Codependency, the cycle of low self-worth

Untangling from Codependency has been an intense part of my journey.  Being codependent is usually thought of as a relationship problem and is considered by many to be a disorder, addiction or disease.

By now we all know it is definitely not healthy or functional.

Codependency is often applied to relationships with those who struggle with alcoholism, addiction and/or substance use disorder.

The truth is, codependency is a relationship problem however, the relationship that’s in trouble isn’t with someone else, it’s with yourself and that’s what gets reflected in your relationships with others.

Codependency is a lack of primary concern for oneself.  We don’t include ourselves in the equation.  The focus is on feeling someone else’s feelings more than your own.

As we focus on others, we work overtime to keep the peace; making sure the environment stays happy, safe and functioning.

You find yourself trying to pull everyone’s weight.

Because if you don’t make sure things get done and peace is kept…who will?

I had a friend once tell me, “I built a picket fence around the actions of my husband.” And in turn he never had to get better.

This out of balance, fixing behavior begins as a defense in early life and snowballs into adult relationships.


Some facts about this type of thinking

It’s not what is best for everyone  When we do what is healthiest for ourselves, it ends up being best for those around us as well.

We find purpose and value in being needed.  Are you finding your worth in shouldering someone else’s load and making things easier for them, when maybe they need to face a thing or two?

Codependent patterns repeat  Those who are codependent tend to recreate learned cycles and scenarios in other realms of life.  You may find that you carry your patterns into other areas, such as noticing that your coworkers or friends (along with those you regularly engage with at church, in social settings, etc.) mimic your relationships with your siblings, parents and so on.

The signs we ignore I had lots of help working my way out of patterns of dysfunction.  As a result, I’ve become acutely aware of the signs and symptoms of problematic situations previously dismissed.  My most important cue being when I sense my energy shift, along with the feelings of my stomach dropping and my heart sinking.

In the process of personal growth, I developed a powerful tool – I learned to be present, aware and to listen to my energy, paying attention to my senses in every encounter.

Feelings are supposed to alert us, not make us miserable!  It’s healthy to develop an awareness of them. I have learned to listen to myself and honor the alerts instead of dismissing or ignoring them.

In those moments I now ask; what am I feeling, why am I feeling this and what do I need to do to take care of myself?

It’s crucial to honor what you’re sensing 

The reality is, there are people we are close to, or encounter who cause our energy to shrink.  Whether family, friend, acquaintance, or stranger – it’s a fact that these types maneuver in and out of our orbit.

I spent years wracking my brain trying to overcome negative interactions that left my soul throbbing.  I would analyze how I might avoid those draining moments, criticizing how I might be at fault when they occurred…agonizing over what I might do to fix a toxic environment in order to feel safe.

That was a perfect picture of codependent dysfunction.

That thinking kept me at the mercy of many situations and environments that felt threatening and tense, even when normally the dysfunction had nothing to do with me.

Eventually hitting a threshold of misery, I knew things needed to change if I truly wanted progress in my life.



I also learned what personalities trigger me into old patterns of codependent behavior.

One being those referred to as Dementors.

Described as a personality type to avoid in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Co-Author Travis Bradberry mentions characters from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, called Dementors.  These are evil creatures that suck people’s souls out of their bodies, leaving them merely as shells of humans.

Whenever a Dementor enters the room, it goes dark, people get cold, and they begin to recall their worst memories.


While a bit extreme, we all know those with similar qualities who seem to stir up our internal angst.

Rowling said that she developed the concept for Dementors based on highly negative people who instantly drain the life out of the room by imposing their negativity and pessimism upon everyone they encounter. Their viewpoints are always glass half empty, and they can inject fear and concern into even the most benign situations.

Every situation is presented as negative, urgent, high drama and worst case scenario.

Sometimes Dementors release unhappy vibes like a slow, bitter fog, making the atmosphere tense without saying a word.

Whether caused by a substance problem, or because someone has a bitter personality – negative energy has an effect!

A Notre Dame University study found that students assigned to roommates who thought negatively were far more likely to develop negative thinking and even depression themselves.

It’s contagious.

If we are not healthy and whole, we will either take on the dreary mindset…or become codependent to it, believing we must fix what is causing misery.

I myself used to be a sponge for just about every Dementor I met. I’m also fairly certain I’ve had that effect on others a time or two.

But once I knew better, I worked hard to do better.

Remaining at peace despite someone else’s mood or misery is the goal.  We have the freedom to choose not to be a passenger, we just need to realize it.

Health begins when we choose to opt out of someone else’s dysfunction.


Ignoring dashboard warning lights

A counselor once told me that our inner feelings of anxiety, heart sinking, or dread are like dashboard warning lights; they’re meant to alert us that boundaries are being violated.

We’re supposed to pay attention when they alert us that something is off. Not unlike ignoring a warning on the dashboard of a vehicle, continuing along when a warning has flashed will lead to trouble.

Dismissing our inner signals does damage

When you deny or resist your feelings, they are likely to come out in other ways, they don’t just go away or evaporate.

One way feelings may bleed through is by “somatizing.”

Somatizing is when emotions come out physically and one becomes sick from internalized stress.  Those who focus too much on others are often susceptible to physical ailments, clumsiness, random injuries, accidents and frequent illnesses.

Bottom line – we help no one when we’re chained to another’s well-being.

What’s the solution?

It takes time Recovery from anything is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight.

It takes effort Researching our patterns and areas of concern is helpful.  Therapy, self-accountability, books and classes along with recovery groups are tools I cannot advocate enough for. When we are ill with codependency, we have to take responsibility to do the soul searching, self-realizing work to recover.

Self-Acceptance Healing essentially involves self-acceptance. This is not only a step, but a life-long journey.

People go into therapy to change things, not realizing that the work is about coming to know and accept themselves.

Self-acceptance means that you don’t have to please everyone for fear that they’ll hate you if you don’t. 

Over time and with effort, life gets better! Once you begin to honor your needs and unpleasant feelings and are forgiving of yourself and others, the goodwill toward yourself allows you to be self-reflective without being self-critical. Your self-esteem and confidence grow, and consequently, you don’t allow others to abuse you or tell you what to do.

Instead of mishandling, you become more authentic and assertive, and are capable of greater strength and confidence, which spurs healthier relationships and pursuits.

Alignment takes time.

It’s a process. Working our way from dysfunction to health and well-being takes effort and it takes time. Have compassion for yourself, no one has it all completely figured out.

There is none better than another, we’ve all got madness to sort out.” ~L. Dancer

Still learning,


Author of Unhooked


For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support

Family Recovery Support