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Codependency is a learned behavior from watching and imitating family members.  A codependent person is someone who relies on a person, substance, or activity to meet nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. Instead of having a healthy relationship with themselves or having a personal identity, they make someone or something else more important.  A codependent person is primarily dependent on another person’s “dependence” on them and they take on a “caretaker role”.  Over time, their thoughts, feelings, and actions revolve around that other person, substance, or activity and they abandon their relationship with themselves and lose their identity.  Codependency is often referred to as a “relationship addiction” that is one-sided and emotionally destructive.  This codependent style is a dysfunctional way for the codependent to relate to themselves and to others.  Codependency usually goes hand in hand with many addictions.

What are Codependent Relationships?

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A codependent relationship is where either one person is overly dependent on another or two people are overly dependent on each other.  Each person tries to get their core needs met through the other person.  In order for a codependent person to feel good about themselves they need to be needed.  This involves putting their partner’s needs above their own. This sets up the codependent person to remain stagnant in life and not be able to grow into an autonomous, self expressive, and self validating person. Codependents tend to be found in relationships with people who have a drug or alcohol addiction or where the codependent is the primary caregiver of a chronically ill person.  With that said, any person, substance, or activity that a person chooses to be more important than their emotional health, can be called a codependent relationship.  It is scarier for a codependent person to give up their caretaking role than to end their relationship with their partner.  That is how ingrained this dysfunctional behavior is. Often times, a codependent person will unconsciously choose a marriage partner due to not getting their needs met in childhood with the hopes of a second chance at working out their unfinished childhood issues through their partner.  They do this instead of selecting a partner out of mutual love and emotional maturity.

How is Codependency Learned?

 Codependency’s roots begin in childhood.  If you grew up in a dysfunctional family you most likely are codependent.  A dysfunctional family does not acknowledge that problems exist.  They don’t talk about or confront them. Anything that interferes with a child’s progress in growing from absolute dependency of infancy to a healthy adult interdependency predisposes a child to become codependent.  For example: if a baby’s emotional needs are not nourished it will become overly dependent and please others to gain love.  If a parent is overprotective, the child won’t learn to stand on their own feet emotionally and intellectually.  If a parent is perfectionistic, the child learns to please others instead of recognizing its own feelings and needs.  If a parent instills guilt and shame, the child feels selfish for having their personal needs met.  All of these examples leave a child with a lack of: confidence, a healthy sense of personal identity, worth, and self-esteem.

Most children learned in order to be good enough and to be accepted by their parents, they had to deny or repress many of their thoughts, feelings, and needs.  In order to secure this parental bond, they were required to forget about what they really liked, wanted, and needed.  Even to forget who they were.  If they allowed themselves to assert their opinion or needs they were subjected to silent treatment (indirect punishment) or verbally or physically attacked (direct punishment).  In so many words, they were told they were selfish and should feel guilty thinking about themselves and that their needs were somehow wrong.  They distrusted others since their parents took advantage of their dependency needs. So it is only to be expected that once they grew up, that they would have a deep emotional survival program regularly reminding them that in order to be accepted by others, that they had to make their own needs subordinate to others.  They found that this survival program that helped them cope as a child didn’t work anymore but it continued to drive their thoughts and behaviors.  Their behavior was driven by the never met childhood need which is: to be fully, unconditionally accepted by their parents.  The childhood need also includes being able to feel safe and protected, attended to, empathized with, respected, and esteemed.  In a word – “nurtured”.  There is little codependents won’t do to get this kind of acceptance.

Individuals who establish a health sense of self during their developmental years knows who they are as individuals.  They have a good measure of autonomy and are able to engage in appropriate self-care, while also caring for others.  In the face of criticism or failure they are still able to maintain a basic care of self-worth.  They maintain a balance among the stresses and strains of life.  Codependent people have not been able to develop this psychological autonomy and are significantly impaired in their ability to function as healthy individuals.  This creates problems in many areas of their lives.

