Are you confused about what it means to be codependent? Do you ever wonder what codependency looks like in practice?

If you’re nodding your head yes, that’s understandable. In my experience, there is often confusion around the topic of codependency, with a ton of misconceptions and a plethora of myths clouding up what it looks like in real life. 

In today’s video, I’m delivering rock-solid clarity about what codependency is by showing you what it’s not. Ready for some major myth-busting?! Let’s go!

Myth #1: Only women are codependent. 

Not true. Any gender, gender expression, binary and non-binary folks, anyone can be codependent. 

Myth #2: Codependency is an illness. 

Nope. Codependency is not a diagnosable mental illness. This is pretty great news because it means you have the power to change it. Codependency is a pattern of learned behaviors. And if you learned them, you can un-learn them. 

Myth #3: Codependency only occurs in relationships with addicts. 

While codependency is often present in enabling relationships, it is not the only kind of relationship in which it can show up. 

Myth #4: Codependency only happens in romantic relationships. 

False. In my personal experience, some of the most codependent relationships I’ve ever had, especially in my 20s were in my female friendships. Codependency can happen in any relationship dynamic, whether it’s a family member, friend, co-worker, client, or romantic partner. 

Myth #5: Either you’re codependent or you’re not. 

When it comes to codependency, it’s not so black and white. There is a spectrum of codependent behaviors. We’re talking about patterns of relational behaviors and how we interact with other people in our lives.

Myth #6: Codependency doesn’t have serious consequences. 

When you are relating in a codependent way, you’re not being fully seen, heard, or known. You can become exhausted, bitter, and resentful from over-functioning. The big consequence of codependent behavior patterns is when you’re saying yes when you want to say no or you’re overgiving from a place of fear instead of giving from a place of love, people don’t know the real you. And how can anyone authentically love you if they don’t authentically know you? The truth is, they can’t. 

Myth #7: Codependents care too much about other people. 

Codependency is really an overt or covert bid for control. Even if we think our actions are driven by love or caring, if we look deeper, the true motive behind codependent behaviors is to spare ourselves from the pain other people’s choices may be causing us. That can look like auto-advice giving, making excuses for other people’s bad behavior, or doing tasks others can and should be doing for themselves. 

Myth #8: Anyone who helps others is codependent. 

False. There is healthy helping and there is unhealthy helping. 

Myth #9: If I’m not codependent, I’ll need to be harsh and uncaring. 

Again, no. I have worked with so many incredible individuals with a deep fear that if they weren’t codependent anymore, they would have to be tough and even mean with the people they love. Believing if they shifted out of codependent behavior patterns, they wouldn’t be as close or intimate in their relationships. Not true. 

Myth #10: Only weak people are codependent. 

As a recovering codependent and strong AF individual, I can’t stand this one. Codependency has nothing to do with being weak or strong. It has everything to do with boundaries, modeled behavior, personal history, and lived experiences, but it’s not about being weak-willed. 

Myth #11: You can always spot a codependent. 

Nope. In fact, many people do not identify with the old-school definition of codependency. Back in the ‘80s, with Melody Beattie’s seminal text, Codependent No More¹ codependency was characterized by enabling behavior and addiction. In my experience, that definition needed an expansion. 

​​I made the distinction years ago and created a new term, “high-functioning codependency”.A high-functioning codependent is often smart, successful, reliable, and accomplished. They don’t identify with being dependent, because they are likely highly capable and doing everything for everyone else.

Myth #12: Codependency always starts in childhood. 

While the roots of codependency can start in childhood, that’s not always the case. This kind of behavior pattern could start later in life in an abusive relationship or in a relationship with an addict or narcissist even if your childhood was relatively “normal”. Codependency is not a gene you can inherit, it is behavioral. Even if you didn’t experience codependency in childhood, you can still develop these behaviors in adulthood. 

Now that I’ve debunked the most common myths for you, let’s get into some traits of what codependency can look like in real life:

  1. Giving unsolicited advice
  2. Being overly self-sacrificing
  3. Not having respect for other people’s right to be separate or self-determined
  4. Giving ‘til it hurts and going above and beyond, even when you’re not asked to
  5. Always ready to jump into damage control mode
  6. Feeling responsible for fixing other people’s problems
  7. Being judgmental of others because deep down, you believe you have all the right answers
  8. Feeling exhausted, resentful, and bitter
  9. Getting frustrated or angry when others don’t take your advice. 
  10.  Feeling personally offended and/or confused if someone doesn’t share your beliefs or opinions

And listen, if these traits are resonating with you, please don’t beat yourself up about it. I used to be the queen of codependency! I had so much pain in my young life because of my codependent behaviors, and if this is you, I don’t want you to continue to suffer. 

High-functioning codependency includes disordered boundaries, where you are overly invested in the feeling states, the decisions, the outcomes, and the circumstances of others at the cost of your own internal peace or physical, emotional, or financial wellbeing. 

When you think about codependency, it actually creates relationships where one person is managing the relationship and the other person…and that’s not intimacy, it’s control. 

