Codependency Traits: What, How, When are the Traits Formed?

Codependency Traits

What are Codependency Traits

Codependency is a group of personality traits or personality characteristics. They are cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship with oneself and with others. They are maladaptive patterns. However, no such disorder is recognized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5 (DSM-5). However, DSM-5 does recognize the Dependent Personality Disorder.  

Codependency is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency characteristics often form or maintain unhealthy relationships. These unhealthy relationships  are often one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or sometimes (e.g. physically, psychologically) abusive.  

There are many characteristics and signs and symptoms of codependency. 

I will list some of them below (although, the list is not exhaustive). Deciding whether you are codependent or not is not about how many of these traits you have, but more about whether they are causing you distress and interfering with your physical and emotional health, peace of mind, and relationship with your Self (intra-personal) and other relationships (inter-personal).

The List of Characteristics of Codependency:

  • Hyper-aware of other people’s problems and needs in the form of care-taking, controlling, advice giving, and over-worrying about others.
  • Demanding, controlling, and perfectionistic. You want things to be done a certain way and may resort to telling others what to do and how to do it. 
  • Hyper-critical of others because they often don’t live up to your high expectations.
  • Your high expectations also make it hard for you to ask for or accept help from others.
  • Stressed out or anxious when things don’t go exactly and perfectly as planned. 
  • Hyper-focused on predictability, structure, and certainty — things you probably didn’t have in your childhood family.
  • Self-critical; unrealistic expectations for yourself. Self-talk is often harsh about your imperfections and mistakes. 
  • Your self-criticism is a result of your low self-esteem and the harsh criticism you’ve received from others during childhood.
  • You feel responsible for everything and everyone, even other people’s happiness, but deny your own happiness and needs .
  • “People Pleaser”. You’re afraid to upset or disappoint others, but this can lead to over-extending yourself and exhaustion. 
  • Dependable and responsible. People can always count on you to be reliable. You feel guilt if you don’t follow through even if you are sick in bed. 
  • Boundary issues: You have trouble with speaking up for yourself and saying “no”.  Some times, you allow people to mistreat or take advantage of your kindness because you don’t want to hurt their feelings, let them down, or create a conflict.
  • Ignore your own feelings and needs, often suppressing them, denying them, avoiding them, or numbing them. These occur at the conscious level. They look like self-defeating behaviors.   
  • In addition to denying your feelings and needs, you may have a difficult time seeing how unmanageable or unhappy your life is and has become. This is a form of subconscious defense:  repression (e.g. dis-associative amnesia). 
  • Your happiness is dependent upon what other people are feeling or doing. For example, if your partner is in a good mood, you can relax a little bit. However, if your partner is angry, you likely feel anxious. 
  • You have a hard time separating yourself from other people’s feelings, needs, and experiences.
  • You define your Self (identity) in relation to others, but lack a strong sense of Self (i.e. knowing who you are, what you believe, want, and like).
  • Emotional Pain. For some individuals, the pain is close to the surface (manifest) such as, shame; and for others the pain is buried in the subconscious (latent) such as, anger and rage. 
  • Guilty and ashamed. Guilt and shame are the roots of low self-worth and low self-esteem. 
  • You probably feel there is something wrong with you. Perhaps someone told you this directly or you may have come to this conclusion based on how you’ve been treated. Yet, you minimize the problems or sensitivities. 
  • Martyr or saint or savior: taking care of everyone else, giving without receiving, and then feeling angry, resentful and taken advantage of by others. 
  • Passive-Aggressive: Sometimes you feel good (needed and worthwhile) and other times, you feel angry and resentful and you complain about “having to do everything”, but you still continue the pattern of “people pleaser”.
  • Reactive. Anger and resentments build up over time causing you to seemingly explode over trivial matters. Then, you feel shame and guilt and then may overcompensate as “Polly-Anna do good”
  • Overwork and over schedule yourself as ways to prove your self-worth and/or distract yourself from low-self-esteem or other painful feelings.
  • Intimacy, open communication, and trust are difficult because you didn’t have role models for healthy relationships in childhood. And in adulthood you’ve probably been betrayed in your relationships, but stayed anyways.
  • Afraid of anger, criticism, rejection, and failure. You “play it safe” or “become invisible” with your own needs. 
  • Minimizing problems, minimizing other’s behaviors, and minimizing one’s own needs. 

How and When are Codependency Traits Formed 

First, I am wondering if you have identified with some or all of codependency signs and symptoms list? Codependency can be difficult to accept because it has received such a negative stigma by the public.  

Many “codependents” feel ashamed, blamed, and like they have done something wrong to cause all these traits. So, I encourage you to understand two important basic points about codependency:  1) You are not responsible for what occurred in your childhood. It is not your fault. You are not to blame. 2) You are an adult now and the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with your Self. So, if you want to get healthy, then therapy is recommended. 

Codependency Personality Traits Develop in Childhood 

During infancy and through childhood and adolescence is when personality is forming. The core of personality is formed by age of 5 and the years that follow are just add-on personality characteristic or traits.  

Codependency developed during those important formative years as a way to cope with trauma of any kind. 

Many Codependents grew up in a family with mental illness, family of addiction, family system dysfunction, or other problems. 

Other individuals with Codependency traits appear on the surface level to have had seemingly normal childhoods, but codependent traits and behavioral patterns were passed down unknowingly by primary caregivers who were Codependents. 

Other individuals with Codependency Traits have buried so deeply the wounding or painful memories of childhood that it is like amnesia and therefore stored in the subconscious. 

