10 Revealing Signs of a Codependent Parent and How to Heal
In This Article
Parents are human and imperfect. We know that intellectually but many cultures instill the belief to honor your parents almost to the point of putting them on a pedestal. This can make it challenging to spot the signs of a codependent parent as you subconsciously blame yourself for everything.
Related Reading: What Is Codependency - Causes, Signs & Treatment
What is a codependent parent?
While codependency is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, some overlap exists with a dependent personality disorder. As this therapist’s summary of Dependent Personality Disorder describes, being overly dependent on others means being unable to function without support.
Trying to answer the question “what is a codependent parent” is more complex. As Melody Beattie explains in her book “Codependent No More,” many definitions overlap with other disorders. This is why the DSM doesn’t attempt to single it out.
Nevertheless, it helps to understand the definitions before launching into the signs of a codependent parent. This then makes it easier to explore who your codependent parent is and how to relate to them.
Beattie quotes psychologist Robert Subby’s definition of codependency as “an emotional, psychological and behavioral condition that develops as a result of prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules.”
Despite the considerable debate about what is codependency, most professionals agree on the range of signs of a codependent parent. The Codependents Anonymous website summarizes the patterns of codependence well, where the result is that children grow up suppressing their feelings and needs.
This paper on the Lived Experience of Codependency further explores how codependency in parent-child relationships traditionally came from addiction but has since been expanded to include family homes with “emotional, relational and occupational imbalance.”
In short, the signs of a codependent parent create a “rigid and unsupportive” environment where feelings, needs and choices are ignored and often belittled.
What causes codependency in parents: 5 reasons
The signs of a codependent parent can come from a range of causes. Regardless, the bottom line is that it stems from childhood experiences.
Related Reading: What Causes Codependency And How to Deal with It
1. Lack of emotional support
Codependent parents often grew up without the nurture and emotional connection they needed to develop fully as children. They, therefore, learned to suppress their needs and emotions while nurturing the belief that they’ve been abandoned.
2. Parental power struggles
This belief of rejection develops as children can turn into parental codependency. Essentially, one of their parents used power and control to create a misguided sense of being needed and hence valued.
In some cases, this portrays itself as overprotectiveness of the loved one in question, whether that’s their partner or child. Alternatively, it can translate as taking excessive responsibility for others and attempting to control others.
They then later repeat the same habits with their children. So the signs of a codependent parent cycle to the next generation.
3. Generational trauma
The signs of a codependent parent often include learned behaviors from their parents, those who came before them, and so on. Attached to that is the impact of culture and society on beliefs.
In their book Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap, two psychologists explain how rigid and hierarchical roles between men and women exacerbate the tendency for codependency within family units.
The idea is that most people learn the dominator rather than the partnership approach when it comes to relationships. This doesn’t create a dynamic where all parties can freely express themselves and nurture their identities alongside the family’s needs.
4. Addiction and abuse
Codependent parents can also come from homes where one of their parents battled with substance or physical abuse. This creates chaos and uncertainty such that they become “caretakers.”
Caretaking is one of the signs of a codependent parent when they ignore their own needs. They become so responsible for caring for others that it creates an imbalance. Over time, they become victims and feel undervalued for all the “help” they are giving.
The sad truth is that that help is neither wanted nor is it, in fact, helpful.
Related Reading: How Does Drug Abuse Destroy Your Marriage?
5. Neglect and betrayal
The belief that there is something wrong with them is the core foundation of codependency. This shame can come from abuse or living with addicted parents.
It can also come from emotionally unavailable parents or parents who dismiss their children’s need to express themselves freely. Neglecting emotions and feelings is just as damaging to a child’s development as abandoning them in the streets.
5 effects of having codependent parents
Codependency is a form of emotional abuse regardless of whether there is a chemical addiction or not. Either way, it generally stunts emotional intelligence, empathy and mindful attention. This is further described in this study on the impact of codependency.
1. Loss of self
A codependent parent is both the controller and the caretaker. They often mean well. Nevertheless, by being over-involved with their children, those children do not learn to connect with their inner worlds.
As a result, they believe they are only worthy when paying attention to another’s needs. This prevents them from developing an individual identity that doesn’t rely on the codependent parent.
That’s why the first step in breaking codependency with parents is to discover who you are and what you want in life for yourself.
2. Dysfunctional relationships
The effects of a codependent parent linger long into adulthood. As you never learned independence, your codependent parent is essentially in your romantic relationship making the decisions for you.
You end up with a codependent partner or an enabler who further reinforces your learned codependent behaviors.
Related Reading: 15 Signs of a Dysfunctional Relationship
3. Anxiety and depression
Living with the signs of a codependent parent often leads to anxiety and depression. After all, you’ve become entangled with the codependent parent who makes you doubt or ignore your feelings and needs.
So, how to deal with a codependent parent is to start standing on your own two feet. Rather than seeing every small hurdle as a problem for them to fix, try to problem-solve with others or on your own.
4. People pleasing
When enmeshed with a parent who makes our own decisions, we tend to do whatever people want.
Instead, breaking codependency with parents means seeing their unhealthy patterns of life. Whether they’re manipulative, controlling or passive-aggressive, you must tap into your anger of being made to be someone you’re not.
Through release comes peace and, eventually, forgiveness.
5. Emotionally stuck
The effects of a codependent parent are that you learn to suppress your emotions and feelings. Consequently, you become emotionally distant from those close to you and perhaps even avoidant-attached.
The alternative effect is that you might become overly needy. This is because you don’t know how to interpret or answer your emotions. Such an anxious attachment style is usually linked to codependents and you might even notice your own codependency coming through.
10 common signs of a codependent parent
Review these codependent behavior examples as you reflect on your own habits.