You don’t have to manage everything and everyone around you. You can change this. I can show you how. 

Last year I  teamed up with my friend and fellow relationship expert, Mark Groves (@createthelove), to create a course called Crushing Codependency. If you’re ready to go deeper and you want to get on the road to recovery, this might be for you. 

This virtual course is therapeutically based, grounded in both positive and practical psychology, and based on my five pillars of self-mastery to accelerate transformation. I would absolutely love to have you join us so you can finally learn how to free yourself from codependency. 

Here’s where you can get all the details for Crushing Codependency and enroll! 

In the meantime, I really want to know what your thoughts, feelings, and experiences of being codependent are, so drop me a comment here or @terricole on Instagram!

I hope you found some clarity around codependency, that this added some value to your life, and as always, take care of you. 

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  1. Terri,

    This was a great video. I am definitely a high functioning co-dependent, unless I am with a narcissist, then I am a hot mess. I absolutely love your book and all of these helpful videos. I watch one daily. Thank you

    1. Hi Sami,
      I’m so glad this resonated for you and that you enjoyed Boundary Boss! Thank you for being here and for sharing ❤️

  2. Wow. I do k even know where to start. Back to therapy I go I guess. I honestly thought my codependency was just my needing people and not the other way around. I thought I was Healed of needing of people this my codependency was gone. WELP.
    I am a Caregiver by profession 24/7 I first all the other criteria as far as wanting control goes and frustration for people not taking my advice because “I’ve been there” I’ve always felt like there was a fake element to me. My childhood had sexual trauma and lots of domestic violence idk where this codependency started but I know I need it gone. My ultimate is who I will be without it. I’ve always had an I thought genuine need to help people but I dont even know if that’s true now. I could really use some advice. Thank you.

    1. Hi Lia,
      I’m holding space for you with so much compassion. Just keep in mind that it’s a process and it’s not about perfection ❤️

  3. You have added so much value to my life!!! Thank you! I’ve read your book, both Audible and hard copy. I am a mother of 5 grown kids, and a pastor’s wife. My husband and I raised all our children while in ministry and we home schooled them. I’m so not the person I was then, thank God, but the regret is real. I never realized I had, nor understood the consequences of, my high functioning co-dependancy before you came along. Better late than never. Life is a one way ticket. I can’t change the past but I can control this day forward. Indeed, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I am a work in progress! I am apprehending my behavior and changing my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  4. I appreciate this article! I definitely relate to being codependent (and feeling shame about it) and so I find these distinctions clarifying and supportive. I also needed that eye opener about it being related to control…because of course it is! Seeing/remembering how my childhood was, and the learned behaviors of needing to manage everyone and everything just to feel safe or “in control” I can understand this, also, as not an indictment but rather just a helpful thing to remember when I trick myself into thinking I’m just doing it all because I’m such a super-giver/lover! lol. I find that so helpful to resist the behaviors of codependency…because of course I really don’t want to be controlling (or exhaust myself trying to do the impossible).

    In working to be less codependent, I find sometimes it’s confusing to separate normal, giving behavior (or hope/expectations for myself or others to show up or give to me, emotionally) with that codependent need. So I wonder, how does one know if they are erring in the opposite direction sometimes and withdrawing “too much” from others, or waiting on them to “show up” and then being distressed when they don’t?

    Or, perhaps it’s just a positive way to see who is more capable of being a good friend or partner! AKA: Not worrying about being the one to do/solve/provide everything and then seeing if the other person even pulls any weight at all in response to my not taking care of everything… I have learned that some friends really don’t make much of an effort at all, in relationships that I had thought were mutual. So that seems positive to discover. I will check out the course link! Thank you

    1. Hi Jamie,
      So true! I think it’s really relatable to want to “trick yourself” into thinking your codependency is done for the right reasons. If you start to feel resentment toward others for what you’re doing, OR if they reject helping you or turn you down in some way, do you immediately think of all the ways you’ve helped them in the past as a reason why they should feel obligated to help you? These are a few good ways you can assess whether or not your behavior is codependent!

  5. It´s Tolstoi: All happy y families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1878).

  6. Hi Terri,

    I read Boundary Boss. It was very insightful and helpful. Also really enjoy your videos! My significant other has been divorced about eight years. Their two sons are in their mid 20’s. She still depends on him for help with things she can’t do or figure out around the house or with her car, and they collaborate everything that has to do with their “boys”. I think this is unhealthy and also not good for our relationship. He should have cut those ties long ago. Would this be considered codependency? Would love your opinion. Thank you!

    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Thank you for sharing and asking. I think it can be codependent, but it depends on how it plays out in your life. When he speaks to her and helps her, do you get involved? Do you not want him helping her because you wouldn’t want to help her? Or do you feel that it hinders your relationship with your significant other in some other way? I think diving deep into your own reasons as to why it bothers you is more important than why he is doing it. Stick to your side of the street and then consider sharing with him your feelings on it. ❤️

  7. The quote is from the opening line of Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

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