The term codependent personality is used to describe a person who intensely focuses on the needs of others, causing harmful or unhealthy effects. Codependent people usually tend to ignore their own needs and are devoted to caring for friends, family members, and others. Although taking care of others is often a good trait, a codependent personality is not capable of knowing when to let others work out problems on their own. He or she may also have difficulty ending abusive or unhealthy relationships. Treatment, such as psychotherapy and medication, is usually recommended to prevent other conditions, such as addiction, panic disorders and eating disorders, from developing.
One situation in which codependency often causes problems is in a parent-child relationship. Although taking care of a child's needs is important, if a parent does too much, the child may not learn to be independent. Codependency also can become an issue when a codependent person takes care of another who has an addiction problem; in this case, the codependent person may become an enabler, making it easier for the addictive behavior to continue.
In some cases, codependent relationships can be mentally or physically abusive as well. In these cases, the codependent person often is unwilling or unable to put a stop to the abuse. A person with a codependent personality may have unhealthy relationships in all aspects of his or her life.
There are a number of personality traits that are typical to a codependent personality. Denial, or the refusal to accept or acknowledge problems, and low self-esteem are two qualities that codependents often display. Because they can have difficulty putting themselves first, codependents are often skipped over for promotions at work and are likely to ignore their own medical problems or illnesses. A codependent personality may also have difficulty making decisions, may participate in activities they don't enjoy to make other people happy, and might frequently offer unsolicited advice.
Seeing a counselor or psychologist to work through codependency is one treatment option, which can sometimes be combined with medication. Other therapies that are similar to the 12-step program used by organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous might also be helpful for a codependent personality. A number of self-help books have also been written on the subject.
If not treated, codependency can sometimes lead to other problems. Social anxiety, panic disorders, eating disorders, and addiction are some examples of self-destructive behavior that can result from this personality disorder. Codependent people also may suffer from depression or other stress-related issues.