1. Disregarding your boundaries
One of the most common signs of a codependent parent is that they don’t understand how to respect boundaries. It’s almost as if you’re one person with no sense of separation.
2. Telling what to do and think
Codependents can either be compliant or controlling. With the latter, they tend to manage others using blame, guilt, charm and even force.
3. Passive aggressive
On the other hand, the compliant signs of a codependent parent are to be so overly subservient that it becomes manipulation. It’s a form of “look what I do for you” without directly saying the words, so you feel shamed into following their will.
4. Disproportionate concern
Codependents have low self-esteem and feel worthy by putting someone else’s needs first. This then usually cascades into being overly caring or concerned.
In this case, how to deal with a codependent parent means reclaiming control of your schedule and your space. Letting your codependent parent do everything from cooking to managing your handyman might seem helpful, but in the end, it stops you from managing your own life.
The signs of a codependent parent revolve around sacrifice. As their self-worth is so wrapped up in someone else’s needs, the more they do for that person, the more they feel justified.
To codependents, this sacrifice is a positive behavior. They live in denial that they are causing any harm by preventing another’s self-growth.
6. Ignoring your needs and desires
As mentioned, many codependent behavior examples include bringing you into their way of thinking. This type of control and disregard for what you want comes from believing others can’t manage their lives.
This is in contrast to the compliant martyrs. They tend to be afraid to express themselves freely and only exist to serve the other person.
7. Extreme anxiety and anger
As codependents have suppressed their emotions and feelings, they usually don’t know how to handle problems. So, in the face of uncertainty, they tend to show extreme anger.
Anxiety is further linked because it stems from fear. Moreover, both anger and fear are evolution’s responses to threats. In the case of codependents, anything that threatens their control, or lack thereof, can lead to extreme reactions.
Codependency between parent and child often comes across as a more subtle form of control. On the one hand, the “helper” creates situations where the child needs the parent to survive.
On the other hand, codependent parents can become bullies. In that case, the child finds giving in to their demands easier.
Due to their low self-esteem, codependents fear rejection and criticism. This then translates into one of the signs of a codependent parent. In this case, they make things out to be the end of the world. It’s just one of the many ways to force people to stop and return to them.
10. Take things personally
Because codependents rate their worth based on others, they are highly protective of them and any comment or criticism reflects on them. Moreover, they hold on so tightly to their denial that they could do anything wrong that they are easily triggered.
They then often don’t know how to deal with their pain. So, they might isolate themselves or create more chaos. This is usually a bizarre attempt to make themselves needed to clear things up again.
5 ways to heal codependents
The day you finally realize that your parents are human and fragile like everyone else is the day you can start healing. As you embark on your journey, you’ll gradually sense the dynamics with your parents shift.
1. Learn to connect to feelings
To heal from the signs of a codependent parent, you must first learn to experience your emotions and how they differ from feelings. The first refers to bodily sensations. The second is the story or meaning your mind attaches to the sensations.
2. Explore boundaries
As you explore your emotions, you’ll better understand your needs. Then, you’ll need to learn how to set boundaries with codependent parents.
In this situation, common boundaries include what language you will accept from your parents and how often you see and talk to them. The tough part is enforcing them assertively and compassionately.
3. Heal your inner child
The most critical aspect of recovering from codependency between parent and child is reparenting your inner child. In essence, you never received the love and nurturing you needed. So, now you need to find ways to meet those needs.
Part of that might involve grieving a lost childhood as you explore what it means to support and love yourself internally.
For more ideas on inner healing, watch this TED talk by Kristin Folts, an Inner Healing Coach:
4. Examine the art of letting go
As you start healing your inner child, you’ll uncover many emotions. These will range from anger and shame to sadness and despair. Hard as it sounds, make sure you experience all those emotions. At the same time, you’ll naturally uncover the signs of a codependent parent and their specific impact on you.
As you process those emotions, you’ll start accepting that the past is the past. Nevertheless, you can change how you respond to it. You’ll then grow from the experience. With time, you’ll also gradually start letting go of the need for revenge, or even control, over your parents and others around you.
5. Get support
The journey isn’t easy, especially as you’re initially lost and confused because you never developed independently. Without role models for healthy relationships and supportive boundaries, we often need to turn to a relationship therapist.
Alternatively, you can also consider doing a 12-step program with CODA.org. This well-known group offers a structured process alongside the power of group support.
Some commonly asked questions
Here are the answers to some pressing questions that give more clarity on the topic of codependent parents:
Can you develop a healthy parent-child relationship after healing from codependency?
As described in most books on codependency, there’s an ongoing debate about whether it is a disease or simply a set of learned behaviors. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.
Either way, brain plasticity tells us that we can change, which implies that we can heal from parental codependency. Again in the book Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap, the authors provide a story of hope.
In summary, if we all do our little bit to heal internally, we will gradually heal our families and even our society. We’ll learn how to set boundaries with codependent parents and others around us, nurturing loving partnerships.
Is it possible for codependent parents to love their children?
If you take psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s definition of love from his book The Road Less Traveled as being the will to nurture and support another person’s growth, then no, codependent parents do not love their children.
The signs of a codependent parent mean that they confuse love with needs. So, when they sacrifice themselves for their children, they are simply fulfilling their desire to be needed.
Then again, nothing is quite so black and white in this world. Beneath the fear and anxiety, love can always be found. It may take a journey of unpacking the pain and neuroses before pure love can blossom.
Codependency in parent-child relationships often stems from abusive, addictive and imbalanced families or from generations of learned behaviors. While there are many signs of a codependent parent, the common denominator is that emotions and identities become confused.
With patience and support from a relationship therapist, healing and developing self-love are possible. From there, acceptance and forgiveness can emerge to the point that you can become independent and grounded.
Most importantly, you’ll be ready to experience loving and stable relationships with all around you.
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