Codependency in Parent-Child Relationships

By Lisa A. Romano, Codependency Expert and Life Coach Specializing in Transforming Trauma Through Consciousness.

What is Codependency?

Codependency is a term that describes an unhealthy way of relating to others and is associated with an anxious attachment style that can lead to emotional dependency. As children, codependents learned to suppress their emotions for the sake of attachments to emotionally unavailable parents. At the subconscious level, we are those who feel unworthy of love and, as a result, carry great shame. We feel safest when we are sure of how others think about us, which perpetuates the obsessive drive to cater to the needs of others as a way to ensure those we care for will not abandon us, even if doing so is at the expense of ourselves. These drives are subconscious and part of human survival instincts. If we are parents from unhealthy homes, who seek approval to avoid abandonment, we can easily find ourselves in codependent relationships with our children.

Signs of Codependency in Parents:

Difficulty Setting Boundaries:

As codependent parents, we have difficulty setting boundaries with our children. Their approval is our subconscious aim. When faced with a situation requiring us to assign a limit to our children, we may experience cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a term used to describe the psychological stress one experiences when faced with mental and emotional conflicts. For example, consider the parent who knows she should set a boundary with the son who has driven himself home drunk, who at the same time fears losing his approval. The need for a boundary threatens the unmet need for attachment to someone she loves. Until a codependent parent awakens to this conflict, their mind will default to choosing an attachment over the need for a boundary, which triggers the fear of abandonment. The cycle of codependency then continues into the next generation.

We Can Enable Poor Behavior:

Codependent parents enable. In childhood, many codependent adults dealt with deep feelings of loneliness. Magical thinking allowed us to fantasize about being rescued. These fantasies helped us soften the darkness of feeling abandoned and offered us a respite from feeling unwanted. As adults, rescue fantasies can remain activated and play out in enabling our children’s poor behavior.

We can find ourselves over-empathizing with our children and playing the role of rescuer. However, codependents also want to be rescued, although these are subconscious desires. People-pleasing is a covert attempt to rescue another for the sake of being rescued by someone else’s through emotional dependencies.

Ouch!

Lack of Confidence in Parenting Skills Leads to Destructive Relationship Dynamics:

Subconscious, unhealed wounds interfere with our ability to parent with confidence, autonomy, and clarity. Rather than parent from a place of self-assuredness and clear boundaries, we wreak with anxieties. As our children age and their needs become more complex, gaining and keeping their approval becomes more challenging. When our children were toddlers, it was easier to please them. We also knew they needed us, which helped soothe many of our abandonment wounds. However, as our children grow and their needs become more nuanced, subconscious fears and a lack of coping skills create great psychological stress for codependent parents.

We can become overbearing, intrusive, passive-aggressive, and emotionally dysregulated by not knowing how to manage our children’s growing autonomy. Codependent parents can also give up trying to parent their children and switch roles. When this occurs, children control their parents, and the parents are now subservient to their children’s demands. This unhealthy dynamic can continue for a lifetime.

Lack Self Care:

The fear of disapproval combined with the need to be needed is so intense we, as codependent parents, will give up our hobbies, friends, and outside interests to cater to our children’s emotions. In the process, we will deny how we feel, what we need, and what we think to manage our children’s emotional states. We don’t know how not to make our children our focus and rationalize our inability to focus on the self as being evidence that we are good parents, the ones we, in fact, never had. As a result, we enmesh with our children, deny ourselves self-care, stuff our emotions, and say yes when we mean no, and can develop physical and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Below the veil of consciousness, we are unaware we are not taking care of the self, despite feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and invisible. Our needs don’t matter, and our focus remains on our children’s state of being.

Model Victimhood and a Lack of Accountability:

Mary was a client who was distraught when her daughter’s high school called to tell her that her child faced suspension for stealing another peer’s cell phone. Mary was deeply conflicted. She was a codependent parent who had lost control of her children and home. Her fear of upsetting her daughter interfered with her ability to set boundaries. Even though she knew her daughter was in the wrong, she threatened to sue the high school for causing her daughter emotional duress. And, when it turned out her daughter was guilty, Mary faced the consequences of living in fear of her daughter’s reactions to boundaries. Her daughter blamed Mary for why she stole the cell phone and threatened to move in with her father.

Mary grew up feeling unloved and unwanted as a child. So when she married and decided to have children, she swore she would give her children all the love and affection she never received. But, unfortunately, unhealed abandonment wounds and a deep need for attachment trumped her ability to raise her daughter with the intention of personal accountability. By saving her daughter from the consequences of her actions, Mary bypassed the subconscious fear of risking her daughter’s approval. Instead, at the subconscious level, Mary was securing her unhealthy attachment to her daughter and reinforcing emotional dependency.

