Women are socialized as caretakers. When we are both socialized in this way, and come from dysfunctional families where our emotional needs may not have been met, we sometimes take caretaking to an extreme. It becomes imperative to attempt to control others, and to care for others instead of ourselves.

Melody Beattie has written two essential books toward understanding codependency: Codependent No More, and Beyond Codependency. She has compiled an impressive list of characteristics that follows:

In relation to caretaking, codependents may:

- think and feel responsible for other people - for other people's feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny.
- feel anxiety, pity and guilt when other people have a problem.
- feel compelled - almost forced - to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings
- feel angry when their help isn't effective.
- anticipate other people's needs.
- wonder why others don't do the same for them.
- find themselves saying yes when they mean no, doing things they don't really want to be doing, doing more than their fair share of work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves.
- not know what they want and need, or, if they do, tell themselves what they want and need is not important.
- try to please others instead of themselves.
- find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others, rather than injustices done to themselves.
- feel safest when giving.
- feel insecure and guilty when somebody gives to them.
- feel sad because they spend their whole lives giving to other people and nobody gives to them.
- find themselves attracted to needy people.
- find needy people attracted to them.
- feel bored, empty and worthless if they don't have a crisis in their lives, a problem to solve, or someone to help.
- abandon their routine to respond to or do something for somebody else.
- overcommit themselves.
- feel harried and pressured.
- believe deep inside other people are somehow responsible for them.
- blame others for the spot the codependents are in.
- say other people make the codependents feel the way they do
- believe other people are making them crazy.
- feel angry, victimized, unappreciated and used.
- find other people become impatient or angry with them for all the preceding characteristics.

For a much more detailed list of characteristics, please see Chapter 4 in Melody Beattie's Codependent No More.

It may be difficult for a codependent woman to read the above list of characteristics without judging herself harshly. It is important to remember that the first step in healing is awareness, and that all of the above characteristics can be overcome through therapy.

A therapist with expertise working with codependency issues also knows that healthy women need to choose to nurture, not force themselves to do so. The nurturing itself is not the problem. An innate caregiving ability is also not a negative thing. An experienced therapist can assist each client to learn to nurture herself and to enhance her self-esteem in the process of healing.

Lori Bennett, LCSW
Boulder Therapy for Women