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Unhealthy Attachments and Codependency

Are you in love or are you in a codependent relationship? Unfortunately, we too often conflate the word “love” with “codependency” because we believe a strong attachment to someone means we also have positive feelings towards them. The truth is, we can be very attached to someone for the wrong reasons. The unhealthier the relationships we enter into, the more we believe this type of codependency is in fact, love.

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Over time, codependent relationships are incredibly damaging to our self-esteem. So, how can we know whether it is codependency or love? And how do we prevent ourselves from entering into yet another unhealthy relationship? Here is what we know.

Unhealthy Attachments vs. Healthy Attachments

Experts believe that unhealthy attachments are based on fear, whereas healthy attachments are based on mutual sacrifice and generosity. A good friend will do anything for us because they genuinely care about our well-being. They are not expecting anything in return for their good deeds, nor do they do good to manipulate us in any way. On the other hand, a bad friend will do something good for us because he or she wants something in return. Or, the bad friend wants us indebted to them. This creates a fear-based relationship in which deeds are performed out of bad motives to control or guilt-trip the other party.

So how exactly do you know that you have an unhealthy attachment? If you constantly feel guilty, anxious, unhappy, or unappreciated, you may be in a fear-based relationship. If you find yourself doing things for the other person out of guilt or worry, this is another good sign.

Experts also believe that we are bound to attach to people whether our emotions are based on love or not. If you are stuck on a desert island with one other person, you will form an attachment with that person out of necessity. If you suffer from low self-esteem and anxiety, an attachment born out of isolation can feel like love. You grow used to the other person. They may distract you from feeling bored, unhappy, or anxious. We then confuse this fear-based attachment with being in love, when really, we are just codependent.

Treating the Codependent Mindset

Signs of a codependent relationship include making excuses for bad behavior, neglecting important care for the other person, regular enablement, or coddling. If drugs or alcohol are a problem for one person, the other person may go to great lengths to care for and/or make excuses for him or her.

We enter into codependent bonds because we never learned healthy attachments growing up. Perhaps we witnessed a codependent relationship between our parents. Thus, we subconsciously see this type of attachment as normal even though we knew there was something wrong with it as a child. To break out of this bad relationship habit, you may need to first do some work on yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Understand Healthy Attachments – You have to know what a healthy relationship is to know what it isn’t. Healthy relationships are where two people make time for one another, allow one another to be independent, build each other up, show affection, and listen to one another.

  • Learn Good Boundaries – What are your limits in a relationship? Work with a therapist to understand which behaviors you will or will not accept from a future partner. Set these boundaries early on when you begin dating.

  • Build Your Self-Esteem – To set boundaries, you have to have healthy self-esteem. You need to believe you are worth protecting from harm. Talk to yourself more compassionately. Work with a therapist who can get to the root cause of your low self-esteem. Set some goals for yourself and work slowly to achieve them. Make sure you have healthy self-esteem before you enter into any type of relationship.

  • CBT/Group Therapy/Family Therapy – There are plenty of options available to help you sort through unhealthy attachments. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the more effective 1 on 1 forms of counseling to help you alter your behavior and change negative thinking patterns. If codependent tendencies began as a result of family dysfunction, family therapy may be a good option for you. Group therapy is where a codependent couple works together with a counselor to break the unhealthy attachment. This is only effective if both parties are willing to work on it.

Do you struggle with low self-esteem or unhealthy attachments? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.


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