Codependency Recovery- Start Here

Codependency Recovery 101

By Dominica Applegate


“Are you kidding me? I’m not codependent and I don’t need a support group!”

That was me ten years ago, when I was an emotional basket case and clueless about just how deep I was in a codependent mud puddle. And, a codependency recovery support group? Really? I had six years of college in a field where we helped people with “issues”! You really think I need to sit with a group of people to talk about how miserable we are?

No thanks.

Or so I thought. Actually, the first time I heard about codependency and a support group to match, I had no idea what the term meant. I just knew that the person telling me about it knew I could use some help. I mean,

I was falling apart on every level and it wasn’t pretty.

Fresh out of a marriage and straight into a toxic relationship can certainly land you there.

Come to find out later that support groups aren’t really as awful as I thought they were. After attending Codependents Anonymous, and Nar-Anon for a season, I learned a great deal about myself, people, relationships, and the world.

Now, it’s my pleasure to share what I’ve learned with others.

Here is a brief overview of some aspects of codependency and codependency recovery. 

What Is Codependency?


Codependency is essentially defined as an unhealthy attachment to a person. It’s a “dependency” on another in a way that’s not very healthy.

It is a term that came out from the recovery movement years ago, where counselors began to notice that on the opposite end of someone struggling with alcoholism or addiction was a partner or family member that had certain “characteristics” that weren’t all that healthy. 

And, as such, the person struggling with addiction and the partner were “co” dependent upon each other in an unusually unhealthy dance.

Codependency is a state of “dis-ease” that many experts believe stem from some sort of childhood abuse or neglect. Or maybe from living in a family where addiction or mental health issues were present in one or both parents.  

The dysfunctional personality traits a codependent person displays as an adult may likely have been formed while growing up in an atmosphere that did not have appropriate emotional boundaries.


online therapy codependency


For me, that meant growing up in a home with a father who struggled with alcoholism and a mother suffering from clinical depression and anxiety disorder. For another, that might mean growing up in a home where physical or sexual abuse was going on. Still for another, it might mean they grew up experiencing chronic  stress due to a variety of reasons, always in hyper-vigilant mode or fight or flight mode. 

The textbook definition of codependency is:

“Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction who requires support” or “a dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.”

On a broader scale, I believe codependency is something that affects everyone on the planet to a degree.

You see, I understand codependency (outer-dependency) as part of the human condition. It’s deeper than a relationship issue; it’s a spiritual issue. It’s a disconnect from God, and from our true selves a spirit.

  • It’s waking up each day overly identifying with our ego, or false self that we’ve been so nicely forming since birth.
  • It is the programming that’s gone into the subconscious mind over the course of a lifetime. 
  • It’s the code that’s been written under the radar.

Codependency characteristics exist in people and relationships across the board. 

Why? Because at the core, codependency is not understanding who we are as an individual person and as a spirit united with our Creator – God!

Again, it stems from a disconnect from YOU at your core and God.


A Lack Of Self-Love


Many affirm that at the core, codependency stems from an absence or lack of self-love. This not knowing or loving our “self” can impact the way we interact with ourselves and the world. In other words, it’s you being even just the slightest bit “dependent” upon another person for your level of happiness or peace.

I can say for myself when I place that responsibility with someone else, I end up disappointed – definitely not feeling happier.

Someone who is struggling with codependency is trying to soothe a deep wound that formed during childhood. They’re trying to fill an aching void or sense of intense loneliness with approval and love.  

They NEEEEEEEEEED love and acceptance from another to feel good about themselves. Much of their self-worth is found in external dependencies, like people, money, looks, etc. and not the internal (their spirit and connection with God).

Other characteristics may be that they are people pleasers, over-givers, energy suckers, always playing the victim. You get the idea.

You can be codependent on a partner, parents, friends, or even you children.

Using myself as an example, when I was growing up, I became the people pleaser. The quiet one, afraid to make ripples in the water. Growing up in a home where neither of my parents had done their “inner healing work”, let’s just say by default, some of their wounds were passed on down to me.

Of course, I had no clue until later in life.

I repeated the cycle, overly relying on my children for my sense of worth and happiness, and then after a divorce, jumping right into a codependent role in a toxic relationship.

More on that in another post.

How Codependency Affects Relationships


A relationship where codependency is present and alive will have certain characteristics. The two partners, be it a romantic partner, family member, or friend, will be doing a toxic kind of emotional relating – an unhealthy dance.

