Identity Dependence

Identity Dependent:  The New Twenty-First Century Codependent

While codependent relationships may seem complicated, the root cause – as well as the reason behind its evolution – is actually simpler than one might think.  Put simply, codependency is when a person’s self-worth is dependent on something external to themselves that is not emotionally healthy or beneficial, yet they unwittingly stay trapped in that dependency because they don’t think they are worthy of a better situation.

Although somewhat similar to the characteristics of classic codependency, modern day codependents primarily tend to exhibit some or all of the following common characteristics.  In creating this list, I’ve taken the liberty to paraphrase the comments of psychologist Dr. Perpetua Neo and psychotherapist Dr. Holly Daniels in their article entitled, What Codependent Behavior Looks Like These Days – And How to Change It.


The inability to say “no” as a means to keep those around them happy, is a common sign of today’s codependency.  The few times they’ve stood up for themselves, they feel bad or guilty about it.  They’re afraid of conflict, so they avoid direct confrontation, doing everything to smooth things over, even if it’s obvious there is an “elephant in the room.”

Being A “Fixer”

While wanting to help a friend or loved one is not a bad thing, excessively needing to fix people is a different story.  The codependent is always jumping in to give solutions, even when they’re not asked.  They believe it’s their duty to clean up someone else’s mess, such as compensating for their shortcomings, covering their financial obligations, or making excuses for them.  They become so fixated on everyone else, they forget to take care of themselves.  Then when they halfheartedly ask for solutions, they either sabotage them or claim, “I’ve tried that, and it didn’t work.  I’m beginning to think nothing can be done.”

Minimizing Their Own Needs

While deep-set habits and behaviors are best dealt with through the help of a professional, some initial steps can include asking themselves, “What is it about my own needs that I might be running away from?”  Dr. Neo states: “We procrastinate on things that matter, out of fear of doing them wrong.  So, projects, issues, and goals that are the most personally meaningful might be the very ones we run away from. When something strikes a deep chord with us, it’s possibly the last thing we want to sit down and honestly face.  So, we distract ourselves with the needs of others.”

Being Defined by Their Job or A Relationship

Often when a codependent’s job or meaningful relationship is taken away, they tend to feel a substantial loss of self-worth.  Codependents often deny this with statements such as: “I cannot help that it/they mean so much to me.  I’m must just be too caring and dedicated.”  They use this as an excuse why they get exhausted from dealing with these very things, while at the same time justifying, in their own minds, why they cannot stay away from them.

This characteristic is driven by the desire to feel wanted and needed, in hopes of proving they’re a good person, worthy of love and acceptance.  This individual is not able to feel worthy of love by just being themselves.  They believe they must be “externally defined,” which inevitably leads to the development of a fear of abandonment (removal of love and acceptance).

Lack of Boundaries

Within the issue of people-pleasing lies boundless behaviors and relationships.  These can be toxic if they go unchecked.  The codependent fears that if they don’t do these things, the person will leave them, which will mean they are less of a person.  This causes even well-intentioned boundaries to erode.  When a person is codependent and someone tramples on their boundaries, they tend to make excuses for them. This tells the other person their boundaries can be lowered, which systematically gives toxic people a “free pass” to hurt them.

Obsessing Over A Relationship

Another sign of codependency is obsessing about and wanting to control a meaningful relationship.  Because the relationship is the primary way that someone who is codependent identifies their worthiness and lovable-ness, they spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about that relationship.  They wish their partner would do this or that and may even resent their partner for not fulfilling their fantasy of the perfect relationship.


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