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codependency types

Codependency is a word that gets used so much that it's often shrouded in misconceptions. It's now quite a challenge if you want to know what it is, or understand the patterns of codependency.


Codependent behaviors, or the patterns of codependency encompass specific behaviors and cognitive tendencies frequently exhibited by individuals with codependent inclinations. These patterns wield considerable influence over emotional well-being and relationships and are often the cause of pain and suffering.

I'm a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with nearly a decade of experience working in this field and I am going share with you how I explain codependency to my clients.



At its very essence, the concept of Differentiation centers around the intricate process of distinguishing and segregating Thoughts, Feelings, Self, and Others within one's psyche. 

Understanding the patterns of codependency can be looked at through the lens of Differentiation of Self, a concept made famous by Dr Murray Bowen. Dr. Bowen's groundbreaking insights shed light on the transformative journey individuals embark upon in their quest for peak psychological maturity- or someone who is ‘fully differentiated’.

differentiation of self - codependency

What Defines a Codependent Pattern?

Codependency is a complex emotional and behavioral condition. It often involves a relationship where one person, driven by their emotional needs, enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or underachievement. This pattern is characterized by excessive emotional reliance on a partner, often at the cost of one’s own needs and identity.


A fully differentiated individual possesses the remarkable ability to identify and separate their thoughts from their emotions, thereby gaining proficiency in thinking about their feelings and having feelings about their thoughts. They are also able to separate their sense of ‘Self’ from the internalized aspects of ‘Others.’ This latter part has more to do with codependency, but I think you’ll see that for the codependent, it’s hard to separate all four of these concepts. 


codependency : break free from patterns image
how patterns of codependency work

No one ever reaches the ideal position of being fully differentiated; we all struggle to varying degrees to keep these four components separate; however, the more differentiated we become, the less stressful our lives are. 


We are less reactive to life and to others. Instead, we are more responsive -we can think about things before acting on them.


We are less influenced by ‘Others' - we can hold our sense of 'Self' and stay true to our values and beliefs. 


We can prioritize our ’Self’ when we need to, and of course, prioritize 'Others' when appropriate, but we have agency. Codependent behavior is more automatic, there’s less or very little clarity around Self and Other being separate, and even less choice as to which is more important. 


Perhaps most importantly, psychological maturity serves as an invaluable shield against chronic anxiety, equipping us with composure and resilience when others get flustered.  It transforms reactivity into responsiveness, empowering us to engage with the world meaningfully.


Crucially, for the codependent, it bestows upon us the wisdom to be an individual, a Self that can stand independently but a Self that can seek support and companionship from those around us when needed. 



Not even your therapist.

Most of us struggle to get anywhere near being fully differentiated. Instead, we struggle to keep our Thoughts, Feelings, Self, and Others separated.


Thoughts and Feelings

How many times have you heard someone say, "I feel that....." and then instead of stating a feeling, they give you a thought: "I feel that they always do this."

Self and Other

Or perhaps you know that you have a tendency to say 'We' instead of 'I'  and speak on behalf of other people? "We feel that we've made a great choice in coming to see you." 

These are just small examples of how I see lower levels of differentiation showing up, and no doubt, you will hear this all the time now I've pointed it out!

undifferentiated person and codependency

Most of us on the planet look more like this, we have lapses in our ability to separate out our thoughts, feelings self and other.

Differentiation and The Patterns Of Codependency

Some of the more common patterns of codependency I see in my clinical practice and how they relate to differentiation of self.

Difficulty Identifying Feelings

Codependency often manifests as a struggle to acknowledge one's emotions.It could be that the codependent is much more proficient at having thoughts and grapples with connecting to their inner emotional landscape, but usually, individuals with codependent traits excel in sensing the feelings of others and then thinking even more about those feelings that other people have.