Let’s look briefly at how codependency can affect a person. According to a leading codependency expert, Pia Mellody, a person struggling with codependency has trouble with the five following areas:

  1. They cannot experience appropriate levels of self-esteem.
  2. They have trouble setting appropriate boundaries.
  3. They have trouble owning their reality and has lost a sense of self. They have no idea who they are outside of others.
  4. They have trouble knowing what they want and need.
  5. They have trouble moderating their emotions. They may feel very deeply or not feel at all.

Of course, there are many more codependency characteristics, but these five are some of the big areas. If you can identify with these characteristics, I want to assure you that there is hope.  As with any issue, the realization that you’ve got some codependency characteristics flaring can be your downfall – or,

It can be a new beginning.  Any problem or addiction can be a doorway to self-discovery, healing, and a more intimate connection with God.

Codependency affects many relationships, and this is one reason so many relationships fail. Overly depending on each other for worth and value can lead you to feeling frustrated and empty.

Codependency can lead people to become addicted to each other, feeling like they’re going through withdrawal when they split, divorce, etc.  This kind of love addiction is running rampant all over the world, but fear not, a God-Centered recovery approach can help!

Many people who say, “We were meant for each other”, “He/she is my soulmate”, “We’re inseparable” and so on, are likely to confuse authentic love with codependency.
Slowly, but surely, they lose their identity and their original and unique self, and that’s the most tragic consequence of codependency.

The two partners are no longer two singular personalities working together to create something beautiful.

Instead, they become two pieces of a puzzle that, if separated, would lose all meaning. Even worse, they go on a frantic search to try to fill their emotional gaps or compensate for their personal shortcomings by entering codependent relationships with partners that (they think) will make them feel “complete”.

“So, what’s the problem with that?” you might ask.

First, a healthy individual should feel complete even in the absence of a partner who might cover his flaws and imperfections. Being with someone who loves you and wants to contribute to your personal development is not the same as being with someone who takes care of your needs because you don’t want to or someone who relieves your anxiety from a disconnection from your true self.

Did you get that? Someone who relieves your anxiety that stems from your dis-connect with your true self and God.

Freedom is a crucial aspect of maturity, and if you trade yours in exchange for codependency, you’ll never be able to express your true self, your individuality, and uniqueness.

Second, losing your identity can easily trigger an existential angst that will only make your personal and relational life worse.  Since the meaning of your life somehow gravitates around your partner, losing them is equal to losing your thirst for life.

You somehow feel incomplete; you feel like something is missing and no matter what you do, you can’t fill that emotional void. In a sense, it’s the proverbial seeking “out there” to fill this inner void that only God/Spirit can fill.

But there’s a silver lining here, because some people manage to recover from this devastating loss by investing their time and energy in therapy or doing the work. Some choose to focus on their careers or spirituality, others discover new hobbies, and there are those who rethink and reshape their entire personality.

In other words, they begin the God-Centered codependency recovery, and “do the inner healing work”.

Regardless of how you decide to deal with the negative effects of codependency, one thing’s for sure – it’s time to get rid of the dysfunctional patterns that cause you to seek dependency in every new relationship. If not, chances are you’ll follow the same trend as before and eventually end up in another codependent relationship, and another and so on.

A huge key to overcoming codependency is realizing that indeed, this is something you’re struggling with. Once you wake up to this reality, you – and perhaps your partner – can get busy doing the necessary inner healing work to deal with the root causes and learn how to love at a more mature, healthy level.

What Causes Codependency?


Many people can agree with the fact that they struggle with codependency characteristics. That’s a great first step toward recovery.  The next question they may ask is, “What causes codependency? How did I get here?”

There are plenty of books on this topic, so if you really want to dig deep, take the time to read up on the topic.

Essentially, most experts are going to tell you that codependent behaviors stem from an emotional dependency or unhealthy attachment that probably originated as a child.

As a child, you were a clean slate seeking to be valued and accepted unconditionally by your loved ones.  However, the way life plays out is that children’s emotional and psychological needs aren’t met fully – even when parents are considered “model parents”.



Start In Childhood 

To discover your particular cause as to why you relate in codependent ways, it’ll be necessary to journey back to your childhood. As you uncover layer after layer, you’ll likely find a wounded, scared little boy or girl.  You may find that you didn’t have a healthy emotional attachment to your primary caregivers.

