What is Emotional Codependency?

People who are codependent will do whatever they can to make their partners dependent on them. Therefore, their care and concern is not necessarily altruistic, but rather unhealthy. Today, we'll tell you more about emotional codependency.
What is Emotional Codependency?

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Emotionally codependent relationships are not healthy or balanced. In fact, some may even be toxic. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and correct them as soon as possible. With that in mind, we want to tell you what emotional codependency involves, as well as some of the symptoms and how its treated.

What is emotional codependency?

While the terms are very interrelated, codependency isn’t the same as emotional dependenceIndeed, in the case of emotional dependence, we find individuals whose dysfunctional personality drives them to depend on others to be happy.

These people are capable of carrying on relationships that are highly toxic and destructive because they depend completely on their partners. In other words, they consider their partners to be an indispensable part of their lives, a necessary condition, no matter how bad the relationship is. So, these individuals are not autonomous and they typically have low self-esteem.

Emotional codependency, on the other hand, is different. In this case, we find people that are dependent on other people’s dependence on them. In other words, they are addicted to the dependency of others on them.

A toxic relationship.
Both dependence and codependency are problems that are an indication of toxic relationships.

This type of dysfunctional relationship can occur in any relational context (parents/children, friendships, etc). However, it’s especially common among couples .

In any case, in relationships that are dependent and codependent, we’re talking about individuals that depend on one another. However, we’re looking at two different dynamics.

On the one hand, dependent individuals don’t know how to get along without their partners. On the other hand, those who experience emotional codependency are addicted to having someone else be dependent on them.

Therefore, this can cause them to care excessively for their partners. As tender as this may sound, their motives are not altruistic, but rather manipulative. Therefore, excessive control, jealousy, and manipulation may arise in an unbalanced and toxic relationship.

As a result, both parties suffer.

The symptoms of emotional codependency

Low self-esteem

Codependent individuals have low self-esteem, just as their dependent partners do. However, in this case, they aim to fill this void or imbalance by trying to feel useful for the person who they believe needs them.

Control over partners

Jealousy in relationships.
Codependent individuals will do whatever it takes to maintain their relationships, including manipulating their partners and undermining their self-esteem.

Given that their own stability is based on someone else needing them, codependent individuals tend to do whatever they can to maintain this dependence.

Therefore, it’s normal for them to constantly control heir partners, manipulate them, and even undermine their self-esteem. By doing so, they make sure that their partners continue needing them and depending on them.

Need for approval

Codependent individuals put a great deal of time and effort into being useful for their partners. Therefore, when they don’t get their way or aren’t rewarded for their efforts, they can come to feel truly frustrated .

The fear that their partners will stop depending on them increases when they don’t get the thanks they’re looking for. In other words, they begin to feel doubtful and insecure. Therefore, they need to hear their partners say how great they are and recognize all that they do for them. They need to hear how necessary they are in their parter’s life.

Furthermore, if this approval doesn’t exist, they may even enter into an unhealthy punishment dynamic for their partners to understand that they’re essential.

Codependent people feel responsible for the feelings of others

Problems within a relationship.
Those who are codependent feel an excessive control over the feelings of their partners.

Codependent people also suffer. The truth is, no one is responsible for the feelings of another person. However, emotional codependency causes individuals to feel that they are responsible for what their partners are feeling.

Therefore, they may take ownership of their partner’s feelings and feel truly frustrated when they can’t make them happy. Let’s not forget that their objective is to be essential in the life and wellbeing of their partners. In that sense, they see any negative feelings in their partners as a possible threat to their dependency.

Obsessing over their partners

These individuals depend on the dependence of others to maintain their self-esteem and fill their void. As a result, they constantly seek out ways to maintain this dependency and need. That means that they may spend a lot of time thinking of ways to be necessary and useful, which can lead to an obsession

In fact, on many occasions, they forget about themselves and neglect their own needs. Their only priority is proving how necessary they are and making their partners dependent.

The treatment of codependency

A couples therapy session for emotional codependency
A codependent personality requires couples therapy as well as individual therapy in order to discover the origin and treat it.

A toxic relationship between a dependent person and a codependent person needs intervention as soon as possible. In this sense, both parties need to relearn and redirect the way that they behave and relate to others. What’s more, they must make a great effort to increase their assertiveness and self-esteem and leave their fears and insecurities behind.

They can achieve this through personalized therapy as well as couples therapy.

  • The first step in the process is recognizing that there’s a problem. If an individual can’t see the problem, then it will be impossible to fix it.
  • Then, codependent individuals must overcome their fear of being alone. They must overcome their fear of independence and of not being needed by others. In this sense, they must give up their excessive involvement and concern for changing, controlling, and satisfying others.
  • What’s more, codependent people must relearn how to be helpful. They need to understand that help and care should come from genuine altruism and not be a means of manipulating others to fill their own (often hidden) needs. Helping others should be an act of liberation, not a hidden attempt to make others more dependent.
  • Normally, people with codependent personalities learn this type of behavior and attitude from the time they are children. Therefore, they must begin a process of analysis, self-awareness, and correction regarding the erroneous lessons they learned early on in life.
  • At the same time, both partners must learn to set limits, which are a necessary part of any healthy relationship.


People with codependent tendencies need to understand that relationships should be based on a bond of freedom and personal choice. Trying to “bind” another person by making him or her feel like we’re essential to their happiness will only lead to problems.

At the same time, it’s not a healthy way to increase one’s own self-esteem.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Mellody, P., Wells, A., Miller, K., La codependencia: qué es, de dónde procede, cómo sabotea nuestras vidas. Aprende a hacerle frente. Paidós Ibérica. 2005.
  • Mazzarello, R., Estudio sobre la codependencia y su influencia en las conductas de riesgo psicosocial. Universidad de Barcelona.
  • Irvine, Leslie. (1995). Codependency and Recovery: Gender, Self, and Emotions in Popular Self-Help. Symbolic Interaction – SYMB INTERACT. 18. 145-163. 10.1525/si.1995.18.2.145.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.