Defining codependency: A thematic analysis of published definitions

Document Type

Book Chapter


Nova Science Publishers

Place of Publication

New York, United States of America


School of Psychology




Dear, G.E., Roberts, C., & Lange, L. (2004). Defining codependency: A thematic analysis of published definitions. In S. Shohov (Ed.) Advances in Psychology, Volume 34 (189 - 205). New York, United States of America: Nova Science Publishers. Original article available here.


Numerous definitions of codependency have been provided in the literature but none is universally accepted, making it extremely difficult to investigate the concept. Several reviewers have reported their impressions of what constitute the common elements among the more widely cited definitions, but no systematic analysis has been reported. Therefore, we undertook a systematic thematic analysis of 11 published definitions of codependency and identified four core elements: external focusing, self-sacrificing, attempting to control other people, and suppressing one's emotions. Several other characteristics were listed among the 11 definitions but these were either clarifications of the core elements, widely recognized psychological phenomena (e.g., substance use disorders, low self-esteem), or only listed within a minority of the definitions. While a clear definition of codependency emerged, this does not provide evidence that an actual disorder exists. Researchers need to develop psychometrically sound measures of each of the four components of codependency.