Codependent or simply dependent: what is the big difference?

Dependent and codependent are two terms we hear frequently these days. But have you ever thought about what emotional dependency and codependency really mean? What differentiates one from the other? What are their most common characteristics and signs?

I think it is very important to talk about this topic, since the percentage of people suffering from dependence and codependence is quite alarming. Wegscheider-Cruse, a specialist in codependency, mentioned in one of his studies (1990) that 96% of the inhabitants of the United States are codependent.

Likewise, PSB Psicólogos estimates that 11% of the inhabitants of Mexico have a degree of affective dependence. They even pointed out that a percentage close to 50% have recognized that they suffer from dependency symptoms. The data provided is from 2008.

In my experience as a therapist I have seen many people suffer from some kind of emotional dependency, especially with their partners. Many times I am asked, Dr. Duany, how do I know if it is a simple dependency or if I am falling into codependency? Let’s talk about it below.

What does it mean to be codependent?

Before I explain what it means to be codependent, I want to share something with you. I always tell my patients that it is normal in any relationship to have a minimum degree of dependency. It is even healthy for the couple, because if we function as totally individualistic beings the relationship can also become unhealthy or dysfunctional.

However, it is necessary to set limits so that we do not end up being codependent. This term is often confused with dependency, but I must make it clear that they are not the same thing.

Codependency is a form of affective dependency, but it differs from this because here the person takes on the role of “savior” or “helper”. This is confirmed by psychologist Marcelo Aguirre, who explains that the codependent, with this role of giver, generates dependence in their partner. That is to say, they become indispensable for him/her.

How to recognize a codependent person? 7 main characteristics

The writer and creator of the RAN Method, Olga Fernandez Txasko, explains in one of her books that codependency is associated with a deep disinterest in oneself. Therefore, codependent people are focused on the needs of others.

The same author points out that codependents crave gratitude, a sense of always being needed. Likewise, marriage therapist and codependency expert Darlene Lancer, explains that the main symptoms of codependency are:

  • Shame
  • Low self-esteem
  • Denial
  • Dysfunctional communication
  • Control problems
  • Intimacy problems
  • Dysfunctional boundaries

In order for you to better understand how to know if someone is codependent or if you are having codependent traits, I’ll show you the 7 main characteristics of this type of person.

  1. Desperate need to feel loved.
  2. Exaggerated fear of abandonment, rejection or criticism.
  3. Extreme need to control the other.
  4. Difficulty in setting limits.
  5. Obsessive ideas.
  6. Judging themselves severely.
  7. Playing the role of victim, because, although their behavior of “helping others and being their savior” is not sincere, they feel used and not valued for the help given to their partner.

Moreover, in a codependent relationship, the focus will always be on the other person, so the codependent suppresses or ignores his or her interests, needs and goals. These characteristics are mentioned by psychologist Fernando Mansilla in his work Codependency and interpersonal psychotherapy (2002).

What is a dependent person?

After talking about codependency, I want to explain to you what it means for a person to be dependent and its central characteristics. This way you will be able to realize the clear difference between them.

Often people come to my office as a therapist and tell me phrases like “I cannot live without him” or “I cannot continue my life without her”, “I am going to die if he is not with me”. This type of beliefs or affirmations are typical in people with affective dependence.

According to psychologist Aguirre (2019), affective dependence comprises a set of emotions, behaviors and beliefs that are characterized by an intense need for affection (always unsatisfied). At the same time, the dependent person persistently and exaggeratedly demands attention, usually from his or her partner.

Main characteristics of a dependent person

Being dependent is not healthy at all. It can even be dangerous, because the dependent person feels that they need the presence of another person to do their activities and fulfill their dreams and goals in life.

Pay attention to the following characteristics. Do any of these behaviors or traits sound familiar to you?

  • Poor self-concept and low self-esteem, to the point of complete devaluation.
  • Tendency to Idealize others, seeking in them security and excessive support.
  • Intense fear of loneliness. Just the thought of separation causes anxiety. The dependent person even endures mistreatment, humiliation and abuse of any kind in order to avoid being abandoned.
  • Obsessively seeking contact with the other person.
  • Irrational jealousy.
  • Prioritizing the relationship over their most basic needs.

As you can see, the dependent person suffers a lot. Several studies have pointed out that it is a disorder that can be suffered by both women and men. It often involves various pathologies such as depression, crying spells, risky behaviors, among others.

The big difference between codependent and dependent

Now that you know the traits of dependent and codependent people, you have probably been able to establish the differences yourself. It is true that they have many characteristics in common, such as inordinate fear of abandonment, extreme need for affection and low self-esteem.

However, the big difference lies in the fact that the person who is simply dependent seeks in a direct way the affection and acceptance of the other. While the codependent individual presents himself as the “savior” of the dependent person, that is, they become dependent on the other’s need for dependence.

Remember that, if you have any questions about this subject or need help to treat your affective dependence or codependence, you can call this number 407 618 0212. I will be happy to assist you.