Dr. Susanna La
Codependency and Caregivers
Updated: Apr 28
Have you always been a caregiver? Do you continually prioritize the well-being of others and tell yourself your needs aren’t as important?
There are several definitions to codependency, and patterns of codependency can look different depending on our lived experiences, environment, and personality traits (Beatie, 1992). To read more about codependency, click here. In today’s blog, we will be focusing on what codependency looks like for helpers and/or caregivers.
Generally, codependency is about relationships and how others can affect us in unhealthy ways. For caregivers, this can often look like being consumed by worries for how others are doing (family, friends, colleagues, etc.), people-pleasing, not expressing our own thoughts/feelings, and/or losing our sense of self. Our identity can be dependent on trying to “fix” other people’s problems and not focusing on our own. This may also be due to not recognizing our own emotions and/or problems.
If this sounds like you, remember you are not alone, and this is not your fault. Typically, helpers, who have codependent traits, come from families with addiction or mental/physical health concerns, so their families were likely emotionally absent/neglectful, etc. (Beatie, 1992). If you grew up needing to be the ‘responsible one,’ you may have gravitated towards ‘helping’ professions because this is a role you are familiar with. Our early life experiences can become a blueprint in our future relationships, both personally and professionally.
Self-Worth and Codependency
As humans, we survive by being in community, and it is natural to be impacted by how others are doing. Codependency takes this a step further, in that when people we love are not doing well, we also suffer and feel unwell. We may feel responsible for other people’s feelings, their life choices, and in charge of taking care of all their needs. When we are unable to help despite our best efforts, we may feel guilty and/or sad. We can also feel resentful that others don’t do the same for us. Often, we don’t express our needs (likely because we are unaware of them), so others do not know we may need help.
Not only can our thoughts, emotions, and actions be influenced by others, but oftentimes, our self-worth is too. These are examples of how codependency in caregivers impact self-worth beliefs:
You blame yourself for other people’s struggles
You feel guilty for not being able to solve other people’s problems
You try to control how others live their lives
You fear rejection/abandonment
This can cause you to overexert yourself
Have poor boundaries
Difficulty saying "no"
Discount compliments but also want external validation
Have unrealistic expectations of yourself
Can be perfectionists
You ‘should’ yourself (e.g. “I should be able to handle everything.”)
Causes you to not feel good enough
You don’t have a secure identity aside from helping others
You become a workaholic
You believe by ‘fixing’ others' problems, you will feel better
Avoid taking care of your own needs
Poor mental health
Burnout and/or fatigue (learn more here)
Unhealthy coping (e.g., emotional eating, binge-watching tv shows)
You likely know this but might not believe it, but your needs matter. If you find yourself often feeling numb (read more here), depressed (learn more here), isolated, angry, overwhelmed, etc. due to your role as a caregiver, there is hope in creating meaningful change within you to feel better.
If you are interested in therapy to improve the relationship(s) you have with yourself and others, you can reach out to us here.
Our next blog is "To Be a Perfectionist or Not?"
Beattie, M. (1992). Codependent no more: how to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself.
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.