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How Does Family History Impact Codependency?

May 21, 2024 | Codependency, Family Therapy, Personal Growth

Throughout our lives, we all strive to achieve independence. For some, this can hit roadblocks during struggles with dependency in relationships, especially within families. For those who are codependent, the inability to achieve independence can create worries about family history and a genetic basis for these behaviors.

While genetics plays a role in one’s tendency to become codependent, research indicates that the majority of codependent behaviors result from upbringing and a child’s environment. Those raised in environments where their role models were themselves codependent learn to model these behaviors and use them to navigate future relationships.

While there may be a genetic predisposition to manifest codependency, these genes alone do not determine that behavior. Everyone has the freedom to break free from codependency and achieve healthy self-reliance.

Understanding Codependency and Independence

Independence and dependence are natural relational strategies we develop through our upbringing and experiences in family dynamics. While independence involves self-reliance and autonomy, dependence involves relying on others for support, comfort, or decision-making.

Neither of these strategies should be viewed as the ultimate goal; rather, the aim should be to cultivate a balance where healthy interdependence allows for mutual support without sacrificing personal autonomy.

Codependency is a dual relationship strategy in which both individuals are dependent on one another for support, validation, and security. In these relationships, often, one individual takes on the role of the caregiver while the other becomes a dependent. This dynamic can create a pattern where the caregiver feels valued only through their ability to serve or rescue. Simultaneously, the dependent person may struggle to develop self-sufficiency and autonomy.

While this dynamic may appear as interdependence on the surface, it typically fosters mutual reliance rather than mutual respect and support, leading to a cycle that can be difficult to break without conscious effort and self-awareness.

Are Codependent Tendencies Genetic?

According to our current understanding, codependent tendencies are not directly inherited through genetics but are significantly shaped by family dynamics and learned behaviors.

Children who observe and internalize their parents’ relational patterns may develop similar tendencies. For example, if a child grows up with one parent consistently prioritizing the needs of others at the expense of their own, the child might learn to replicate these behaviors in their own relationships, viewing them as normal or necessary for relational success. In some families the child is placed in the role of peacemaker. The child learns that they must put the needs of others before their own in order to bring a sense of stability to the family. This family dynamic may lead to a child growing up with the expectation that codependent relationships are inevitable.

That isn’t to say there aren’t genes that regulate codependent behaviors, such as empathy or a tendency towards caregiving, or that these genes don’t play a role. However, codependent behavior is most often passed down through generations through modeling and reinforcement of specific relational strategies, which we can understand through Bowen’s family systems theory.

The Role of Family Environment in Shaping Relationship Patterns

Bowen’s family systems theory (published in 1966) posits that the family operates as an interconnected system where each member’s actions influence the whole. According to Bowen, children often adopt and internalize the relationship dynamics they observe from their parents, who in turn learned their behaviors from generations before them.

In other words, codependent tendencies can arise through learned behavior passed down through several generations. While this manifestation isn’t genetic or predetermined, it’s still rooted in family history and the shared upbringing of past generations.

While Bowen’s theory offers valuable insights, it’s not without its limitations. The theory may not universally apply to all family units, especially those of different cultural backgrounds than the typical Western family. Further, the theory lacks clinical empirical evidence to support some of its broader assertions.

Despite these limitations, the core concepts of Bowen’s theory help us understand how certain behaviors, including codependency, are not genetically predetermined but instead passed down through observational learning and interaction within a larger family system. The takeaway is that behaviors linked to codependency are ultimately learned and therefore can be modified or unlearned.

Breaking the Cycle: Steps Towards Independence

As codependent behaviors are learned, not innate, it is possible for everyone to challenge them and achieve autonomy in their lives and relationships. Building independence involves setting boundaries, maintaining personal values, and learning to achieve internal validation. These steps provide a framework for self-reliance and resilience, which are important for psychological health and emotional regulation.

While fostering independence is essential, it is helpful to recognize that it isn’t the ultimate goal but a step towards interdependence, where one’s autonomy is balanced in mutual support between partners or peers. The goal of independence is to build oneself up to the point where one can support others and depend on them without losing one’s individuality or personal freedom.

Towards that end, here are some helpful strategies to build autonomy and foster independence:

  • Set Boundaries: Learn to say no and prioritize your needs first. Neglect the temptation to please others and focus on self-reliance when possible. This step may require reflection to determine what you are willing and unwilling to accept in a relationship.
  • Set Aside Personal Time: Spend time focusing on yourself and your interests, especially those that may not align with your partner’s interests. Prioritizing alone time is essential for emotional regulation and developing self-awareness.
  • Develop Self-Awareness: Engaging in self-reflection to understand your relationship patterns, family dynamics, and underlying motivations goes a long way to identifying and consciously modifying codependent behaviors or tendencies.
  • Build Self-Esteem: Participate in activities that you’re good at and make you feel accomplished, such as hobbies, unique skills, or a subject you’re interested in. This step also helps develop internal validation, removing the need for validation from others.
  • Participate in Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy offers a direct and empathetic approach to addressing the roots of codependent behavior, how it manifests, and strategies to manage codependency in relationships. Therapists allow you to express concerns openly and receive effective feedback on navigating relationship issues.

Understand the Roots of Your Relationships With Start My Wellness

While codependent relationships are never desirable, they can be persistent for individuals caught in the dance of dependence. While some may feel bound by the relational patterns they’ve observed and internalized in childhood, it’s crucial to recognize that these behaviors, deeply rooted in family dynamics, can be modified through self-awareness and deliberate action.

Start My Wellness understands the complexities of navigating codependent relationships and is equipped to help individuals and couples address their relationships with healthier relational strategies. Our team of dedicated professionals has years of experience in working with individuals and couples seeking harmony and balance in their relationships.

If you’re ready to take the step towards healthier relationships and greater personal freedom, contact Start My Wellness today at (248)-514-4955 and meet our therapists. Start your journey to wellness now; we’re here to support you every step of the way.


  1. Start My Wellness: What Does It Mean To Be Codependent or Independent?
  2. Start My Wellness: The Difference Between Codependency and Interdependence
  3. Start My Wellness: The Overlap Between Codependency and Narcissism in Relationships
  4. Bowen Theory Academy: Bowen Theory: History and Concepts
  5. Journal of Marital Family Therapy: Is Bowen Theory Valid? A Review of Basic Research
  6. Start My Wellness: Is Codependency Bad in Relationships?
  7. Start My Wellness: How to Break the Cycle of Codependency
Dr. Anton Babushkin

Author: Anton Babushkin, PhD

Looking for a Therapist? Start My Wellness has highly experienced Licensed Therapists that are currently accepting new patients.


Blog Posts Tags: Personal Development
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