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The Limits of Codependency: Understanding Healthy Relationships

The Concept of Codependency

The limits of codependency: If we accept that the concept of codependency is valid, then we all might be said to engage in codependent behaviors at one time or another. We all live in an interpersonal environment, and make choices about how to relate to others. To some degree we base our self-esteem on feedback from others. This is only a matter of degree, for healthy people determine their own self-worth, using feedback from others only as a guide and not as the sole determining factor in their determination. Now imagine a child of perhaps 8 years old. Children of this age have the foundation for their self-esteem, but are still quite dependent on feedback from others about their worth: Did I do a good job? Do you like me enough to want to spend time with me? Does Mom (or Dad) spend time with me? These situations help children learn who they are, and help them build self-esteem. Since the concept of codependency was introduced in the 1970s, the term has moved into common usage. An analogy might be the word “paranoid”, which is commonly used in incorrect contexts. For example, a young man might say to a friend “I am so paranoid about my girlfriend” as opposed to “I am so suspicious of my girlfriend”. In a similar manner, people now speak of themselves as being “codependent” when in reality they are not, at least according to the exact definition of the term. One reason for this confusion is that the definition of codependency is so vague that virtually every person could be said to be codependent. However, if virtually everybody has a certain condition, is that not called “normal”? Workaholism has been discussed as a possible characteristic trait of codependents. Yet a new junior executive who wants to earn a promotion might work long hours, often staying at work long after the end of the normal work day. Is this a workaholic or a person who is a dedicated worker seeking advancement? The definition is quite subjective, depending on the person making the diagnosis. Excessive anger and loneliness, other characteristics often attributed to the codependent person, can also be part of certain stages of most people’s lives. What would be appropriate anger and loneliness? A pair of lovers, having freshly entered into the rapture of love, live and breathe for each other’s approval and acceptance. A disagreement would devastate both. Are they being codependent, or just another couple in love?


1. A codependent person is often described as one who is overly dependent on others for his or her sense of self-worth. Where do you believe the boundary between a healthy and a codependent relationship lies? What behaviors fall close to this boundary line?

2. Does codependency exist? What do you think?

3. Could any of those behaviors be attributed to yourself, and if so, do you believe you are codependent? Why or why not?

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