Codependent Behaviors:

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Before you read this list, it is important to remember that a lot of the behaviors that are listed below are rooted in a person’s childhood and needs that are not met, play out in different ways when a person becomes an adult.  If you find that you have many of these codependent behaviors, the good news is that you can stop being codependent and can lead a happy and healthy life.  It will take work on your part but it can be done. Be sure to see the “Tips For Ending Codependency” right after this section.

  • Driven to be a caretaker or others. A codependent person encourages others to let them be their caretaker or to become indispensable to them in order to eliminate their abandonment issues.  This drive of the codependent to take care of someone is to fulfill their unmet childhood needs. The codependent person comes across as a “helper”, “problem solver”, “decision maker”, or “support person”. They help to the point where they put other people ahead of themselves.  They may feel rejected if the person doesn’t want their help so they continue trying to help them or fix them, when it is clear that the person doesn’t want it.  This behavior is controlling and manipulative.
  • Low self-esteem. A codependent person’s self-esteem depends on validation from others that they take care of.  They can’t approve of themselves.  It is hard for them to be real.  They don’t feel good enough and compare themselves to others.  They become perfectionistic and have a lot of guilt and shame.
  • People pleasing. A codependent person does this to connect with others and to receive approval.  Their responses and actions are conformed to what others want.  This is a form of control and manipulation.
  • Controlling. A codependent person spends a lot of time trying to convince others what to think, feel, and do. This helps them feel safe and secure.  It also limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings.  Codependents need to control others because they need them to behave in a certain way in order to feel okay.  This is manipulative.
  • Over dependency on others. A codependent person needs other people to like them in order to feel ok about themselves.  This is because they are afraid of being rejected and abandoned.  They often feel depressed and lonely when they are by themselves for too long.  They will do anything to hold onto a relationship in order to not be abandoned and this makes it hard for them to end a relationship when it is painful or abusive.  They feel trapped this way.
  • Denial. The codependent person doesn’t face their problems or their fears.  They usually think the problem is due to someone else or a situation.  They keep trying to fix the person or continue complaining.  They deny their feelings and needs.  Because they often don’t know what they are feeling or what their needs are, they will repress them and focus on what the other person is doing instead of looking within.
  • Obsessed with people and relationships. A codependent person spends their time over thinking about other people and relationships.  This is due to their over dependency, anxiety, and fear.  They will anticipate other people’s needs in order to influence their reactions.  For example, if I do action “A” I will get reaction “B”. This is another form of manipulation.  A codependent person may obsess about a mistake they made or might make.  Sometimes they fantasize about how things could be as a way to avoid their pain.
  • Have an exaggerated sense of responsibility. A codependent’s sense of responsibility centers more on the other person’s thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, and desires than their own.  Other people’s attitudes, reactions, and actions govern what they say and do.  Their feelings are tied to another’s behavior.  Their personal values are second guessed, sacrificed, or ignored if they conflict with another.  Due to this sense of responsibility, a codependent person will then make excuses for other people’s behaviors, rescue them from their predicaments, bear their consequences for them, accommodate their unhealthy or irresponsible behavior, or take care of them so they don’t grow up. This allows the person to remain irresponsible, immature, addicted, procrastinating, or in poor health.
  • Poor communication skills. A codependent person cannot communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs to others.  Sometimes they know what they are but they will refrain from communicating them in order to not upset the other person or “rock the boat” due to their fear.  Their communication is dishonest this way since they manipulate the other person to get the response that they want.