Maybe you were neglected or endured chronic stress. Perhaps your parents were just so absorbed in their own emotional pain that they couldn’t fully be present for you. Or alcoholism or drug addiction were running rampant.

There are many scenarios and dynamics that can cause codependency. Using myself as an example, living with a father who was struggling with alcoholism and a mother clinically depressed and codependent, I was not able to have my emotional needs met.

The arguing of my parents, emotional absence, unpredictability, moving a lot, confusion, etc. left me feeling unsafe, unworthy, and shameful.

And, I had no idea how to cope with the mix of feelings I was feeling; no child does.


Splitting Off From Spirit


So, I started using unhealthy coping skills that helped me not feel that pain. I “split” from my authentic, lovable, pure self (spirit) and began to form an identity outside of my “self”.  An identity that I thought would help me re-connect and stay connected to my wounded parents. I had no clue about God, so going inside to find God was not applicable for me.

For me, the way I coped with a household that was medium to moderately dysfunctional was I started caretaking and people pleasing. I wanted to be the “good girl” so maybe my parents would pay more attention to me. Or, at least I wouldn’t bring them more grief to deal with. I mean, yes, I know they loved me, but I didn’t feel a deep, loving connection. 

I stuffed my feelings. I went off and played by myself a lot, ruminating in my head about all sorts of things. What I didn’t realize growing up, was that I was setting up my “false self” to feel all sorts of negative emotions…that may have been dormant for years, but later surfaced.

Things like shame, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, poor self-esteem, low self-worth, anxiety, depression, and so on. As an adult, I was still “split” from my authentic self. Therefore, when my emotional life hit a breaking point, I had no idea how to cope with the intense emotions. I had no idea who I was apart from caretaking others.

I was empty and so scared. 

The causes of codependency behaviors, like I said, can vary from person to person. However, a great place to begin seeking answers is visiting childhood, preferably with a counselor or codependency expert. Start unpeeling the layers, face the inner shadows, and start calling those parts of yourself that you split from. Ask God to shine the Light into the dark places, so you can free that wounded little boy or girl, dispelling the darkness and truly being able to settle into God’s abiding, unconditional love – as well as your own. Re-discovering your identity in and of yourself, and in God, makes a huge difference. 


The Need For Boundaries


Learning about boundaries are quite helpful for anyone struggling with codependent behaviors. Personal boundaries are guidelines or rules that you identify based on your wants and needs, that are reasonable ways others should behave toward you.

To set personal boundaries means to separate our personality from that of other people with whom we interact on a regular basis. It means to recognize, accept and express our own uniqueness, while allowing others to do the same.

You can tell a lot about someone based on the boundaries they’ve set or not set. Boundaries can reflect one’s self-worth. If you have adequate boundaries, it means that you’re practicing valuing and respecting yourself. If you don’t have boundaries set or let others cross the ones you do have, you’re devaluing yourself and this can leave you feeling awful. 

For me, learning that WHAT I WANT AND NEED ARE IMPORTANT was a huge liberating force.  Say it often: “What I want and need matter.” Then, really get honest with yourself to discover what it is you want…and need.

When a boundary has been crossed, don’t you feel uncomfortable? Angry? Sad?

For example, let’s say your partner has just gone through your phone reading all of your texts and starts harping on you about this and that. You automatically feel like your space has been violated – and it has – and at that point you’re faced with making a decision.

Do you just start defending yourself like you’re on some sort of trial? Do you get angry and yell obscenities? Do you run and grab your partner’s phone and throw it out the window? (Oh, that might be tempting.)

Your partner has crossed a boundary. Your phone is none of their business. You must set that boundary and stick to it. Let your partner know that you’re serious and crossing certain boundaries can be a deal breaker.

Communication is key when it comes to setting and keeping boundaries.

Another example is how someone speaks to you. Constructive criticism is not a bad thing, but if the tone is nasty or rude, it is not alright. If you deal with this, you can say something like:

 “I hear you, but I would greatly appreciate it if you would speak in a respectful tone toward me.”

 “I am not quite sure why you are speaking to me in that tone. I don’t appreciate it and I’ll not allow it.”

You have a right to stand up for yourself and express what makes you feel devalued. You have a right to say when something is not acceptable to you. You have the right to say no and draw a line in the sand. And, you have the right to leave if you are not heard or valued repeatedly.

