Have you ever had that friend who’s obsessed with hanging out with you? And maybe you feel the same way about them, or maybe you feel…suffocated. If you think you might be in a codependent friendship, let’s talk about it.
What is Codependency?
First, let’s break down the whole concept of codependency. The theory can be traced back to Dr. Karen Horney, who was born back in 1885. That’s right: your great-grandparents dealt with toxic friendships, too.
Dr. Horney actually called it the “tyranny of the shoulds” and explained it as a desire, mostly found in women, to figure out their true selves. But because of anxiety and low self esteem, they struggle to figure out who that person is.
As a result, they create an identity around someone else: whether that’s a significant other, a friend, or someone else close to them. Woof. It’s deep stuff.
7 Signs You’re in a Codependent Friendship
Alright, now that we’re on the same page about codependency, what does that mean when it comes to friendship?
Codependent friendships can manifest in a lot of different ways. It’s possible to be in a friend dynamic in which only one individual displays signs of codependency. Or, you might both be experiencing the feelings. Whether it’s just one person or both members of the dynamic, it’s a problem.
If any of these signs sound familiar, you might be in a codependent friendship.
1. You feel a loss of independence.
One major red flag is feeling like you can’t make decisions on your own, or that your decisions are under intense scrutiny by the other person.
If you feel like your entire life revolves around what your friend thinks about you or whether they’d approve of your choices, it’s definitely worth taking a step back. Or a couple steps back, if they ate a lot of garlic for lunch.
2. A new dating relationship means loads of jealousy.
When you started dating that new guy from Hinge, did your friend’s face turn a disturbing shade of green? Okay, if she’s not Elphaba, did she start acting super possessive and jealous of the person who is taking up more and more of your time?
Your friends should support your relationships (as long as he’s a good dude displaying all green flags, of course). If there’s no reason for your pal to be acting shady, that’s a sign of potential codependency.
3. Your emotions are shared.
Like a joint bank account, but for feelings, in a codependent friendship, you quite literally feel their pain. And that might be because they won’t stop talking about their problems and dumping their emotions on you.
Empathy is great, but sharing anxiety spirals is not recommended. It can be toxic to your own mental health and add a whole host of new problems to your life. Those 99 problems just turned into 198 of them.
4. No new friends.
Or even keeping up with old ones, in a lot of cases. Are you starting to feel like this friend is your *only* friend? It might even seem like bringing over your new friend from work is a recipe for disaster, because she makes your codependent friend feel threatened.
A huge sign of codependency is being unable to do anything on your own, so if you just invited this bestie to your uncle’s wedding so you won’t feel “alone,” it might be time for some reflection. And time to call your sister.
5. You’re not totally yourself around them.
Does your bestie make you feel awkward about the ways in which you’ve changed throughout the course of the relationship? In a codependent friendship, it’s typical to feel as though you’re playing a part around them, rather than being your genuine self.
Whether you fear ridicule or embarrassment, hiding part of your personality isn’t a good thing. Let your freak flag fly!
6. The dynamic is super one-sided.
Not all codependent friendships are one-sided, but a lot of them are. One party plays the role of helper, while the other is perpetual victim. Half of the friendship relies on the other person for constant support, but the flow often doesn’t turn back their way.
If you’re unsure whether your friend knows that the phone works both ways, you might be in a one-sided friendship – and a codependent one.
7. Boundaries don’t exist.
Keeping a secret from them is impossible because they refuse to accept any distance between the two of you. You can’t have boundaries in this friendship because it’s impossible to assert them. When you try, you just end up feeling guilty and anxious.
In a healthy friendship, both parties should understand and respect their buddy’s need to have certain boundaries. The types of things you want to share, amount of time you want to spend together, and the way you want to be spoken to are all examples of boundaries you can and should feel free to set.
How Can You “Fix” Codependency?
Some researchers have called codependency a disease, while others have equated it to a form of addiction. Codependents might have experienced childhood trauma that causes them to seek extremely close, borderline obsessive relationships. Translation: it might not be your (or your friend’s) fault for behaving this way.
Regardless of who’s to blame, this type of relationship is downright toxic, and it needs to be rectified, for the sake of both parties.
For the codependent member(s), going to therapy is a good starting point, as it can open the door to starting conversations about the root of the issue. A therapist can guide the individual into more healthy forms of communication and explore better ways to relate to others, while enlightening them about the harm of their actions.
And if you’re not the codependent one? You need to do what’s best for your own mental health. If the friendship means a lot to you, you could try having a conversation about how you’re feeling.
But if the other person isn’t receptive – or worse, gets defensive – in response, it might be time to take several steps away and force some space. If it still doesn’t change, a friendship breakup could be the best course of action.
It’s hard on both parties, but ultimately, you need to protect your own peace.