Co-dependency and Anxiety

Co-dependency would not exist without anxiety. As with addiction-related disorders more generally, the main driver of co-dependency is the attempt to control. This may take the form of actively manipulating another person or doing so by continually adjusting oneself in relation to them.

From powerlessness to controlling behaviour

From the start of life our needs are met by others; in the first instance by parents.  It is an appropriate form of dependency. When needs are not met, the neurochemical alarm bells of anxiety ring. The urge to control arises from feeling powerless and helpless at this critical time.  Compounding the simple deprivation of needs, we may also have suffered rejection, punishment or outright abuse. Given our imprinted vulnerability we inevitably feel vulnerable to the possibility of this happening again.

To stave off the anxiety that comes with this predicament people set about finding ways to “fulfil” unmet needs by any means available. Some form relationships with mood-altering substances or addictive behaviours while others are magnetically drawn to other people to serve this purpose; becoming co-dependent in the process.

Freedom delayed – The futile struggle of co-dependency

There’s one problem. We cannot get in the here and now as an adult what we should have had at the time it was needed. No substitute obtained today can make up for it.  That doesn’t stop us behaving as if we believed it could. To stave off the conscious experience of the distress of not getting needs met appropriately, we struggle to get them filled in a myriad of ersatz ways, including through the debilitating dance of co-dependency. The effect is constantly to postpone the acceptance of painful realities, which is where freedom is to be found.

The struggle keeps hope alive and this (unrealistic) hope powers the struggle. In co-dependent relationships it revolves around looking to the other person to fulfil needs. They are the one to make us feel alright in and about ourselves; thereby preventing conscious experience of hurt. Like a drug, the other person becomes the source of good feelings and of the prevention and relief of feelings like anxiety. When they don’t play the part we have assigned them, we become distressed. It is the same anxiety a substance-addicted person experiences when the continued supply of their drug of choice is threatened.

Co-dependent people lose themselves by growing an inauthentic self whose role is to obtain what the real self needs. But it can never succeed in this. No matter what is given to the unreal self, it can never satisfy the needs of the real self. So why not abandon the struggle? Anxiety about what might result is the answer. No wonder, because it will mean confrontation with uncomfortable, even painful realities.

5 steps from co-dependency to self-determination

  • Seek support from people with whom you can be open and honest
  • Acknowledge and understand how you relate
  • Identify needs, hurts and fears
  • Accept who you are; risk being yourself
  • Take the time you need

Get in touch

Clinically Reviewed By


Blog Resources

When to Seek Inpatient Treatment for Anxiety – 7 Signs It’s Time

Living with intense and uncontrollable anxiety can be an overwhelming and isolating experience. For many, traditional outpatient treatments may alleviate symptoms, but in some cases, a higher level of care becomes necessary.  Deciding when to seek inpatient treatment for anxiety can be a complex and highly individualised process, and this blog aims to shed light […]
Read More

5 Warning Signs of Suicide That Can Easily Be Missed

Suicide is a deeply complex and sensitive issue, and recognising the 5 warning signs of suicide can be challenging.  Individuals contemplating suicide often hide their pain, making it vital for us to be vigilant and informed. While we cannot always predict when someone is in crisis, being aware of potential signs and maintaining open communication […]
Read More

How To Raise Awareness for Mental Health

Knowing how to raise awareness for mental health, whether within schools for youth or within workplaces, can be a key factor in maintaining positive wellbeing in your communities. Awareness is crucial in helping people identify warning signs in themselves and others, reducing stigma and shame, and encouraging help seeking behaviours. Here we’ll explore effective strategies […]
Read More

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest news and wellness tips from the team at Clinic Les Alpes
No Fluent Forms Found