In the end, never forget that the most important person in your life is YOU. This means that, regardless of what others might think, your personal boundaries should be your number one priority.


online therapy codependency

Codependency Recovery Basics


If you’re struggling with codependency characteristics, the root cause can be a variety of things, but the very root, in my opinion…is spiritual. In a way, it’s part of the human condition.

It’s the forgetting of who we really are spiritually, creating this separation, void, extreme loneliness, ache in the soul, that we try to fill with people, places, things, and behaviors.

Things like people pleasing, money, power, food, alcohol, material possessions, sex, gambling, drugs, and so on.

To borrow from something Carl Jung said, our craving for things to soothe the internal pain is “equivalent to a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness”.

You get that?

Our spiritual thirst for feeling WHOLE.

For feeling peaceful.

For feeling joyful.

Aren’t these things what we truly yearn for?

Yes, feeling broken and unworthy is awful, yet it seems to be a part of the human journey – until, at last, we start waking up to the reality that we can indeed heal, grow, and more and more enjoy this “kingdom of Light” that Jesus talked about.


Is Self-Help The Same As Recovery?


Yes, and no.

We do need to get back in touch with “self”, because we’ve formed a false persona or ego over the years. (Our masks) We’ve forgotten who we are, what our wants and needs are…



So, yes, recovery involves self-help.

But self-help might not take you as far as you’d like to go to experience deep, lasting transformation. The kind that allows you to live experiencing more peace, joy, and true love.

This is why I come across so many in the self-help niches still struggling year after year. They only dig so deep.

Maybe we need something more, which is what I call grace from the Divine. (Unmerited favor)

A kind of codependency recovery that goes deeper than merely making a mental assent to getting wounded in childhood and learning all the codependency lingo.

Granted, we must acknowledge that recovery or emotional healing will look different for each person.  Let’s not judge each other’s path. What I share is my experiences and observations, so take what resonates and leave the rest.

There are many paths to healing. Your task is to find yours and walk it consistently. Ask God to show you your sacred path.

Here are some codependency recovery tools/paths that have helped others:


Professional Therapy 


online therapy codependency


I firmly believe everyone ought to find themselves a great counselor and commit to a season of “doing the inner healing work”. Choose secular of spiritual counseling; just go.  There’s even excellent online therapy options for codependency. Surely, there are things underneath the surface that you’ve never dealt with (childhood wounds, trauma, neglect, illness, divorce, other major stressors, etc.) Many people say they can’t afford it. There are some that will work on price with you. The truth is that you are worth the investment! 

There’s various types of therapy to consider too, such as:

        *Individual therapy {CBT, Cognitive Restructuring, Skill Building, etc.}

        *Psychiatric Assessments

        *Group therapy

        *Family therapy

        *Recovery-oriented challenge therapy

        *Trauma therapy {Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)}


Support Groups 


Codependents Anonymous for those who are struggling with codependency characteristics.

Al-Anon – For those who have loved ones struggling with or recovering from alcoholism.

Nar-Anon – For those who have loved ones struggling with or recovering from drug addiction.

For those who want to try online live meetings, goto In the Rooms.

SMART Recovery – This support group is not based on the 12 Steps, but offers a great support system to those wanting to break free from addictions, codependency, etc. It’s not spiritually based, but still very good.


Contemplation, Meditation, Prayer


Take time daily to just get quiet with yourself and God. This is really challenging for many people. We’re so used to going, going, going and when we’re not going, we’re glued to our technology devices.

However, if you will cultivate this sacred time with God and your spiritual self regularly, more and more you’ll find your identity in God and in your true self. Your pure, spirit self.

You’ll begin to experience a deep and lasting transformation, where you come to realize at a deeper level you’re part of a Divine plan in a story that’s much bigger than all of us.

You’ll experience more joy and better relationships. And, you’ll learn better how to show up for yourself and others armed with a healthy dose of the kind of Love that feels wonderful and heals.

Alternative Healing Modalities

There are alternative healing modalities as well.  Get some bodywork done, meet with a Shaman or medicine person, an intuitive energy practitioner, or spiritual master.  Many people have been helped by trying out various types of healing methods or paths. 

Workshops, Seminars


There are some wonderful workshops, seminars, and classes that can help you with recovering from codependency. I’ll post a list here in the near future.

Hold onto hope, dear one. Overcoming codependency is possible.