Mary learned that the school’s threat to suspend her daughter triggered her, and as a result, she, in turn, felt threatened. By default, Mary threatened the school in response to unhealed abandonment wounds, hoping, at the subconscious level, that by doing so, rescuing her daughter, would result in her daughter feeling supported as well as dependent upon her. Unraveling the many layers of faulty subconscious patterns responsible for her codependent relationship with her daughter paid off when she began setting healthy boundaries despite her child’s complaints and threats.

The Next Generation of Codependents:

Children of codependent parents can become codependent themselves. A parent taking on the responsibility for their child’s emotions is conditioning their child to worry about the parent’s emotions. In time the children of codependent parents begin to navigate the world through the lens of codependency. They learn to believe it is their responsibility to cater to the needs and emotions of others at the expense of themselves. As a result, they are far more likely to suffer psychological stress. They will struggle to know themselves as separate from others and seek a sense of identity through the role of caretaker, people-pleaser, enabler, and fixer.

Low Self Esteem:

Children who lack healthy ego boundaries and worry more about how others perceive them than how they feel about themselves lack healthy self-esteem. A child with healthy self-esteem has learned to see themselves as worthy, valid, competent, and independent of others. They have been encouraged to think their thoughts and to master their environments through trial and error without overbearing parents wishing to buffer a child’s right to learn to adapt to challenging situations.

On the other hand, a more codependent parent is more likely to buffer their children’s emotions, interfering with their children’s ability to face an obstacle and develop the thinking skills required to overcome these challenges. Coddling their child and rescuing them from developing the skills necessary to adapt creates a lack of self-confidence in the child. Children who feel enmeshed and responsible for their parent’s emotions risk giving up their autonomy for the sake of their parent’s need to be relied upon.

Toxic Relationships Ahead:

The child of a codependent parent is at risk for toxic relationships. They will struggle to know what they think and feel, separate from how others think and feel. They will develop a propensity to lose themselves in relationship dynamics, deny self-care, and feel responsible for the well-being of others at the expense of themselves. They are far more likely to partner with those with high-conflict personalities, such as narcissists, addicts, and those who lack awareness and accountability.

How to Break the Cycle:

You can help your child be less codependent by healing the abandonment issues, most likely at the core of your codependency. As you begin the healing journey back to the divine self and learn to discover who you are at your core, minus the unhealed wounds created in childhood, you slowly develop a healthier and more realistic perception of self. You learn to value yourself for who you are at the authentic level instead of how well you please others by catering to their needs and rescuing them from irresponsible behavior.

Learning about your innate gifts, passions, and desires are ways to detach from needing your children to need you. Eventually, know to monitor how your wounded ego may desire approval without giving in to the old programming. It becomes easier to set boundaries and encourage your children to think and feel without worrying about what you think or how you feel, to the point of disowning themselves, to ensure your mood remains stable. You also learn to set appropriate boundaries, especially when others prefer you don’t.

The good news is a codependent parent can heal. More often than not, when a parent learns that they are codependent and their codependency has affected their children negatively, they are full of remorse and want to do all they can to correct their mistakes. Codependent parents are shocked to learn how their denial of abandonment wounds condition their children to disown themselves for the sake of others. This reality check is often the wake-up call they need to begin their codependency recovery journey. What codependent parents could not see within their enmeshed relationship with their child, they can identify when considering their child’s future adult relationships.

Resources for Codependent Parents:

As a recovering codependent parent, I highly recommend the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. This book was the dose of reality I needed to help me become aware of codependency’s negative and long-lasting implications. Recovery forced me to face my fears head on, which often made me feel like my skin was being ripped from its flesh. It meant I had to release my attachments to beliefs I had relied on to function in my world and my relationships.

Codependency recovery, if faced with conviction, willingness, courage and humility, will bring you to the doorway of the dark night of the soul. The ego of a codependent believes it must edit itself in order to survive. On the recovery path, you will discover a truth that will demand you release these ego attachments, which will cause you great despair. You will not know what is on the other side of letting go, and that will frighten you. However, if you keep on the path to wholeness, the comfort of oneness will bring you ease.

Today, I am a Life Coach, author, mentor, and guide for those wishing to make it out of the darkness of codependency. After more than 20 years of recovery, I now offer personal clients and students a science and spiritual based online course that is helping them heal codependency, through the raising of consciousness.

To learn more about Lisa’s flagship program, The 12-Week Breakthrough Coaching Program, which is helping wounded adult children break the cycle of codependency in their lives and the lives of their families, visit: https://www.lisaaromano.com/12wbcp

2 Responses

  1. Elaine says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. Namaste Elaine! I hope this information has been helpful.

    All my love,
    Lisa A. Romano

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