  • Disconnected from their inner thoughts, feelings, and needs. A codependent person has protected themselves by disconnecting from significant portions of their inner emotional life and has a hard time knowing what they want.  This leaves them with a weak sense of personal identity.  They fear facing themselves truthfully and risking being true to their own feelings and judgments.  When they are aware of their emotions, what often comes to the surface are painful feelings of emptiness, shame, and anger, rather than their healthy desires and their potential for good judgments.  These healthy desires and good judgments are hidden behind their fear, guilt, and shame.  They look to others instead, for cues to tell them what they should say or what they should do.  They adjust their cues to other’s desires, lose touch with themselves, and feel empty as a result.
  • Poor boundaries. A codependent person has difficulty setting realistic personal boundaries and experiences anxiety in saying “no”. Boundaries are an imaginary line between you and others.  It divides up what is yours and somebody else’s.  This applies to your body, money, belongings, thoughts, feelings, and needs.  Codependent people feel responsible for other people’s thoughts, feelings and needs. Healthy people take responsibility for their own feelings and actions.  Boundaries allow us to set limits on how we allow others to treat us.
  • Problems with intimacy. A codependent person loses themselves in others. Healthy intimacy is where two people can be open with each other and can be free to be who they are.  Due to their weak boundaries, the codependent person fears being judged, rejected, or left, and this makes them closed off, withdrawn, and unable to be themselves. They will confuse sex with intimacy.  They also fear that in becoming intimate they may feel smothered or lose their autonomy.  Many times codependents are intimidated or threatened by their spouse or look down on them for being needy or having a problem. They have lack of respect for themselves and for their partner.  They never view their partner as being on equal footing with them.  There is always one person in an up or down position.  Even though codependents desire close relationships to soothe their loneliness and woundedness, they are too busy taking care of others and don’t remain in touch with what is going on inside of them and this makes healthy mutuality and intimacy impossible.
  • Overreacts. A codependent person reacts to everyone’s thoughts and feelings.  If someone says something they disagree with then they believe it or become defensive.  They absorb their words because they have no established boundaries.  With a boundary established, the codependent would realize it was just the person’s opinion and not a reflection on them, and they would not feel threatened by disagreements.
  • Alcohol/Drug Use and Other Compulsive Behaviors. Many times a codependent person will look outside of themselves to feel better and will turn to alcohol or drugs and become addicted.  In addition, they might also turn to food, sex, gambling, work holism and other compulsive behaviors.  These addictions and behaviors contribute to a person’s low self-esteem.
  • Do more than their share. A codependent person goes beyond the call of duty to demonstrate their worth and to receive approval from others. This gives them a sense of self and they feel more worthy and less deficient.
  • Plays the victim and blames others. A codependent feels like a victim who is unable to be heard, sympathized with, or understood.  They feel like all of their efforts are taken for granted, they are taken advantage of, and controlled by others.  They blame others for their unhappiness and problems and assume that they have a right to change the person who is making them unhappy.  For example: “If only Mark would get his drinking under control then my life would be better”. This justifies their efforts to fix, help, and control another.  They do not communicate their expectations to their partner and when their partner does not meet their expectations they become resentful and bitter.  This thinking is backward though.  The codependent takes responsibility for their happiness or unhappiness and problems, and their spouse is responsible for their happiness or unhappiness and problems and for changing themselves.
  • Confuses love for pity. A codependent person tends to love people that they can pity and rescue.
  • Struggle with accepting or asking for help.
  • Feels guilty asserting themselves.
  • Doesn’t trust themselves or others.
  • Fears being ignored, abandoned, alone, or rejected.
  • Struggles with adjusting to changes.
  • Is chronically angry.
  • Struggles making decisions.