Minimizing, Altering, or Denying Feelings

Codependents frequently resort to minimizing, altering, or outright denying their genuine emotions. This coping mechanism usually originates from survival strategies ingrained in upbringing or past relationships. Over time, it fosters a detachment from authentic feelings, impeding the healthy expression and processing of emotions.

undifferentiated person and codependency

Passive-aggressive behavior frequently characterizes codependents, manifesting when they cannot express their anger or resentment directly. Which they can’t because feelings are all confused with thoughts, or focused on the other person. Separating out thoughts and feelings means being able to think about what you’re feeling and communicate it in a healthy way, rather than act out on it. These passive-aggressive behaviors cause confusion and strain relationships.


A pattern in codepenent’s is their tendency to assum they understand what another person is feeling, worry about their feelings, think about what thoughts the Other is having about their feelings. This is often not helpful because it’s all made up. Unless someone tells you what they are feeling, you really don’t know. This mind-reading leads to misconceptions and hinders genuine emotional connections.

undifferentiated person and codependency



Individuals grappling with codependency often have low self-esteem - and as we’ve seen that is understandable when ‘Self’ get’s sacrificed in service of the Other person in the relationship. Constantly putting people on a pedestal has a tendency to make your ‘Self’ feel small in comparison. 

Self Judgement

This ties into self judgement - which is a common pairing with people with low self esteem and also people with codependent tendency. 

This is all due to a super harsh inner critic, Freud referred to that as the Critical Super Ego 

undifferentiated person and codependency

Over time, the codependent’s sense of self becomes so eroded that it’s excruciatingly painful for them to be seen as weak or to admit mistakes.

When the Other is so much more inflated compared to the 'Self,' in some ways, this person becomes terrifying; they hold too much power. Being seen as wrong or making a mistake is a scary prospect, so the codependent might lie or conceal the truth to avoid how they perceive the other person might respond. 

undifferentiated person and codependency


Can You Identify the Five Fundamental Symptoms of Codependency?

  • Low Self-Esteem: Feeling unworthy or inadequate, despite evidence to the contrary.

  • People-Pleasing Behaviors: A tendency to put others’ needs before one's own, often to the point of self-sacrifice.

  • Poor Boundaries: Difficulty in recognizing where one’s own needs and emotions end and another’s begin.

  • Reactivity: A tendency to react intensely to others’ emotions and actions.

  • Control Issues: An urge to control events and people to quell inner anxiety.

What Constitutes the Cycle of Codependency?

  • The cycle of codependency often starts with a deep desire for love and care, leading to a pattern where the codependent individual sacrifices their own needs to cater to their partner’s. This sacrifice often leads to resentment and a feeling of being trapped, yet the fear of losing the relationship or being alone compels the person to continue the cycle.

What Are the Six Fundamental Rules in a Codependent Relationship?

  • The six rules often observed in codependent relationships include:

    • Don’t Talk Openly: Avoiding honest communication to prevent conflict.

    • Don’t Trust: A belief that reliance on others will lead to disappointment.

    • Don’t Feel: Suppressing emotions to maintain the status quo.

    • Don’t Confront Reality: Ignore problems or pretend they don’t exist.

    • Don’t Change: Resistance to change due to fear of the unknown.

    • Don’t Be Yourself: Sacrificing one’s identity to please the other person.

What Lies at the Heart of Codependency?

  • At its root, codependency often stems from a deep-seated fear of abandonment, a need for external validation, or unresolved issues from one’s past, particularly from childhood. These underlying issues lead to a pattern of behaviors where self-worth is excessively tied to caring for others.

To Whom are Codependents Typically Drawn?

  • Codependents are often attracted to individuals who seem in need of care or fixing. This can include those with addictions, emotional instability, or other issues that allow the codependent person to step into a caretaker role, fulfilling their need to be needed.

Is Gaslighting a Common Tactic Used by Codependents?

  • While gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation where a person is made to doubt their own reality, is not a behavior exclusive to codependency, it can occur in such dynamics. In codependent relationships, gaslighting might be used as a means to maintain control or stability in the relationship, often stemming from deep-seated insecurities and fears of both parties involved.

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