+356 9901 3629



When I first met Janet, it was to support her through what she described to me on the phone as burnout. I soon discovered that Janet was a stay-at-home mother to a 21 year old and married to an emotionally abusive man who was addicted to gambling. As her story unravelled, I learned that Janet’s daughter and husband were so dependent on her for support that they called her from work multiple times a day, her husband had a history of alcohol and drug addiction, and her daughter was unable to make any decisions without her mother’s approval and constant encouragement. Rather than seeing such dependence as dysfunctional, Janet smiled lovingly as she spoke about how much she was needed and how she was able to forgive her husband once again despite losing thousands of euros to gambling. Deep down, however, Janet felt unappreciated, exhausted and was so busy helping everyone else that she neglected herself both physically and emotionally.

What is co-dependency?

The term co-dependency was originally used to describe a person in relationship with an addict. The most typical example would be a person in relationship with an alcoholic. However, the term has now broadened to include any dysfunctional behaviour pattern in which one person is vulnerable or experiencing some kind of difficulties/problems whilst another person acts as the caregiver or ‘rescuer’, behaving in such a way that he/she enables and reinforces the other person’s vulnerability or problems. Co-dependent relationships involve one person who is under-functioning or struggling in some way and the other person who revolves their life around ‘helping’ or saving this person. The result is a vicious cycle in which both persons develop an unhealthy and dysfunctional dependence on one another.

Although co-dependency is more prevalent in romantic relationships, it can also occur between friends, family members and other close relationships. Co-dependency is so damaging because rather than support a partner to get the professional help they need, he/she would make excuses for the other person, denying to loved ones that a problem exists, giving repeated chances, failing to protect children from harmful behaviour and continuously sweeping in to save the other person. The ‘rescuer’ in this dynamic becomes the enabler, perpetuating a cycle in which the addict becomes dependent on the other person and is not motivated to seek help since he knows his loved one will continue to excuse him and take responsibility for his actions.

Common characteristics of someone who is co-dependent:

Low self-esteem – The co-dependent doesn’t think very highly of himself, causing him to look outside of himself for signs that he’s worthy or important. By ‘saving’ or rescuing others, he receives the approval and validation he craves.

Being drawn to people they can ‘rescue’ – Co-dependents are drawn to people who are vulnerable, weak, or in need of help. They then make it their mission to repeatedly save them from whatever it is they’re going through, resulting in feelings of satisfaction and fulfilment.

Poor boundaries – Co-dependents have an exaggerated sense of responsibility, taking on too much and assuming responsibility for the well-being and happiness of others.

Poor sense of self – People who are co-dependent find it hard to identify their own feelings and needs. This becomes more pronounced as their increased focus on the other person causes them lose sight of themselves.

Denial – Co-dependents are unable or unwilling to see a problem with their behaviour. Doing so would put in question their self-concept, purpose and relationships. Instead, the co-dependent believes that the problems are external or due to someone else’s behaviour.

How does co-dependency develop?

The roots of co-dependency are in childhood and in experiences with caregivers. Co-dependency is a learned behaviour, meaning that the adult co-dependent may have seen a parent behave in such a way. Through parental interactions they learn that in order to be in relationship, they must forget themselves and focus on the other person.

Co-dependency also develops in people who, as children, had caregivers who were neglectful, unavailable or abusive. A child who sees a parent struggle with an illness, addiction, or issues that make him/her unable to take care of the child, may need to step into a caretaking role. They may be forced to take care of themselves, their parent/s or siblings. The technical term for this is the ‘parentified child’, whereby the child cannot be a child but must take on the responsibilities and duties of an adult. For some children, this may be the only way for them to earn their parent’s love and attention – ‘My mummy needs me. I’m important’. If this pattern is then repeated in subsequent relationships, the result is an adult who is so busy taking care of others that they neglect themselves.

Recovery from co-dependency

In order to move away from this dysfunctional manner of relating within relationships, a lot of personal work needs to be done. This would involve the exploration and understanding of how early childhood experiences led to this dysfunctional way of relating as well as working on enhancing one’s self-esteem, identifying one’s needs, learning what healthy relationships look like and practicing setting and adhering to boundaries. As such behaviour patterns are so ingrained by the time the co-dependent reaches adulthood, seeking professional support from a counsellor or psychotherapist is advised as it would provide you with the support and guidance you’ll need throughout the recovery process.

Danjela Falzon - Malta therapy clinic

About Danjela Falzon

Danjela has been practising as a Psychotherapist since 2011, having read for a BSc in Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, followed by a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at GPTIM. She works therapeutically with individuals, adopting an approach which is warm and empathic, yet direct and challenging when necessary. She also works with groups, teaching mindfulness and providing support and guidance to reduce stress and anxiety.

TherapyPacks Terms and Conditions

1. TherapyPacks come in bundles of 5 or 10 sessions. Prices of bundles:

  • 5 sessions – €270 – must be utilised within 3 months from date of purchase
  • 10 sessions – €520 – must be utilised within 6 months from date of purchase

2. Bundles are not transferable. This means they cannot be used by, or gifted to, anyone else but the person whose name is listed as the TherapyPacks bundle holder.

3. Bundles which are purchased for Couples Therapy and Family Therapy can only be used by members of the couple or family with one therapist. If members of a couple or family decide to take up individual therapy with another therapist, the bundle will only apply to sessions with the therapist originally referred and cannot be also used for the individual sessions with another therapist. Exceptions will be made if the original therapist is unable to see the client or family and the couple or family are referred to another therapist. After referral, the same conditions will apply.

4. Bundles are valid for a limited time period, as listed above. This means that the bundles will expire once the respective time period has elapsed. Any sessions not utilised within this period will be lost. This means that a refund will not be given for unused sessions. Start date commences on date of purchase of bundles.

5. Bundles are only valid for full price sessions (charged at €60) and not for sessions with trainee psychotherapists, reports or assessments.

6. Full payment needs to be made on purchase, via bank transfer, cash or credit card.

7. Management reserves the right to terminate or suspend the use of the bundles. Reasons for such are at the discretion of the clinic.

8. Refunds or extensions of time period within which bundles may be used is at the discretion of management and will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

9. Management reserves the right to modify or replace the terms and conditions. In such circumstances, clients will be given adequate notice and time to adhere to such.

10. The clinic’s cancellation policy is applicable also to bundles. Late cancellations or no shows will result in the forfeit of a session within the bundle allocation.

11. Responsibility for ensuring timely use of session bundles remains that of the TherapyPacks bundle holder or, in the case of a minor, their carer/legal guardian.