Questions To Ask Yourself:

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To see if you have any codependency tendencies, ask yourself these questions.  If you find that you’ve answered “yes” to several of them then you might be codependent.

Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?

Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?

Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?

Have you ever lived with someone who belittles you?

Are the opinions of others more important than your own?

Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?

Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?

Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?

Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?

Have you ever felt inadequate?

Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?

Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?

Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?

Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?

Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?

Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority such as the police or your boss?

Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?

Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?

Do you have trouble asking for help?

Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?

Tips For Ending Codependency:

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Break through denial into awareness.  Face your problem with codependency honestly.  Chances are that you have rationalized and justified your codependent style.  For someone who has spent a lifetime using denial to ward off pain, shame, or fear of rejection, and being out of touch with your feelings, this can be a terrifying experience.  In order to break codependent behaviors you must first become aware of them. You will need support from people you can feel safe with and can be emotionally honest with.  This support can come from a Therapist, a friend, or a support group.  Support groups can be helpful since the people in these groups know what it is like to struggle with these specific issues.

Face your childhood issues.  Learn to connect your experiences in childhood to codependent behaviors that you have now in the present.  This involves coming to terms with how you really felt as a child and being honest about your family of origin.  This cannot be an intellectual exercise since codependents learn to cope by disconnecting from their inner emotions.  You may have protected your family for decades and you may feel guilty if you admit you were wounded in childhood.  But you cannot change until you are honest about the negative and positive aspects of your childhood experiences in your family.  This process takes time and is done best in counseling.  Some people have found it helpful to write down all of their feelings and behaviors that they have buried since childhood.  By doing this you will see how you have been impacted by your childhood, what you did to cope as a child, experience less self-blame, and gain more respect and compassion for yourself.  The more you learn about yourself, the more able you will be to relate to others in healthy ways and form more authentic connections.

Detach.  Stop the codependent behaviors of obsessing, controlling, and people pleasing.  Codependents are typically attached to some problem or person or over involved so you must separate yourself from whatever it is you are obsessed with and give up your involvement with trying to change, control, or please someone else.  Let go of the energy you are expending on worrying about others.  Detaching does not mean showing indifference or giving up on your responsibilities, but that you bring attention back to yourself and you become more self-directed and autonomous.  Your actions need to be guided by your own values, feelings, and needs, not someone else’s.

Focus on yourself.  Shift your focus to what makes you feel good and right to create positive change in your life.  Take time to focus on your preferences, likes, dislikes, and things that make you happy and unhappy and find healthy ways to cope with your unhappiness.

Change your self-talk.  The most damaging thing to a person’s self-esteem is the way they talk to themselves.  Change the way you think about yourself and be aware of negative thoughts in your mind.

 Learn to really listen to yourself.  As kids, if our opinion or input never seemed to matter or conflicted with others, chances are that we didn’t value our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, so we denied them.  We grew to distrust ourselves and looked to someone else to validate us.  We need to remember that we may not always be right, but neither are we always wrong.  No one else knows exactly all we know and our insights are important.  Stop apologizing if your opinion conflicts with others and explaining yourself when it is not necessary. We need to start observing what we are thinking and feeling, learn how to communicate this to others, and recognize and value ourselves and our opinions. Take time to periodically stop and ask yourself:

What do I know?

What do I feel?

What do I want?

Once we know what we’re feeling take ownership of them.  Sometimes we don’t know.  But if we rarely know the answers or never stop to consider the questions, it means were out of touch with ourselves.  It’s hard to relate in a meaningful way to others then because we aren’t bringing a perspective of our own to share.  Question your intentions behind your words and actions.  This allows you to understand your own ideas and motives instead of letting other people define them for you.  It helps develop a sense of confidence and self-respect, making it easier to communicate our needs to other people.

Self Acceptance.

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Self acceptance is key to ending codependency.  Before you can change you have to accept reality.  As they say “what you resist, persists”. As you learn more about yourself there will be more limitations and losses to accept.  By accepting reality, it opens the doors of possibility and then change happens. New ideas and energy emerge that were pushed down from you blaming yourself and fighting reality.  There is freedom and serenity that happens.  Self-acceptance means you don’t have to please everyone for fear that they won’t like you.  You honor your needs and unpleasant feelings and are forgiving of yourself and others.  This goodwill toward yourself allows you to be self-reflective without being self-critical.  Your self-esteem and confidence grows and you don’t allow others to abuse you or tell you what to do.  Instead of being manipulating you become more authentic, assertive, and are capable of greater intimacy.

Set healthy boundaries.

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If you set limits with people in your life they will know your boundaries.  It’s knowing where someone ends and where you begin.  With clear and defined boundaries the people around you will know what is ok and what is not ok.  Setting boundaries is also saying no when you need to and not always providing a reason for it.  A lot of times codependents can’t give with good motives since they lack healthy boundaries and a healthy sense of self that is found in emotionally mature people.  They also feel empty inside.  Emotionally mature people set their needs aside for the welfare of others.  Codependents must find a healthy balance between their needs and the needs of others.  Once you set these boundaries, you can give to others from a genuine, caring place, rather than out of fear or duty.