Codependency Amnesia can and often happens when there were any of the following: 

  1. emotional neglect (primary caregivers were emotionally distant, didn’t meet your emotional needs) 
  2. Primary caregivers were inconsistent in providing nurturing or love). 
  3. There was emotional or verbal abuse (threats, name calling, the silent treatment, etc.) that was minimized.
  4. Physical abuse of any kind (slapping, scatching, hair pulling, spanking) that was minimized.  
  5. Primary caregivers will deny that their behavior was harmful, claim that it was not abuse because it did not leave a mark on their child. 
  6. Primary caregivers will say things like “You had a roof over your head, we fed, and clothed you. You don’t have anything to complain about.”

Codependent Traits are Hallmark for Relationship Problems of all Kinds. 

The pain of being abused, lied to, cheated on, neglected, ignored, cursed at, rejected, made to feel invisible, or invalidated has never healed.

The Key Point:  Codependency traits represent one’s difficulties in loving, accepting, trusting, and being true to Self. 

Codependents carry , shame, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy which lead to constantly try to please others, prove worth of Self, and seek external validation at great costs, but little reward.

Codependents are focused outward – on trying to please, help, fix, wrapped up in, and attempt to intervene or control other people and situations. 

Codependents base happiness and feelings on what other people are doing, rather than internal feelings and values. 

Codependents don’t know how to be their True Self because they never learned how. They never learned truly what they want and how to be happy with Self.  

Key Points of Codependency 

  1. Codependency is not your fault. You didn’t cause it. You became codependent as a way to adapt to an unhealthy childhood. Your primary caregivers were not healthy, so your codependent traits developed as a survival mechanisms ~ survival adaptations. 
  2. As an adult, however, codependency traits causes you problems and gets in the way of you having a happy, healthy relationship with your Self and others. So, although you did not cause the origin of infant/child/adolescent survival adaptations to the family environment, You are the only one who can change your codependent characteristics now.  You are now responsible to heal, nurture, and take care of your inner wounded child ~ and your Self. 

Conclusion Codependency

I hope that this article helps you to better understand codependency traits and reduce any shame you may be feeling. Codependency traits represent one’s difficulties in loving, accepting, trusting, and being true to Self. I empathize that it can be difficult if you see yourself in the list of codependent traits. However, awareness and acceptance, are always the first steps of change. I wish you the best on your journey to understand and love your true Self.

The most important relationship that you will ever have is the relationship you have with your Self. 

with Hope, 
Dr. Freshwater Comments? leave them below. General Questions? send an email found on my Contact page.


Shawna Freshwater, PhD

Shawna Freshwater, PhD

Hi, I am Dr. Shawna Freshwater, a PhD licensed Clinical Psychologist, Neuropsychologist, and Holistic Practitioner. ** I provide Psychotherapy, Coaching, Healing, Diagnostic testing & Mental Health Check-ups. ** I meet the needs of my patients and clients that are confidential and convenient to their schedule. ** I offer Remote / Online secure interactive video conferencing to USA residents and International clients. ** I also provide Concierge services at your home, office, or private location of your choice if you reside in South Florida Major Cities. ***Please see my website for more information about my credentials and areas of expertise. Thank you. Dr. Freshwater


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  3. Nancy W on April 5, 2020 at 10:16 am

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    • Jodi G. on August 31, 2021 at 12:53 pm

      Hit the Nail On The Head! Where have you been for 30 years?
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  4. Kay on May 1, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    I found this article great and I ve all the characteristics of codependency….every last one.My father had ptsd and alcoholism and my beother took his own life.
    I became an alcoholic and am recovering a day at a time but must admit my self esteem never really improved .

  5. Aashiq on May 8, 2020 at 7:23 am

    Thank you for this article ♡

  6. Keneth M. on June 2, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    Mom came home to see her boys 6 and 7 before she died. She told us AGAIN she would get better, and come home. Mom and Dad lied ……she did not come home …..she was dead.
    It was Orwellian what he did to her memory. We did not attend the wake or funeral…….3 years later Dad pointed out her grave, the parade had stopped at the cemetery where she is buried. 58 years ago….. and still hurts.

    codependent? yup and raised by a narcissist

  7. Ken M. on June 6, 2020 at 10:15 pm

    Oh!! ….Yup codependant and I believe narcissistic tendencies from Dad. When I get a job. Gonna invest in me. TY for great stuff Dr. Freshwater!! 🙂

  8. Patricia L. on April 16, 2021 at 10:01 am

    Great article, thank you. It puts a lot of things in perspective for me.

  9. Jan M on May 2, 2021 at 7:30 pm

    Thank you Dr. Freshwater for this insightful article. This is me. Am working on this via an ACA group. Too bad you don’t reside on the west coast where I am. This article is a great help.

  10. Dee M. on April 7, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    Thank you for your blog! This article on Co-Dependency describes every single aspect of my life. I’ve been searching for answers and reading this made me aware of what I’m lacking, and that I am in need of a Clinical Psychologist. I booked my appointment and am so thankful I spoke to you and you are taking me on as a client. You heard what I said and validated everything. I never knew there was more than talk therapy and I am so very excited to work with you! Thank you!

  11. Just a guy on July 21, 2022 at 1:18 pm

    Hi I’m 17 and pretty ready to end things this article explains a lot, Ive been hospitalized many times but this was never something they talked about, I just don’t wanna play “catch up” anymore

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