My Grief Care

Grief & Mental Health

5 Episodes

Episode 4 : Co-Dependency and Grief


Episode Notes


Let’s talk about codependency and how it may figure into grief issues. Before we talk about codependency, let’s first discuss independence and interdependence.

Most mental health professionals will tell you that learning to be independent (i.e., being able to take care of yourself such that you are a fully capable, functioning adult) is one of the main goals of maturing through childhood and becoming an adult.

As parents, we should be (but too often are not) attentive to this goal for our children. Because without learning to be independent, a person will likely not have a very satisfying or enjoyable life.

Once a person learns to live independently, they have a new challenge. As adults, our relational and social functionality level depends on learning to be “interdependent” with other adults. An interdependent relationship is founded on two or more people, each of whom can live independently, but are also mutually supportive of others.

Unfortunately, some people do not become functionally independent. And as such, they are unable to become properly interdependent. They remain dependent, as we all are when we are children. And this lack of learned independence typically leads to unsatisfying couple relationships and dysfunctional young adults for various reasons.

Being codependent with another person means we have an unhealthy level of dependence on each other. For example, a codependent relationship may occur between a person who needs to dominate in a close relationship and a person who has not become self-dependent, meaning that, even as an adult, they could not function without leaning on others in an unhealthy way. Another example of a codependent relationship is when one person enables another person who has a problematic impulse issue, such as alcoholism, to continue with the problematic issue so that he/she won’t fully suffer the consequences of their impulses.

When co-dependent persons lose a person with whom they are codependent, they may struggle more than those who have learned independence and interdependence. Not only have they lost someone important to them, but depending on the specific dynamics of the relationship, they may also struggle with guilt about how they treated the person who died, or they might experience paralyzing fear because their dependency issues are very great and they are once again unable to live independently.


If you sense that your loved one and you had an unhealthy codependent relationship and the dependency aspect of your lost relationship complicates your grief, I would highly recommend that you find an experienced mental health counselor/therapist and involve that person in your grieving journey. The exercises and information throughout our program will be very pertinent to your loss. But you are most likely going to need some additional help.

Codependency is very common and takes a variety of forms. Just because you feel defeated, empty, hopeless, and even afraid doesn’t mean codependency was an issue for you. Grief symptoms are often very similar to specific mental health problems. The difference between them is that grieving after a loss is not unhealthy because your reaction is natural and normal. If codependency really is part of the problem, you’ll know because you will probably be stuck in your grief, and you’ll likely find yourself looking to re-enact the dynamics of your lost relationship through a different relationship.


(1) Part of growing up to become an adult is to learn independent living skills.

(2) If we have learned to be independent, the next challenge is to learn to be interdependent.

(3) Being interdependent means that both persons in a relationship have autonomous, independent living skills, and they can enhance each other’s living experience by mutually supporting each other without compromising either person’s independence.

(4) Co-dependency means one or both persons in a relationship believe that they cannot thrive, or even exist, without the other person.

(5) Co-dependent relationships are not healthy and can complicate the grieving process, which will often require additional help from a mental health professional.

STEPPING STONE: Ask yourself, before you lost your loved one, was there anything about your relationship that seemed unhealthy? Was there a significant power differential between you and your loved one? Did one of you enable unhealthiness in the other (e.g., helping the other continue with unhealthy behaviors)? What did that look like if you are aware of a co-dependency dynamic in the relationship? Consider speaking to a counselor or therapist about how losing this person is impacting your healing from the loss.

REFLECTION: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love . . . for the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Khalil Gibran, The Prophet