What Are the Types of Codependency?

  The term codependency was first used to describe the relationship between people struggling with addiction and the partners who enable them. In the years since, our understanding of codependent behavior has evolved. We now know that codependency is linked to an underdeveloped sense of self, and a reliance on others to feel validated and loved. We also know that codependent behavior comes in different flavors.

  In today’s post, we’ll explore two types of codependency, and examine what it is that makes them different.

Types of Codependency

 As with many of our behaviors, codependency can be thought of as a self-defense mechanism that develops in response to our relationships. In a very real sense, it’s a survival strategy. As children, we learn how to get love. When we don’t learn to give that love to ourselves, we learn how to get it from others.

 Often, codependency develops in response to an unhealthy environment at home early on. A child learns that to receive love they must be quiet and well-behaved; tone down or hide parts of themselves to keep the peace. Alternatively, they may have learned to “fight back” against a controlling caretaker through some mixture of manipulation, triangulation, and conflict.

Passive Codependency

 We have a tendency to think of codependents as victims — and passive codependents do resemble this stereotype on the surface. A combination of low self-esteem, shame, and fear of rejection leads them to tolerate abuse and neglect from their partners. Because they do not love themselves, they look for validation and praise from others. This makes them vulnerable to manipulation and coercion.

 As a general rule, passive codependents are driven to avoid conflict. In order to keep the peace, they may neglect their own needs and desires, or defer to decisions made by others. It’s common for them to lie or cover up bad behavior by a partner in order to keep the peace among family members or maintain the veneer of a successful relationship. Their lack of self-love may make it difficult for them to set and maintain boundaries, causing them to sacrifice their own interests and goals in order to try to make their partner happy.

  Passive codependents may:

  • Be terrified of being alone, even when miserable in a relationship.
  • Find it difficult to establish & maintain their own interests.
  • Seek approval from others.
  • Neglect their own needs to serve others.
  • Struggle to advocate for themselves.
  • Tolerate physical and emotional abuse.
  • Be hypervigilant about other people’s tempers.
  • Lack an independent identity outside their relationship.
  • Isolate themselves from friends and loved ones.

photo of a man twirling a woman on the ocean at sunsetActive Codependency

 In contrast to a passive codependent, an active codependent feels most secure when they believe their partner needs them. This is often evident in the types of partners they choose. Active codependents are classic codependents in the sense that they may be drawn to partners who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction, impulse control, or other self-destructive behaviors.

 While we often associate codependency with submission and victimhood, an active codependent isn’t afraid of conflict. They often cast themselves in the role of caretaker or savior and expect praise and validation in exchange for their sacrifice and support. In a darker scenario, an active codependent may actually encourage or promote unhealthy behaviors in order to keep partners reliant on them. They may feed a partner’s addiction or undermine a partner’s efforts to achieve independence.

  Active Codependents tend to:

  • Exhibit controlling behavior.
  • Have trouble setting and respecting boundaries.
  • Need recognition & praise.
  • Remind others of their sacrifices.
  • Engage in manipulation.
  • Have explosive emotional reactions.
  • Guilt trip others

Getting Support

  Codependency is a difficult knot to untangle. Doing so requires recognizing and acknowledging the feelings of shame, insecurity, and unworthiness that drive it. If you or your partner is engaged in a pattern of codependent behavior, it’s important to seek help. With time, it’s possible to leave old patterns behind and approach love in a new way.

Reach out to learn more about codependency therapy, relationship counseling, or couples therapy to help your relationship get on a healthy track.