Let others face their consequences and stop blaming yourself.

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Codependent people continually save others from themselves.  It’s not your fault if someone in your life uses drugs or is abusive.  You are not in control of their actions.  Stop blaming yourself for what they do or not do.  You can only control your emotions, reactions, and actions.  If the consequences of their actions are negative it is their fault, not yours.  You are not responsible for correcting their mistakes.  Nor are you to blame for them.  We can’t change what other people do.  We can only change our responses.  This is about giving up your efforts to take other people’s responsibilities so that they can learn to take responsibility for themselves just as you are learning to take responsibility for yourself.  We cannot fix problems that are not ours to fix and all our worrying and obsessing and trying to help only perpetuates the problem.  As long as we are trying to fix someone they don’t need to fix themselves and we don’t have to fix ourself! This may mean saying no.  Learn to recognize when your help is beneficial to another person or when that person needs to fend for themselves.

Don’t try to fix other people’s feelings.  Codependency is where you reflect emotionally whatever the other person is feeling.  If they are up, then you’re up.  If they are down then you’re down.  Learn to separate yourself.  If we don’t feel ok and secure about ourselves then we tend to over rely on other people to do this for us.  If we’re not in touch with our emotions, chances are we’re afraid of our emotions.  And if we’re afraid of our emotions then we most likely will be afraid of other people’s emotions too.  Because a codependent person is afraid of other people’s emotions they will try to snap the person out of it and smooth things over.  There is an important line that we don’t cross to shut others down.  We cross that line when we are uncomfortable with other people’s feelings and we say things like:

 “It’s not that bad”

“Stop crying”

“You should be happy”

What we need to do instead, is to let the person be upset.  We don’t try to calm them down. We don’t try to fix them or get defensive.  Their problem might not be about you.  If it is about you and there is something you can do, then do it.  If it’s not about you, it’s not something you can fix.  Just listen and be there for them.  You don’t have to solve their problem.  Just give the person the space to work it out.

Give no advice.  For many, a codependent’s well being is tied to another person.  We care so much for that person and so little for ourselves that we over focus on them.  Our mind is constantly humming with plans to help that person, change that person, and how that person’s life could be better.  The natural tendency is to offer suggestions to that person on ways they could improve.  Resist the urge.  Unsolicited advice is rarely well received and hardly acted upon.  Before we give advice (no matter how helpful or well intentioned), we should ask ourselves:

What do I need to do for me?

What do I want them to do that I really need to do for myself?

Advice giving puts one person in a position of authority.  The person giving advice communicates to the other: “This is how things really are and this is what you need to do”.  Instead of problem solving together, one person is knowledgeable and dominant and the other is ignorant and subservient.

Ask for no advice.  One of the ways codependent people keep themselves small and others big is to ask for advice.  It is one thing to ask people questions in an effort to gain a broader perspective.  But if you ask people what they think you should do, it changes the dynamic in an unhealthy way.  This applies to professionals as well.  For example, if you ask your Therapist what to do then you are no longer responsible.  If you do what the Therapist tells you to and the results are disastrous, then you will blame your Therapist.  It’s now their responsibility and their fault.  This is your life.  You are responsible to live it and to choose wisely.  The next time you are tempted to ask for advice, stop yourself.  Look within.  Ask yourself: what do I really know to be true? What do I really want?  Sometimes it helps to sleep on it.  Trust that the answer or as much as you need to know of the answer, will become clear. Sometimes things are not clear and we simply must make the next best choice we believe to be the wisest.  Don’t be tempted at this point to seek the false sense of certainty that comes from trading your sense of self for the advice of others.

Gripe at the right time.  Some of us grew up in homes where we didn’t get heard.  If things bothered us we tried to voice them and got shut down.  When this happened we learned to suppress our feelings, minimized how bad something was, or denied there was a problem, and because the problem was never dealt with, it came back in a dysfunctional way later on. Codependent people complain to others about what they felt yesterday, instead of dealing with their feelings right away.  The time to complain is now.  It is important to process your feelings now in order to let them go.  If you hold onto your feelings for too long they will stay inside of you and will become toxic.

