What Issues People with Codependency Bring to Therapy

Woman with therapistYou may wonder how people get into therapy for codependency. Rarely do I have a person come into my therapy office requesting help for codependency. More often people come in for other issues, and we discover the codependency as I am getting to know them. I will describe some of the presenting problems that sometimes can be a red flag for codependency. Then, in subsequent articles, I will describe how we work together in therapy to make things better.

Often people come in to therapy with relationship problems. They may be having trouble resolving conflict. One partner may be angry, because they feel that they are doing everything that needs to be done, while the other partner does nothing. There may be a problem with jealousy or trust that may or may not be warranted. Maybe one partner has been abandoned and is devastated and unable to move on after a long period of time. Someone may come in alone and wonder why they keep ending up in abusive relationships. Or why they keep going back to the same abusive partner. All of these problems don’t always involve co-dependency, but they often do.

Another common presenting problem may involve children and parenting. I often have parents call with normal childhood development issues and they are at a loss about how to manage it. (Not that parenting isn’t hard). For example, I often get calls something like this. “I have a teenage daughter and I don’t know what on earth to do with her. She is angry at me almost all the time, and all she cares about are boys and how she looks.” When people grow up in a dysfunctional home, they are unable to act like normal children. In our culture, normal adolescents are often grumpy and rebellious, especially with their parents or somebody they feel safe with. (Of course, just because it is normal does not mean that it is not difficult. Most of us can use help with parenting at some time.  It is a difficult job).

Sometimes people come in with very poor self-esteem. If you saw them, you would never guess it. They are often attractive, accomplished and very bright. Yet, even though it does not make any sense, they feel horrible about themselves. They set impossible goals for themselves and feel inadequate when they do not reach them.

Some people may come in with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They hate being involved with conflict and will do almost anything to avoid it. They get very anxious around angry people and may be frightened. They may be starting to remember some of what happened in the past and feel overwhelmed by the pain.

Others come in with presenting issues around anxiety or depression. These may occur after a loss of some kind. Often losing a parent or having a terminally ill parent may bring back a lot of bad memories that people can no longer suppress.

The last issue that I often see that often involves co-dependency involves problems with co-workers or a supervisor or both. Since co-dependents often believe that everything is their responsibility, they sometimes do way more than their share of the work. They keep trying to work faster and faster and do more and more. Then, they are so exhausted that they often have trouble managing their everyday life. They feel chronically overwhelmed.  Or they may get so angry that others are not doing their share that they blow up at work.

Certainly there are other issues that bring people in, but these are some that I see often. I will describe in future articles how we address them.

© Copyright 2011 by Joyce Henley, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, SAP. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Lizzie D

    June 26th, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Surprisng that co dependents come in for therapy at all because in my experience these are typically the people who do not see that they need any help at all. But really they are usually drowning in self pity and a need to get out of a bad relationship but lack the know how to do it on their own.

  • aimee

    June 27th, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    What co dependents bring to the table in therapy are issues that are often as serious and as deep as the ones that the people that they are helping have. These are people who need the approval of others and they make this happen by giving in to their every whim and need and then letting that bring them down so far that they too can’t survive on their own. Where does this need to feel needed come from? That is of course something that we all want but not to this degree that co-dependents and enablers feel.

  • ronnie

    June 27th, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    why do people feel negative or horrible about themselves? its often due to being told they’re bad or some past event. so the first step really should be to stop the negative external comments or revisit and resolve the past issue and then quiet the negativity coming from within.

    i’ve been through this in therapy and I feel so much better without all those thoughts creeping up on me all the time.

  • Rob

    June 28th, 2011 at 4:42 AM

    Someone with these issues brings a whole lot of baggage to the table. But the right therapist can help them sort through all if this and get their life on a path filled with joy and fulfillment and not so much worry for others. They can learn to do for themselves and to be happy with that, not having to atatin that happiness by always settling and providing for someone else. The person that you are doing this for will never appreciate it like they should and you will end up emotionally drained.

  • Tracy

    July 20th, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    I’m currently trying to dig myself out of this kind of a hole =/ I remember feeling like my parents’ caretaker when I was a small child and I haven’t been able to have my own life yet at age 33.

  • melrosemyself

    October 21st, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    I am also a co-dependent person; I got it from my mom, who was codependent on me and taught me that my needs were not important. I feel like a couple of those comments up there were not very nice. I genuinely appreciate what my counselor does for me. Also, a basic definition is that codependents “just want to be loved.” They will go to every extreme to achieve this, from being controlling to self-deprivation. My question is that it seems like therapists wait until the symptoms have swelled to the max before they will tell you you’re codependent? At least, that’s what mine did. Is that the general method?

  • esther

    March 24th, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    I have been in “therapy” for years and I just graduated myself by telling myself that you know what is going on deep down inside and you need to trust your judgement! I think it would be more helpful for therapist to cut to the chase and be direct and say: “This is the issue. You’re codependent! And this is your treatment plan.” I had to figure out on my own that I was codependent! No, therapist ever told me that. It sure would have been more helpful if they had. And I don’t mean to bash the church but it seems to me that codependency thrives in christian communities. I was never told I had a problem with codependency in church. I was told I was selfish. I agree but I am also codependent and overly concerned with other peoples feelings, thoughts and behaviors! I am still Christian but I believe in putting my oxygen mask on first!

  • connie

    May 20th, 2015 at 11:44 AM

    My therapist is encouraging me to find a codependency therapy group. I think I’m enabling my husband who is an alcoholic and I definitely fit some of the profile. I am dependent on my husband. Does this fit with the definition?

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