Most of us have experienced having a friend reach out and help us in a time of desperation, and most of us have done the same in our moments of need.
Having a shoulder to lean on is a good thing. But when one person in a friendship takes or gives more than the other, it creates a power imbalance. This is a characteristic of a codependent friendship.
We often view codependency as dysfunction in romantic relationships. The truth is, it can occur in any kind of relationship dynamic.
Why We Engage in Codependent Friendships
As humans, we are social creatures who often struggle without social bonds. Friendships are very important relationships for everyone. In some cases, the importance of the individual relationship becomes inflated, and some people form codependent behaviors within those friendships.
Codependency is usually caused by abandonment in childhood. We typically think of this as caregiver abandonment, but it can also be abandonment from friends. This can cause people’ to base their self-esteem on what others think about them.
We engage in codependent friendships for the same reasons we engage in codependent relationships—we want to keep people around.
Sometimes we don’t even know when a friendship has crossed the line from close to codependent. Close friendships are often romanticized. Being “joined at the hip” is often a term of endearment. It’s not wrong to have close friends, but codependency degrades the friendship.
Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) can cause codependent patterns and people-pleasing tendencies.
Individuals with RSD are unable to regulate their emotions when rejected, broken up with, or abandoned in any capacity. Most people feel distress in these situations, but those with RSD feel a much higher level of distress. In order to avoid these intense feelings caused by rejection, they develop codependent behaviors to maintain friendships, even if they aren’t healthy.
Finding the line of codependency isn’t always easy. When does being a supportive friend shift to being a rescuer?
Codependent friendships look very similar to codependent romantic relationships. Here are some codependent behaviors to look out for.
Two people in a healthy friendship will be able to maintain their own identity. If you and your friend start becoming synonymous, something could be wrong.
Close bonds can make you stronger. But if your friendship begins to become your identity, you may forget who you are. Taking time away from your codependent friend will help you keep healthy boundaries.
Giving a friend your time and energy from time to time is important. However, if you’re giving more of yourself than your friend is giving of themselves, then there is a power imbalance.
The issue with these power imbalances is they cause one person in the relationship to spread themselves too thin to help the other person. This isn’t fair and isn’t healthy. The author Penny Reid once said, “you shouldn’t have to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” Giving a little is healthy. Giving a lot isn’t.
Taking More Than Giving
Friendships are a two-way street.
Codependent relationships are marked by both disproportionately giving and taking. That means that there should be a balance between both roles and both people.
Depending on a friend for advice, emotional support, and help is to be expected. After all, you probably trust them and respect what they have to offer. But you have to also contribute to the friendship. It might not always be 50-50, but you only hurt your friends by making them your only support.
Once again, it’s okay to depend on your friends, but it’s not okay to use your friends.
More Signs of a Codependent Friendship
While imbalance giving and taking is the deep-rooted mark of a codependent friendship, you may be able to spot problems in other ways:
Feeling exhausted by friendships: If you find yourself being drained by your friend, you might be a giver in a codependent relationship. Friendships should be refreshing, not taxing.
Jealousy of other friends or romantic relationships: If you feel a sense of jealousy when seeing your friend meet other people, there’s a good chance you’re in a codependent relationship.
Taking on your friend’s problems: Again, it’s okay to be there when your friend needs you, but it can be dangerous to take the burden of responsibility on yourself in all situations.
Never having a break in communication, or feeling anxious if there is one: Having a constant flow of communication is not always a good thing. Feeling the need to have a constant text chain with your friend could indicate your friendship is becoming (or is) codependent. You should be able to comfortably not communicate.
Fear of Disagreeing: Codependent friendships are built on shaky ground. Disagreements between friends are a normal thing, but when your self-esteem is wrapped up in what your friend thinks of you, disagreements become shots against your self-esteem.
If you notice a recurring pattern of any of these signs, take a step back and examine the friendship. While closeness and friendship dynamics do fluctuate over time, these signs often indicate that the friendship is no longer serving you.
How to Deal With a Codependent Friend
Codependent friendships are rarely the “fault” of one person. Both people in the friendship probably contribute to the codependent nature of it .
Here are some things you can do to break codependent patterns and improve your friendship.
This is a hard step for people in codependent friendships. You may have been in this relationship for a long time and it may be hard to understand what your friendship and life will look like without the burden of codependency.
Spending time with your friends shouldn’t be draining. Setting healthy boundaries is helpful for not only you, but for your friends as well.
For some people, this might be their first time saying “no”. It will probably feel like you’re abandoning a friend or letting them down. Over time, however, you will notice it’s better for the both of you.
Expand Your Circle
Enmeshment leads to being completely inseparable. Take some time apart by spending time with other friends.
You don’t need to be best friends with someone to hang out with them. Fostering healthy relationships with people you aren’t super close with is a great soft skill to develop.
You shouldn’t go looking for a replacement for your codependent friendship. Instead, take the burden off your friendship by cultivating healthy bonds with other people.
When codependent people are enmeshed with someone else, it’s hard for them to know who they truly are.
You should take some time to do things on your own. If your friends are busy while you want to go to the movies, go to the movies alone and enjoy yourself!
Instead of looking for validation for how you want to spend your time, learn to trust yourself with your decisions. It might take a while to re-learn who you are, but taking baby steps is the best place to start.
Start doing things by yourself and take note of how you feel. Often, it’s pretty freeing.
Need a Little Help? Call Inner Balance
We can all use a little help from time to time, but relying too heavily on someone else will not only harm your friendship but harm your friend.
It’s hard to know where to start re-discovering yourself. Counseling can help give you the tools necessary for setting healthy boundaries, cultivating good relationship patterns, and how to love and care for yourself.
Inner Balance is a counseling team dedicated to helping people from all walks of life live the life they’ve always wanted. We approach all treatments and therapy sessions with the belief that everyone deserves to feel like they are safe and that they belong.