Are You Kind or Actually Codependent?

Darlene Lancer LMFT
open hands with flowerPhoto byLina Trochez/Unspash

(Author benefits from affiliate links in this article.)

Do you wonder whether you're a kind, empathetic person or codependent? There is a difference between empathy and codependency. Some codependents are not so caring, and some people who are are not codependent. So what's the difference?

First, the definition of codependency has nothing to do with kindness, although many codependents are kind and may be selfless and self-sacrificing to an unhealthy degree. But it stems from dependence and insecurity, because they need other people's validation and appreciation to feel worthy. On the other hand, genuine kindness has no strings attached. It comes from love, not fear.

Many codependents easily empathize with others, but not enough with themselves. They may have learned to take care of others if they had to take care of younger siblings or an ill or emotionally immature parent. If they grew up in a troubled environment, they may have been emotionally abandoned and confused pain and love. Although relationships have disappointments and conflicts, love isn’t supposed to be painful and hurt so much.

Codependents have a habit of ignoring their needs and constantly putting those of others first. By not having boundaries, they harm themselves and the relationship. They can confuse love with being needed and become a caretaker to someone who is needy, like an addict or narcissist. In the extreme, they can become enablers.

Another big difference is compulsivity. Codependent caretaking is compulsive. They can't say no to someone who needs them. They feel compelled to help or give advice. They become people-pleasers. Their empathy is combined with a need to be needed, which can lead to control. They may get resentful when their advice is ignored or their help is refused.

They also feel responsible for other people's needs and feelings. Thus, they feel guilty if they don't provide help. Meanwhile, they often ignore their own needs and don't take responsibility for them. In fact, meeting their own needs can feel selfish, so they don't ask for them and don't set boundaries.

Caretaking vs. Caregiving

Parental love is expected to be unconditional and one-sided toward their young children. As they grow, good parenting includes mutual respect for each other’s boundaries. Caregiving is a normal outgrowth of love and is also part of healthy adult relationships. When someone we love is in need, we naturally want to help.

To help you differentiate between caretaking and healthy caregiving, here is a list of the differences:


Sacrifices self to others

Can't say no to requests

Is dependent on the relationship for self-esteem

Self-righteous about own opinions

Helping is compulsive

Feels responsible for others

Crosses boundaries with unsolicited advice

Is judgmental

Knows what’s best for others

Gives with strings attached or hidden expectations

Feels exhausted, irritated, frustrated, anxious

Feels unappreciated or resentful

Discourages others from thinking for themselves

Uses nonassertive, pushy, judging, “you” statements

Tries to control the recipient


Practices self-care

Respects others’ opinions

Helping is volitional

Maintains autonomy in relationships

Feels responsible for self and to others

States their limits and sets boundaries

Respect boundaries. Waits to be asked for advice

Feels love and empathy

Knows what’s best for self

Gives freely without expectations

Feels energized

Doesn’t take others’ actions personally

Encourages others to solve their own problems

Uses assertive “I” statements

Supports recipient

A Caretaking Quiz

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you give unwanted advice?
  2. Do you judge your partner?
  3. Do you believe that you know what’s best?
  4. Do you repeatedly do things for your partner that he or she is capable of doing?
  5. Does your partner meet your needs?
  6. Is your giving reciprocated?
  7. Do you practice self-care?
  8. Do you feel responsible for your partner’s negative feelings?
  9. Do you feel guilty saying “no” to your partner?
  10. Do your partner’s problems preoccupy your thoughts?
  11. Can you listen without giving advice?
  12. Do you get upset if your advice isn’t followed?
  13. Do you give with strings attached?
  14. Is it uncomfortable to listen to another’s problem and not offer solutions – even when asked?

Detach and Let Go

Watching those you love struggle can be very difficult, and it can take all your strength not to jump in and help, especially when others expect you to behave in the old way. They’ll likely try to reel you in to give advice and other help. Because caretaking can be a compulsion, you may need outside support to maintain your boundaries and not be overwhelmed with guilt. You can learn How to Be Assertive and set limits.

Detachment doesn’t mean being emotionally cold, but taking a hands-off – ego-off approach. This is truly loving someone. Your guilt will lessen in time and with it resentment making for a better relationship. Read more on detachment and enabling. Get “14 Tips for Letting Go” on my website.

© Darlene Lancer 2023

Lancer. D. (2012) Codependency for Dummies, 2nd ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert author on relationships, narcissism, and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for over 30 years and coaches internationally. Her books include "Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You," "Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist - Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships," and "Codependency for Dummies," plus seven ebooks, webinars, and other resource materials. Her books are available on Amazon, other online booksellers and her website,, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”

Los Angeles, CA

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