“Codependency” is a word that people throw around quite often, but it’s not always used in the right context. This can make it hard to really know if you or someone you know is showing clear signs of codependency or if you’re just not good at creating healthy boundaries. Also, it can sometimes be difficult to determine where your codependent traits come from. Was it a traumatic childhood or a violent ex? While it’s easy to blame overprotective parents, it often overlooks other situations that can trigger codependency.
Additionally, blaming codependency on overprotective parents can often cause people to overcorrect. Turns out that’s not the best answer either. You already know that parenthood is not easy. You can get totally conflicting information depending on who you go to for advice. Is strict better? Or should we be more passive? Helicopter parenting can save your child from being kidnapped or racking their brains on the playground. But will it foster independence or codependency?
So what is codependency, exactly? What causes codependency? How to avoid raising codependent children? And how do we steer codependent adults in a more independent direction? The answers are basically the same: a lot of work and self-assessment.
What is codependency?
The Oxford dictionary defines codependency as “an excessive emotional or psychological dependence on a partner, usually one who needs help because of illness or addiction.” Okay, but isn’t that the partner’s job – to be emotionally supportive of their “person”? In codependent relationships, however, emotional support is often more one-sided and, as mentioned in the definition, excessive.
“Almost all of us have codependent relationships or tendencies,” says Kelly Oriard, family therapist and co-founder of Slumberkins. (If you’re a parent, you’ve seen the oh-so-adorable ads on Facebook.) “It becomes a problem when there’s no balance, when you never put your own emotional needs first. Eventually, the tension of constantly trying to fix everyone or please everyone becomes so draining that feelings of resentment begin to bubble up into more intimate relationships.”
How to recognize codependency?
“Some common signs of codependency are difficulty setting boundaries, always wanting to please others, and not being aware of your own needs because you’re so focused on others,” Oriard shares.
It’s worth mentioning that codependency often doesn’t show up the same way in every relationship you have. At work, your drive to please people can make you dread getting fired every time you make a small mistake. With your partner, you feel unloved or rejected simply because they had a bad day and are grumpy. As a mother, it may feel like feeling sad or angry when your three-year-old is breaking down.
Need a list? Check all that apply to you.
Common signs of codependency
- Anxiety and stress
- Blame yourself for other people’s problems
- Lack of boundaries
- An excessive need to please
- Bad communication
- Low self-esteem
- Tension or resentment in relationships
- Afraid of being alone
- Difficulty making decisions
How and when does codependency manifest itself?
“Signs of codependency can show up early in children if parents or caregivers model codependent behaviors,” says Oriard. “Children who are raised in a home with addiction often show signs of codependency early because they quickly sense the need to neutralize emotions and maintain peace. They hide emotions so that their parent or caregiver does not lash out or overreact.”
What about adults?
“In others, it shows up later in life when they have more intimate relationships or start a career,” says Oriard. “People in health care and caregivers are often attuned to codependency. They are so passionate about caring for others, supporting others, putting other people’s needs and feelings ahead of their own [that] they are not listening to their own needs.”
How to avoid raising codependent children?
Oriard wants parents (and all adults) to know that some codependency isn’t necessarily a bad or unusual thing. “The first step is to understand codependency and realize that not all codependencies are bad,” she says. “We all have some level of codependency. We are vulnerable humans who depend on each other and we are all interconnected. We need each other to survive. But complete rejection of dependency is not a solution. Rather, it breeds narcissism. Finding balance and the ability to navigate the complexities of a relationship is where we find a healthy level of dependency.”
How do we ensure that we are raising children with only a good amount of codependent traits? Oriard says the first step is to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. “As an adult and a parent, if you feel you have strong co-dependent traits, set boundaries early,” she says. “Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and your emotions. Give yourself permission and approval to do things that make you feel safe and happy.”
Another important step in raising less codependent children is to make sure you discuss your feelings.
Your job as a parent is not to fix your child’s feelings. — Kelly Oriard, Certified Family Therapist
“Your job as a parent is not to to fix your child’s feelings. Your job is to witness their feelings and help them understand that all feelings are OK, they come and go, and they can learn to deal with those feelings,” says Oriard. “Help your child understand that feelings are an important message, by telling him what he needs. If your child feels angry or disappointed that something didn’t happen, let them sit down. You are there to witness and empathize, not to magically make it disappear.
Oriard clarifies, “Parents can model this for their children when they become sad, angry, or frustrated. Instead of saying, “You drove Mom crazy,” say, “Mom is feeling mad right now. I’m going to deal with this crazy feeling by stepping away and taking a breath. Verbalize what you are doing and show that you can manage your own emotions. you don’t rely on anyone else to fix it for you.”
Know your affirmations
You’ve seen those daily affirmation TikToks: the mom or dad, the adorable toddler (usually standing at the sink, in front of a mirror) and the encouraging words they’ve been taught to say. They range from “I’m beautiful” or “I’m going to take the day given to me and make it a good day”. They’re cute, but let’s be honest: they sometimes cause involuntary eye rolls. Oriard says they’re actually extremely helpful in developing your child’s emotional intelligence and independence.
“Another important way to avoid codependency is to help your child know and understand that enough is enough,” shares Oriard. “Their emotional happiness doesn’t need to depend on the happiness of others. Affirmations can be a powerful tool to help your child learn this.”
How to “fix” or “cure” codependency in adults?
Oriard is more than just the creator of adorable stuffed animals with brilliant messages. She is more than just a family therapist. Oriard shares that she also learns to overcome codependency as an adult.
“I have codependent tendencies myself,” she explained. “I grew up in a house with an alcoholic. My job was to be successful, to be the golden child. Now I’m doing the work myself to have more balance in my relationships. But there’s still a part of me that believes that if I don’t correct someone’s feelings when they’re upset, sad, or angry, I should have done more or done something better or different. to sit with those feelings and remember that I did my best, and ground myself in my confidence that I am worthy of love no matter what.”
Her advice for overcoming codependent tendencies?
“You can learn how to create more balanced, healthier relationships by becoming aware of your codependent tendencies, understanding the pattern, and learning where those tendencies come from,” she says. “Spend a lot of time with yourself, thinking about who is responsible for your emotional state. Working with a therapist can definitely help you create healthier relationships.”
Kelly Oriard, family therapist and co-founder of Slumberkins