Tips for Beating Co-dependency: For Healthy Families and Relationships

Oct 28, 2023

By Marvel C. Adeyemi

Imagine this scenarios:

Micheal comes from a family of high achievers, where success is measured by academic and professional accomplishments. His parents, both highly skilled individuals in their respective fields, have always set exceptionally high standards for him. In his journey, the performance-based environment he was raised in has fostered codependent behaviours rooted in the need for external validation. Success has always been defined by achievements, and he has struggled to separate his self-worth from these accomplishments.

Juliet, a devout member of a religious community, was raised in a strict faith-based environment where conformity was not just encouraged but expected. Her parents, deeply devoted to their religious beliefs, instilled in her from a young age that her life's purpose was to wholeheartedly serve her faith and unwaveringly adhere to its teachings.

Growing up, Juliet internalized the idea that her worth was intricately connected to her strict observance of these religious principles. Her codependent tendencies have since become deeply entwined with her sense of duty and guilt. She struggles to prioritize her own needs, as a result, Juliet often finds herself sacrificing her own well-being. She volunteers tirelessly, seldom declining requests from her religious community.

All of this comes at the personal expense of her physical and emotional health. Juliet harbors the fear that failing to meet the exacting religious standards and her perceived duty would render her unworthy in the eyes of her faith.

In each scenario, the individual grapples with co-dependency influenced by their unique upbringing and family dynamics. Recognizing these patterns and finding ways to break free from co-dependency is a significant step towards healthier relationships with themselves and others.

Co-dependency in families is a complex issue deeply analysed and discussed by renowned authors such as Pia Mellody, Henry Cloud, John Friel, Linda Friel, and Kenneth M. Adams. These experts have contributed valuable insights into understanding and addressing co-dependency in family dynamics. In this blog, we will explore their key concepts and practical strategies for overcoming co-dependency within families.

Symptoms of Co-dependency:

Low Self-Esteem: Adult children of dysfunctional families often grapple with low self-worth, stemming from a lack of validation and support in their formative years. This can lead to feeling underemployed, stuck in jobs they detest due to confusion, fear, or a sense of being lost.

Boundary Challenges: Codependents frequently struggle with setting and maintaining healthy personal boundaries. This can manifest as people-pleasing tendencies or a difficulty in saying "no."

Perfectionism: This is often because of the performance-based environment experienced in childhood. The desire to be perfect to gain approval or avoid criticism is common, often resulting in high levels of stress and self-criticism.

Conflict Avoidance: Codependents may go to great lengths to avoid confrontations, even when necessary, in an attempt to maintain a false sense of peace within their families.

Fear of Abandonment: An intense fear of abandonment and a tendency to cling to relationships, even unhealthy ones, may be present due to inconsistent emotional support.

Addictive Behaviours: Some individuals may resort to substance abuse, overeating, or other addictive behaviours as coping mechanisms to numb emotional pain.

Control Issues: Codependents might display controlling behaviours as a way to manage their environment and minimize unpredictability.

Mental Health Challenges: Depression and anxiety are more prevalent among codependents due to unresolved emotional issues from their upbringing.

Identity Struggles: A common challenge is defining one's own identity apart from family roles and expectations.

Trust Issues: Trust issues in relationships can arise from past betrayals or emotional neglect within the family.

Underemployment: Some codependents may find themselves underemployed or stuck in jobs they despise because they are confused, afraid, or feel lost.

Family Crises: Everything might seem fine until family crises occur, such as children becoming chemically dependent, running away from home, or experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Physical Health: Codependents may suffer from physical ailments like migraines, exercise bulimia, or other stress-related health problems.

History of Abuse: Growing up in chaotic families with experiences of incest, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse can contribute to codependent tendencies.

Sibling Comparison: Comparisons to siblings, coupled with acute feelings of inadequacy, are common in dysfunctional family dynamics.

Emotional Neglect: Emotional neglect often plays a role in codependency, leaving individuals emotionally neglected, spoiled, or smothered out of misguided love. Sometimes adult children continue to be surrogate partners to either or both parents.

