Codependency is a self-defeating pattern of behavior - a tendency to act in overly passive, caretaking and controlling ways that can cause resentment, negative impact on your relationships, and diminish your quality of life. Codependency is simply characterized as too little focus on your own needs and too much focus on caring for the needs of others.
You may believe that you are responsible for solving other people’s problems. This belief is often based on the assumption that people you care about, or those you have been responsible for, are incapable of being responsible for themselves.
It is important to distinguish between heartfelt, compassionate giving and a self-defeating pattern of codependency. One difference is in the quality of the giving; a codependent person might feel compelled to take care of someone, while having trouble receiving caregiving themselves. A person who is simply giving to another in a healthy manner, also has the capacity to receive loving attention and help from others; their identity is not dependent upon always being the caretaker.
While you may realize that your caretaking pattern of behavior has become an issue, it may be difficult to correct because you feel guilty when you have to say “no” to people you care for or someone to whom you feel obligated.
In fact, this guilt may present your biggest obstacle in caring for your own valid needs. Perhaps you grew up in a family in which rescuing others was routine, and you learned that this is what a good person does. Or you may have learned that to be a good Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim, you need to sacrifice your needs in order to help others. If you are a woman who is usually responsible for caring for the home and everyone in it, codependency is an especially important issue to understand and resolve.
While you may feel tired and drained from attending to the needs of others, it may also be challenging to change your behavior because you have developed a “need to be needed.” The first steps in overcoming codependency are to become more aware of your wants and needs, to learn your true value, and to take responsibility for creating an enriching and satisfying life.
Excerpt from “The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Work Book” by Davis, Eshelman and McKay