I dated my ex-boyfriend for six years. We met at school and started going on little dates every weekend: eating dinner at our favorite chain restaurant, seeing a movie at the local theatre, spending time with the other’s family. And as our relationship progressed, so did the amount of time that we spent together. We started accompanying each other to doctor’s appointments and tagging along when the other had a night planned with friends. He’d sit idly by as I worked on my homework; I’d sit on the other side of the couch as he played his new video game.

Then, something switched. Suddenly, he was going out with friends and I wasn’t invited—nor was I going out with mine. He no longer needed me to drive him to the doctor’s office, but I wanted him there for my appointments. One day I had a frightening revelation: I was suddenly relying completely on him and our relationship for fulfillment. Yet, I wasn’t fulfilled, nor happy in the slightest.

Our relationship became unhealthy when we decided we had to experience every moment of our lives together. And the second we were apart, we had to be deep in conversation via text or phone call. Then, somewhere along the way my codependency developed: I put all of my energy into keeping him satisfied; I made all of the sacrifices; and even after I realized it was a bad, unsalvageable relationship, I couldn’t get out—I felt stuck.

7 Signs of Codependency

It’s not always easy to tell if you’re in a codependent relationship or a generally codependent individual—people often deny the existence of the codependence to others, refuse to admit it to themselves, or simply can’t see it. But the following are signs of a codependent individual, which may be used to help make that determination:

1) Low self-esteem

Codependent individuals often feel negatively about themselves. Their relying on another individual for complete emotional fulfillment can also leave them feeling shameful or guilty.

2) Poor boundaries

There should be boundaries when it comes to your money and your belongings, as well as your feelings, thoughts, and personal needs. However, a codependent may have blurred boundaries or a complete lack thereof. They often feel responsible for another’s feelings and problems or, on the contrary, blame another for their own.

3) People-pleasing tendencies

Some codependents have difficulty saying “no” to anyone. They wish to please others, even if that means sacrificing their own needs. This people-pleasing habit is also reinforced by anxiety they experience if or when they do say no.

4) Caretaking

Codependents also make sacrifices in order to care for others. They are driven by empathy and sympathy for another and, in turn, put others’ wellbeing above their own. They feel as though they need to help and even feel rejected if someone doesn’t want their help.

5) Poor communication skills

Codependent individuals can have a hard time communicating their thoughts, feelings, and needs. They may know exactly how they feel or what they think about a subject matter, but they won’t assert themselves or admit to it. This is out of concern for another individual’s wellbeing, as they don’t want to hurt his or her feelings.

6) Dependency

Rejection and abandonment are big fears of codependents; they think they need other people to like them in order to feel fulfilled. Codependents also feel the need to be in a relationship at all times because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re alone for too long. This makes it hard for them to end a relationship even when it is tainted with pain and abuse.

7) Denial

It’s often hard for codependents to receive treatment because they simply deny the existence of the issue. As discussed earlier, they deny or cover up their own feelings and needs and oftentimes think the problem has nothing to do with them specifically.

Moving Away from Codependency

Codependency is not an easy habit to change. It will take time and requires the individual to take a few specific steps:

  • The individual must focus solely on themselves The ultimate goal is to bring attention and loving back to the individual. Their actions should be motivated by their values, their needs, and their feelings.
  • The individual must realize and admit the problem. The first step toward recovery is always awareness of the problem. In this case, it may be the lack of acknowledgment for the individual’s own feelings and needs that must be recognized.
  • The individual must accept his or herself. In order for healing to occur, there must be some level of self-acceptance—the individual shouldn’t have to please everyone or fear being disliked.
  • The individual must act on these revelations. The codependent individual may realize their problem as well as their self-worth, but he or she must demonstrate new behavior in order to actually change. This may involve taking risks and being uncomfortable, but it will be beneficial.

After realizing my codependence, nothing about my relationship changed—for awhile. Until my friends and family noticed it too and helped me realize my self-worth. I finally ended the unhealthy relationship and began to focus on myself. Since then, I’ve adapted a whole new meaning of happiness and fulfillment, which comes from within—not from another individual.