Nursing Blog

Nurses, Are We Codependent?






Rumor has it nurses have a tendency to be co-dependent.  Shocking?  I think not.  I mean look at the profession that we have chosen… Is it strange that more than just a few of us have a need to be needed or have a slightly abnormal desire for people to depend on us?  Before we delve deeper, let’s first take a look at what the “fuzzy” definition is of a codependent person, specifically if that person is a nurse.  This isn’t exactly black and white but the best description I can find is below.


Codependency, what is it?


• A tendency to place the needs and wants of others first and to the exclusion of acknowledging or addressing ones own.
• Difficulty adjusting to changes at work or at home (electronic MARs, administrative changes, staffing shortage).
• Difficulty in asking for help or for what you need (orientation, training, personal time).
• Workaholism (working back to back shifts).
• Taking on more than you can handle professionally and personally.
• A pattern of relationships with needy or unstable people.


It’s obvious that people who have a tendency towards codependent behavior and who have a need to be needed may be drawn to professions in the medical field and also some other professions such as social work or law enforcement to name a few; but aren’t we expected to be codependent?  Isn’t that what our patients and their families, as well as hospital administrators and just plain old society, expect from us?  If we weren’t slightly codependent would we offer to stay and work extra when asked constantly?  Or when a horribly sick patient is giving up and caring less and less about themselves, isn’t it a little bit of our codependency that kicks in and cares for them and about them even more than they do for themselves for the time being.  Doesn’t this character defect that we are said to have benefit the people we are both looking after and working for?  I wonder if we all became incredibly mentally healthy and codependent free would hospitals function as well?  And also, would the patient satisfaction rating go plummeting down?  I’d bet yes.  

Unfortunately, codependency while it may benefit hospitals and patient satisfaction ratings to varying degrees for some time, inevitably, it will cause harm to us and have negative effects in the long run which will not benefit anyone, least of all ourselves.  Nurse burnout is a real thing and a codependent nurse is going to burn out a lot faster.  The codependent nurse may be a rock star in the profession initially, however, after a few years we won’t be good for anyone unless we learn to practice some self-care.  So how do you know if you’re codependent?  Here is a little quiz in addition to the characteristics listed above to see if you are a part of the club.  

Read the following statements and choose the most honest answer: 1–rarely true, 2–often or sometimes true, 3–almost always true.


  1.    People are not trustworthy.
  2.    I feel uncomfortable asking for what I want and need.
  3.    I worry my partner may leave me.
  4.    Other people’s problems keep me up at night and distracted during the day.
  5.   I give to others much more than others give to me.
  6.    When someone I care about is upset, it is my responsibility to help them feel better.
  7.   It is difficult to receive compliments or praise.
  8.    I don’t really believe other people love me.
  9.    If people would just fix their own problems, I would be happier.


Brush up those math skills and add up the numbers associated with your answers. This isn’t an official diagnostic tool but just a friendly tool to see if maybe it’s time to take a compassionate look at yourself.

(9–14) Highly Healthy—You have a calm confidence and appreciation of self. You may have moments of doubt or worry, but you also have a strong base of self-worth and trust in others. You can savor intimacy and ask for help. While no sane person enjoys watching another suffer, you can appreciate that your role in their suffering is never the sole cause, nor are you their savior. You can be present and balanced for both your own and others’ hard times.

(15–21) Room to Grow—You have moments of clarity, peppered with stress. You may find that when alone you can sense being a whole, fulfilled human being, but when around certain people, you can’t hear your inner voice as well and feel a bit shaken. You may be sensitive, unsure of yourself or wanting attention. You may feel pulled in many directions when someone you care about is hurting. Be aware of all of these reactions. I invite you to ask yourself: when (someone else) does (something), how do I feel? Or, when I believe (a stressful thought about myself, someone else or a situation), how do I feel and what do I do?

(22–27) Help is Out There—You have some things going on that would cause most anybody some emotional stress. Not only can this be internally and spiritually damaging, but nothing exists in a vacuum. Are your relationships with other people all that you want them to be? Do you feel, or understand, happiness? What role do other people play in your life?  If you are looking to change your behavior and not burn out too early in your career think about speaking to a therapist.  There are also codependents anonymous groups in various locations.  You can find a meeting near you at


A great book: Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie.


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