Delayed Independence: Codependents might remain seduced into staying in the family nest years after their friends have ventured out into the adult world.

Anger Issues: Codependents frequently struggle with anger management, making it challenging to express their feelings and relate to their spouses, sons, and daughters.

Intimacy Challenges: Some codependents can engage in sexual intimacy without emotional involvement, while others may avoid physical intimacy altogether.

Recognizing these symptoms is the first step toward understanding co-dependency and embarking on a journey of healing and recovery

Understanding Co-dependency in Families: Insights from Pia Mellody:

Pia Mellody, in her book "Facing Co-dependency," emphasizes the significance of early childhood experiences in shaping co-dependent behaviours. She identifies a connection between childhood trauma and codependent patterns. Understanding this link is crucial to breaking free from co-dependency in families. According to Mellody, some key insights include:

Naming the Problem: Mellody encourages individuals to acknowledge and label co-dependency as a real issue. Recognition is the first step towards healing.

Healing the Inner Child: She suggests that healing the wounded inner child is essential. This involves addressing and resolving past emotional wounds and traumas.

Setting Boundaries: Insights from "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend:

In "Boundaries," Henry Cloud and John Townsend provide a framework for establishing healthy boundaries in relationships. Understanding boundaries is fundamental in addressing co-dependency. Some insights from their work include:

Clear Boundaries: Cloud and Townsend emphasize the importance of clear and well-defined personal boundaries. Healthy boundaries allow individuals to maintain their identity and protect their emotional well-being.

Saying No: They stress that it's okay to say "no" when necessary. For codependents, this can be a crucial step in regaining control of their lives.

Insights from "Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families" by John Friel and Linda Friel:

John Friel and Linda Friel delve into the dynamics of dysfunctional families in "Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families." Their work provides insights into the impact of family dysfunction on individuals. Key takeaways include:

Identifying Family Roles: The Friels discuss common family roles, such as the hero, scapegoat, and lost child. Recognizing these roles can help individuals understand their own patterns of co-dependency.

Breaking the Cycle: They emphasize the importance of breaking free from family roles and patterns to establish healthier relationships outside the family.

Silently Seduced: Insights from Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D.:

Kenneth M. Adams, in "Silently Seduced," explores the concept of covert emotional incest, where a parent's emotional needs are inappropriately met by their child. Insights from his work include:

Recognition of Covert Incest: Adams highlights the need to recognize and address covert emotional incest as a form of co-dependency that can deeply affect an individual's emotional well-being.

Seeking Healthy Relationships: He encourages individuals to seek healthy relationships outside of the enmeshed family system.

Practical Strategies for Breaking Free from Co-dependency:

Drawing from these insights, here are some practical strategies for addressing co-dependency in families: Self-Awareness: Recognize and name the codependent patterns in your family dynamics.

Healing Inner Wounds: Seek therapy or counselling to heal emotional wounds from childhood traumas.

Establish Boundaries: Learn to set and maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships.

Seek Support: Join support groups or seek professional help to navigate the complexities of co-dependency.

Break Family Roles: Work on breaking free from the roles and patterns established within your family.

Build Healthy External Relationships: Cultivate relationships outside the family to develop a sense of independence and support.

Self-Care: Prioritize self-care practices that nurture your physical and emotional well-being. At first this might feel uncomfortable and perhaps selfish. It is important to maintain a high standard of self-care routine to beat co-dependency traits.


Co-dependency in families is a challenging issue, but with these insights individuals and families can break free from these unhealthy patterns and build more fulfilling lives and relationships. 

 If you're navigating these unique challenges and need support, I'm here to help. As a Family Therapist and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker with a background in attachment-based frameworks, I specialize in addressing the impacts of dysfunctional family dynamics.

Feel free to reach out for counselling and support in your journey towards a healthier relationship dynamic.

Marvel C. Adeyemi, B.A, P. Grad.  M.Ed., M.S.W., AMHSW

Phone: +61 457846457

E: [email protected]

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