Stop telling stories of “what they did to me”.  We tell these stories to get validation and sympathy.  The problem with this is that it keeps you in the victim role and the person who hurt you in the perpetrator role. When we tell stories of what other people did to us, instead of focusing on what we did, what we allowed, and the choices we made, rather than looking at solutions, it reinforces our powerlessness and the dysfunction of the relationship.

Build Healthy Relationships.  Codependents tend to have unrealistic expectations of others.  Get rid of them.  Seek out mature, mutual relationships.  This is the way to intimacy. A mature, mutual relationship is where there are healthy boundaries, neither party is demanding or controlling, and each person communicates honestly their thoughts, feelings, and wishes mutually.  The goal is to become interdependent, rather than codependent in relationships.  This is where each person maintains a clear identity apart from the relationship, has an awareness of their own needs, and is quite able to stand on their own two feet. Every codependent needs relationships where they can work on relating in new and healthier ways.  Stay away from people with poor boundaries who need rescuing.

Take action.

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Insight without action only gets you so far.  In order to grow self-awareness and self-acceptance it must be accompanied by new behavior.  This involves taking risks and venturing outside of your comfort zone.  It may involve speaking up, trying something new, going somewhere alone, setting a boundary, or changing your behaviors in existing relationships.  It also means setting internal boundaries by keeping commitments to yourself and saying no to old habits you want to change.  Instead of expecting others to meet all of your needs and make you happy, you learn to take actions to meet them yourself and do things that give you fulfillment and satisfaction in your life.  Each time you try out a new behavior or take a risk you learn something new about yourself and about your feelings and needs.  You create a stronger sense of yourself, as well as self-confidence and self-esteem.  This is the opposite of codependency which creates fear, depression, and low self-esteem.  Words are actions.  They have power and reflect your self-esteem.  Becoming assertive is a learning process and is perhaps the most powerful tool in becoming healthier.  Assertiveness requires that you know yourself and risk making that public. It entails setting limits.  This is respecting and honoring yourself.  You get to be the author of your own life – what you’ll do and not do and how people will treat you.

Get help.

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There are a variety of community organizations that can help with codependency issues.  You do not have to make these changes alone.

In Conclusion…

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In the end, we are responsible for ourselves and our own happiness.  We all have the right to be our authentic selves and feel secure in who we are as individuals.  This is healthy living and this is freedom.  Stop wrapping your identity and life up in other people and realize that you have so much to offer.  There is no one else like you.  You are one of a kind.  You are special.  You are unique and you have value!  This world is waiting for you to show it who you really are.  So take a chance and step out of this dark place called “codependency” and into the light!  If you struggle with codependency and aren’t sure of the next step to take and need to talk to someone, we are here to help!  Please call us at (810) 299-1472.  Thank you for taking the time to read about this topic today!

References:

Lancer, Darlene. Symptoms of Codependency. Retrieved 2016, from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-codependency/

Mentalhealthamerica.net. Co-Dependency. Retrieved 2016, from: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency

Seltzer, Leon F. (2014). Codependent or Simply Dependent: What’s the Big Difference? Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201412/codependent-or-simply-dependent-what-s-the-big-difference

Addictions.com. Tips to Help You Stop being Codependent. Retrieved 2016, from: http://www.addictions.com/tips-to-help-you-stop-being-codependent/

Lancer, Darlene. Recovery from Codependency. Retrieved 2016, from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/recovery-from-codependency/

Li, Jason T. Overcoming Codependency. Retrieved 2016, from: http://lifecounsel.org/pub_li_overcomingCodependency.html

Puchalski, Anna. Ending Codependency in Relationships: Find And Live Who You Really Are. Retrieved 2016, from: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/ending-codependency-in-relationships-find-and-live-who-you-really-are/

Sexual-sanity.com. Six Keys to Overcoming Codependency and Building Healthy Relationships. Retrieved 2016, from: http://sexual-sanity.com/2012/06/six-keys-to-overcoming-codependence-and-restoring-health-in-relationships-after-addiction/