Toxic Codependent Relationship Patterns | How to Recognize Them

Toxic Codependent Relationships

toxic couple in codependent relationship

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Codependency in a relationship usually occurs when one of the partners has a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). If your partner has either one of these personality disorders, you might find yourself stuck in a toxic codependent relationship.

Codependents can also end up in toxic relationships with their family members, friends or coworkers – toxic environment can include anything from dysfunctional family patterns and toxic romantic relationships to harmful friendships and unhealthy work environments.

Everyone wants to be loved, accepted, respected and cared for. Nevertheless, some people engage in dysfunctional, toxic relationships that they don’t know how to manage. Toxic codependent relationships suck the energy out of us, leaving us stressed out and anxious.

Moreover, dysfunctional relationships can seriously damage our mental and physical health. These relationships don’t have to include physical abuse. It can simply be the constant nerve-wracking feeling that you are walking on the eggshells.

Family Systems and Their Effect on Personality

Dr. Murray Bowen, an American psychiatrist constructed the theory of human behavior that understands the family as a unique emotional system. According to the Bowen family systems theory, a change in one family member’s functioning is followed by changes in the functioning of others.

Dr. Bowen believed that family members often live under the same “emotional skin”. In other words, families profoundly affect their members’ feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. In codependent relationships, family members seek each other’s attention and approval, react to each other’s needs and expectations, and cope with each other’s strains.

For example, Borderline Personality Disorder in one family member shapes the feelings, thoughts, and actions of others, creating the toxic dynamics and behavioral patterns. Research has shown that childhood experiences within the family can increase the possibility that someone with a biological predisposition to BPD develops this disorder.

How to recognize that you are engaged in a relationship with a person with Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

BPD and NPD Toxic Codependent Relationship Patterns

Codependent relationships always happen between two people, where one person is “in need” and tends to soak up the other’s energy. The other person, the codependent, compulsively takes care of the other (this can be a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend, and so on) at the cost of their own needs, feelings, and overall wellbeing.

Both BPD and NPD behavior patterns include swift mood swings, impulsive behavior, sudden anger and aggression, potential violence, substance abuse, and a great fear of being abandoned. The person usually has an inflated self-image and be extremely charming, fun, and persuasive. At the same time, these individuals are exceptionally arrogant, self-occupied, and lacking empathy (Eddy & Kreger, 2011).

In addition, your narcissistic partner may act very controlling – they may tend to select the friends for you, restrict your contacts with family, blame for their own failures, and lack empathy for your needs and feelings.

Furthermore, while emotionally healthy people base their feelings on facts, persons with BPD or NPD will unconsciously revise the facts to fit their feelings.

Another important characteristic of BPD is impaired, black-and-white thinking also called “splitting”. Your partner with BPD will idealize you at the beginning of the relationship and then cast you off when you become unable to meet their demands.

Codependency can easily become a path towards self-destruction. However, this pattern is highly treatable with support and therapy. Counseling combined with self-help strategies such as setting healthy boundaries, mindfulness meditation, and affirmations can help you make a huge difference in your life and the lives of your loved ones.


Eddy, B., Kreger, R. (2011). Splitting. Protecting yourself while divorcing someone with borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, CA

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