Codependent Pattern


Cares for others rather than self

Invested in being a helper

Inability to say No to requests for help

Drawn to people who need help. Tries to be savior of troubled people. Women Who Love Too Much.

May avoid doing anything that may make others feel uncomfortable

May try to keep peace between others, placater, go-between

Feels guilty for not doing enough to help others


Social Change Behavior

Burned-out activist who sacrifices for the cause

Feels responsible for solving world’s problems

Feels guilty for not doing enough to save the planet


Motivation/Core Issues

Responsibility for Others

Conditional valuing of caretaking behavior

Compensation for deficiency, attempt to get contact by caretaking, hope that people will give back



Parents shaped caretaking behavior toward siblings

Parent expected and trained child to take care of her, relied on child as confidant

The only value the child felt was through caretaking

Sibling or parent was in need

Parentified child

Child blamed for parent’s or family’s troubles

Opposite reaction to neglectful or depriving parent

Internalization of codependent parent



I care about people


Unconscious Thought

My only value comes from caring for others



Self: Caretaking, responsible for other’s happiness

Other: Inadequate, in need


Sees Others As

People to be taken care of


Healthy Capacities Blocked

Individuation, responsibility 


Gender and Culture

More common in women, therapists

Part of traditional female conditioning


Activating Conditions

People who are in pain, difficulty, or need

People who are young, poor, emotionally disturbed, medically ill

The codependent person may even seek out such people



The codependent person is also attuned to others, but this is in order to comply with them rather than taking care of them

The needy client shows the need more directly. The codependent client hides it behind the caretaking

Caring is a healthy capacity, but this is not done in place of taking care of oneself and not for ulterior motives of compensation.





Tends to be controlling in an attempt to help. Takes over and tell others what to do for their own good. This is a combination with the controlling pattern.

Origin: Since parents were incompetent, the codependent person feels that if she doesn’t take care of things, no one else will, and there will be chaos or parents will have nothing to give her


Avoiding Harm

Person goes out of her way not to do anything that might cause another person pain or discomfort of any kind. Holds back any negative feelings. Focus is more on other than self. Especially dangerous transference issue.

Origins: Fragile parent who fell apart or laid guilt on child if she caused parent any discomfort.


Combinations of Codependent Pattern with Other Patterns

Compliant: Person avoids doing anything that might upsest someone

Insecure: Person wants to take care of others but is afraid she can’t do it well or they won’t want her to

Needy: Cares in hopes of receiving caring back

Entitled: The person imagines that she is very loving and caring toward others, but she is actually intrusive or smothering. She is really only interested in her own needs for contact and ignores other’s actual needs or boundaries.





Tends to be attracted to needy, victim, insecure




Related Technical Concepts

Codependence from addictions field: addicted to caretaking an alcoholic or addict



Tries to take care of therapist

Picks up on clues of therapist’s pain or life struggles and engages therapist in talking about them. Notices therapist’s insecurities and assuages them.

Protects group leader from attacks from other group members

Avoids expressing any negative feelings toward therapist or doing anything that might make therapist uncomfortable. Can focus more on therapist than herself. This can seriously interefere with the therapy.

May tell therapist how wonderful he is


Countertransference toward Codependent Client

Allows client to take care of him.

Tries to help client caretake people in her life rather than challenging pattern.


Countertransference of Codependent Therapist

Focuses too much on nurturing and not enough on taking clients into their pain or being challenging. Afraid to make clients uncomfortable.

Gratifies rather than healing


Group Roles/Positions, Strengths of Some Codependent Clients

Caretaker, assistant leader

Can be genuinely caring and helpful to other group members




Understanding Needed by Client

That the caretaking is a pattern and not simply healthy caring.


Access (core issue)

Deficiency: deprivation, neglect, rejection, etc.

Pain of being blamed for parents’ problems


Access (healthy capacity)

The client’s own needs and desires



Asserting one’s own needs and aggression

Allowing others to be in pain and struggle through it themselves

Seeking out people who aren’t in need


Healing Reponses

That therapist can take care of himself and doesn’t need anything from client

Interest in the client’s needs and desires. Support and appreciation for the client asserting her desires


Inner Healing

Allowing oneself to feel the pleasure in taking care of oneself


Potential Problems

The other group members can exploit the client as a caretaker and allow her to ignore her own work