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  • Writer's pictureAbi Sims

Codependency & CPTSD

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) is caused by ongoing trauma, typically childhood trauma, that's caused insecure attachment in children and manifests itself through emotional flashbacks, a loud inner and outer critic, toxic shame, self-abandonment, social anxiety, feelings of loneliness and abandonment, fragile self-esteem, attachment disorder, developmental arrests, mood vacillations, relationship issues, sensitive fight/flight response, oversensitivity to stressful situations, and suicidal ideation (Walker, 2013).

Codependency is when we look to others to meet our needs and give us a purpose. When codependent adults were children, they were taught that it's more important to be avoidant or compliant than authentic, and rigid beliefs were instilled in them about how the world "should" work. These children were taught that if they just got it right, then they would be safe. If they "got it wrong", their sense of self-worth dissipated.

Not all people who have CPTSD are codependent, but all people who are codependent have CPTSD.

We're going to walk through the different behavioral patterns of codependency. Take notice of the behavioral pattern category you find you have the majority of behaviors in. It'll give you deeper insight into areas of your CPTSD and attachment that need some healing.

The information about codependency behavioral patterns is provided by Codependents Anonymous.

"The following checklist is offered as a tool to aid in self-evaluation. It may be particularly helpful to newcomers as they begin to understand codependency. It may aid those who have been in recovery a while to determine what traits still need attention and transformation."

Denial Patterns

  • minimizing, altering, or denying their true feelings

  • having difficulty identifying what they're feeling

  • lack empathy for the needs and feelings of other people

  • label people with their negative traits

  • perceive themselves as an unselfish person who's dedicated to the well-being of other people

  • express aggression or negativity in passive or indirect ways

  • think they can take care of themselves without help from others; struggle asking for help

  • mask pain using humor, anger, or isolation

  • Unable to recognize when people they're attracted to are unavailable, physically or emotionally

Low Self-Esteem Patterns

  • Struggle making decisions

  • Struggle admitting when they've made a mistake

  • Judge what they do, think, or say very harshly; feel like they're never good enough

  • Are embarrassed to receive praise, gifts, or recognition

  • Place the value of other people's approval about their feelings, behavior, and thinking over their own

  • Do not see themselves as worthwhile or lovable

  • Seek recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than

  • Unable to figure out or ask for what they want and need

  • Have to appear right in the eyes or other people; may even lie in order to look good or "save face"

  • Perceive themselves as superior to other people

  • Look to people to provide their sense of safety

  • Have difficulty setting healthy boundaries and priorities

  • Struggle meeting deadlines, completing projects, or getting started on something

Compliance Patterns

  • Extremely loyal, often remaining in harmful situations or relationships for too long

  • Compromise their own integrity and values in order to avoid potential anger or rejection from others

  • Accept sexual attention when they want love

  • Make decisions without thinking too much about the consequences

  • Give up their truth to avoid change or to gain approval from other people

  • Put aside their own interests to do what other people want to do

  • Hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others; they often take on those feelings

  • Afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when it is different from others

Control Patterns

  • Attempt to convince others what to do, feel, or think

  • Believe people are not capable of taking care of themselves

  • Freely offer advice without being asked; becomes resentful if others decline their help or reject their advice

  • Use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance

  • Give gifts and favors to people they're wanting to influence

  • Have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with people

  • Use charm and charisma to convince others that they have the ability to be compassionate and caring

  • Demand that other people meet their needs

  • Use shame and blame to emotionally exploit others

  • Rejects cooperation, negotiation, or compromise

  • Pretends to agree with others to get what they want

  • Adopts an attitude of indifference, authority, rage, or helplessness to get what they want and manipulate the outcome

  • Use of recovery words/jargon as a way to control the behavior of others

Avoidance Patterns

  • Act in ways that encourage others to shame, reject, or express anger towards them

  • Harshly judge what other people say, do or think

  • Avoid emotional, sexual, or physical intimacy in order to maintain distance from people

  • Addictions to things, people, and places distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships

  • Use of evasive or indirect communication as a way to avoid conflict or confrontation

  • Declines to use tools of recovery, therefore diminishing their ability to have healthy relationships

  • Suppress their needs or feelings as a way to avoid being vulnerable

  • When people start to get close to them, they push them away

  • Believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness

  • Withhold expressions of appreciation


Are there specific patterns you recognize in yourself? Don't panic! One of the key steps to healing from CPTSD is learning more about ourselves and our trauma. Learning about codependency is a part of that step! It can give us greater insight into our behaviors and provide us with a roadmap back to our childhood: how did we get here? Where did we start?


At Root Counseling, we're passionate about helping clients understand more about CPTSD and how codependent patterns affect their lives. To schedule an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.

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