick the habit. Sometimes small steps are needed. In my seminar, The Independent Millennial Woman, I speak more in-depth about this method.

The best thing you can do for yourself in this situation is armor up with the truth. Your knowledge of what is at play gives you an upper hand and more power. As an empath, it is easy to feel guilty once you begin to neglect your partner's needs to restore balance in the relationship or prepare for your exit. But for the sake of your happiness, it must be done.

Both men and women want what they cannot have. Usually, when codependence begins to happen it is because one partner has already displayed their willingness to stay no matter what the other person does. He/she sees your weakness as a means to take advantage. Do not allow this.

Begin by establishing some clear boundaries and advising that if your boundaries are not met, you will leave. Stick to this and yes, your partner will test you and yes, you will have to leave. But before that, you have a chance to slowly make changes. Stop catering to him/her and stop overlooking their bad behaviors and start holding them accountable.

After that, grab yourself a ticket to the seminar, come and get the support you need, ask questions, learn more about this technique and let’s help you get to the other side where your freedom and happiness await.


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