Sometimes, it can be confusing to know if and when you have gone too far with putting others first. We are taught and encouraged to be kind but that does not mean you must always prioritize someone else’s needs over yours. There’s a word used to describe when you consistently do this. That word is “co-dependency.”
The term codependency was originally coined to be used in situations related to alcohol abuse. Over time, it has become useful in describing scenarios in which people unknowingly slip into some very counterproductive behavior patterns. And yes, this can very much include family dynamics.
How to Recognize Codependency
Any time two or more people are interwoven into relationships (partners, friends, parent-child, siblings, etc.), one can take on the role of caretaker. In doing so they surrender their independence via:
- Suppressing their own emotions
- Focusing almost exclusively on others
- Exhibiting a need for control (ostensibly for the other person’s “own good”)
Obviously, this is not a healthy relationship dynamic. One person’s self-worth is based on how another person feels. Meanwhile, the target of codependency also loses self-esteem. They feel unable to handle basic tasks or even function without support. As mentioned above, this dynamic can very much be present in family units — especially between parents and children.
Common Signs of Codependency
Let’s first establish that codependency manifests in different ways with different people. It’s difficult to identify — even when you’re looking at your own actions. In addition, codependency looks different in different settings, e.g. work, school, romantic relationships, etc.
That said, here are some common signs and general tropes:
- People-pleasing to the extreme
- Feeling chronic anxiety about your need to dote on others (and control them in the process)
- Lack of boundaries and a need to always be available
- Passive-aggressive communication
- Blaming yourself when others have problems or feel unhappy
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling paralyzed when you have to make a decision
- Resenting a family member because you feel you “must” take care of them all the time
- Dreading when you are alone
How to Recognize Codependent Parenting
Your Self-Identity is Linked to Being a Parent
Your desire to always be there for your kid causes you to sacrifice other relationships, interests, and obligations.
Being Too Involved in Your Children’s Lives
This may be a fine line and involvement is crucial. But you may notice that you cannot bear to give your child room to live and learn on their own. Also, you may treat them as if they were younger — doing things for them that can and should be done on their own.
Controlling and Manipulating
Under the umbrella of being a super parent, you mask an agenda to get your children to do what you want them to do. Look out for guilt trips and other passive-aggressive behaviors.
Your Self-Worth is at the Mercy of Your Child’s Mood
The slightest temper tantrum and you feel like a failure. In such cases, some parents portray themselves as victims of their child’s mood swings. This is an almost invisible way to get them to do what you prefer.
No One Talks About Feelings
The antidote to codependency is healthy communication. When people talk freely about their emotions, it’s much harder to slide into dysfunction. A codependent family may avoid such discussions.
Do You Think Your Family is Codependent?
If you’re concerned, the best first step is to seek out a professional opinion. A qualified therapist can work with you — and your family — to observe, question, and explore. As patterns are revealed, you may discover new directions and approaches to bring a more healthy dynamic into your home. I invite you to get in touch and find out more about family counseling.