Codependency Is Trying To Keep You Safe

By Marshall Burtcher

Codependency isn’t a disease, identity or flaw in who you are. It is the result of a specific
biological reaction your body has to danger. This reaction is called “The Fawn Response”.
Fawning is the impulse to please-and-appease a threat so they’ll stop being threatening. This is one way codependency attempts to help you nurture three specific needs all human beings have: the need for safety, connection, and worth.

Today, we explore Necessity One: Safety.

The need for safety is the first crucial need that must be nurtured and cared for if real healing and freedom from codependency is to be achieved. This need has three types of safety:

The need for physical safety: This involves have a safe, reliable shelter, access to food, water, rest, and money. It also involves having reliably safe behaviors from those within one’s physical space

The need for emotional safety: This involves how safe a person feels to acknowledge their emotions and feelings, feel them, soothe them, and communicate them. This also includes how safe they feel receiving other people’s emotional communication, soothing, and presence.

The need for relational safety: This involves how safe a person feels to say no, say yes, ask for things, share concerns or complaints, and share emotions, affection, and bids for connection from others. It also includes how safe that person feels to receive no’s and yes’s to requests, to face and handle conflict, receive affection, connection, and emotional shares from others.

Codependency commonly tries to create these three types of safety through common codependent behaviors, including:

  • pleasing the other person by trying to make them feel good even though it doesn’t feel good to you or it violates your boundaries or capacity
  • avoiding conflict by tolerating and accommodating unhealthy, harmful patterns of behavior
  • trying to be perfect and ideal for their partner in order to prevent upsets, conflicts, harm, and tantrums
  • by trying to rescue the other person from the consequences they create with their choices and actions
  • by trying to fix a person’s feelings in order to alleviate the anxiety and risk of losing them

This also points to a crucial insight that can transform how you see your codependency:

Your codependent habits are a result of what you’ve been through. They are not a result of
disease or identity.

This allows you to explore who you are beyond your codependent behaviors and what other behaviors could work in those situations that also add more safety to your daily life.

This also gives you the chance to consider that those behaviors are not shameful. It is your
best effort to survive circumstances you had no power to change.

Here’s a question that can help you explore this right now:

What shifts if you trust, just a bit, that this is true?

Consider taking some time to ponder this and let yourself be with it, as one of the first milestones in your freedom is letting go, just a little, in the belief that your codependency is due to a fault or failure in who you are.

Marshall Burtcher, Codependency Healing Expert. Learn more about how Marshall helps codependents, people-pleasers, and perfectionists create lasting safety, fulfilling purpose, and loving relationships by joining his free workshop: Decoding Your Codependency. Join here:

6 Responses

  1. Vicki says:

    THANK YOU for accurately describing codependency!!! I thought, “Finally! Somebody got it right!! Codependency is a way to survive in a troubled family. Because there’s no place else for you to go.” Having grown up in that kind of atmosphere, as an ordained minister, I’ve seen and suspected this stuff going down in the pews.
    And much of “professional ministry” seems to be forced codependency.

  2. Joyce says:

    People pleasing and perfectionism, these two run strong in my family. Love in my home growing up was mostly transactional, and I was raised by a helicopter perfectionist mother who was emotionally unavailable, and who worked full-time in an era when mothers didn’t work outside of the home. Hence this left me at home for long periods of time with my younger sister after school being watched by our sitter, better know as T.V. I have learned so much from Marshall about codependency and how it is NOT a disease, and how I do not have to feel ashamed anymore about being codependent for MOST of my life, not understanding what it was and thinking that I was a huge failure in life and relationships, and most of the time thinking I must be crazy, or what is wrong with me? I now realize that my codependency was doing its best to keep me safe. I am so grateful for this awakening and for his teaching and mentoring. So much gratitude and respect for Marshall, for doing the work, and now helping others heal from codependency.

  3. C.M. says:

    Adaptations to survive a sick organization: the pathological intergenerational family system.

  4. Thank you for this.. confirmation!
    That I’m not to blame! Or have a disease or identity!
    But a result of what I’ve been through!
    Such a relief to me & validation!

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