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  • Writer's pictureKennedy McLean

Understanding Codependency (Anxious Attachment)

What is Co-Dependency?

Anxious attachment is what is most often referred to as codependent. Those with anxious attachment often feel as though they would like to be close to others or one person in particular but they worry that another person may not want to be close to them. They struggle with feeling inferior, never good enough.

The term “co-dependency” refers to a dysfunctional relationship dynamic in which one person’s needs are secondary to another’s. It is commonly developed in relationships with an addicted individual but also develops in other relationships.

Those with co-dependent characteristics tend to seek others’ approval, try to appease others, and care for others in an attempt to avoid conflict, rejection, and abandonment. They often have poor interpersonal boundaries and put their own needs aside in favour of the needs of others.

If you are questioning whether you may fit this pattern of relating, it may be helpful to think about whether you find it difficult to get in touch with your own feelings, being overly concerned with the needs and feelings of your partner. If so, this may prevent you from realizing your partner is unavailable or allowing you to shift the appropriate responsibility to them for situations that arise within your relationship. You may also find it difficult to make decisions on your own without worrying about how your partner will react to the choice.

Individuals who use codependent behaviours often have negative feelings such as insecurity, anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, helplessness, hopelessness, and feeling empty. For those with co-dependent tendencies, it can be difficult to find a sense of safety internally. A common sign of co-dependency in relationships is feeling unsafe when not with your partner. Feeling safe results from being with your partner and knowing that they are happy or experiencing positive feelings about you. While this is something that typically brings most people a sense of calm in relationships, having this as your only source of relational safety, or needing constant reassurance of this by being with your partner is a sign that co-dependency (anxious attachment) is present.

There is often a sense of impending doom, resulting in the need to take some sort of action to “fix problems.” Those with codependency issues, often attempt to solve problems for others rather than forcing others to take personal responsibility. This can result in exhaustion, chronic fatigue, and illness.

This compulsive need to care for others is driven by a need to manage anxiety, however, what is often neglected is one’s own need for stress management, rest, relaxation and the basic ability to attend to one’s own self-care needs,

Trauma and Co-Dependency

Trauma and co-dependency affect all areas of life. Prolonged periods of neglecting your own self-care and focusing upon the needs of others create emotional, behavioural, and psychological problems in all relationships. Additionally, many physical problems can result from codependent relationships and behaviours. Poor self-care involves inadequate stress management and ineffective management of one’s emotional health. Self-neglect, poor boundaries and poor self-esteem can create a tolerance for maltreatment, and acceptance, of the inappropriate behaviour of others.

If you notice patterns of codependency in your relationships, therapy can be very helpful. Therapy allows you to understand what your needs are and what you want. Therapy allows you to counter critical internal messages and develop a healthy internal voice. This may take some time. It is not uncommon for therapy to last a year or two to be effective and create new neural pathways. You should be prepared to spend time treating co-dependent patterns and anxious attachment. It is possible, however, to move to secure attachment. Stay tuned for further posts about attachment.

Reach out for a consultation if you are looking to enter therapy and would like more information

About Kennedy

Kennedy has been working in the field of addiction and mental health for 10 years. She currently runs a virtual private practice treating clients throughout Ontario.   

Kennedy's practice currently focuses on trauma, attachment, couples therapy. Associate therapists work with people of all ages experiencing a wide range of concerns such as stress, depression, anxiety, relationship distress, and grief for example.

Anything written in blog posts are the thoughts of Kennedy. They are intended to offer information that may be interesting or useful for contemplation.


Nothing written is intended to be a substitute for seeking professional help.

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