Codependency is a ‘relationship addiction’, often seen in parent-child relationships. We can often confuse narcissistic parents with codependent parents. But there are differences. Of course a narcissistic parent raises a codependent child who often attracts narcissistic partners, but that’s a topic for another day.
The difference lies in the degree of control they exert over the children. They also differ in terms of empathy. Codependents have empathy while the narcissistic parents don’t. Often there are overlapping features/traits between codependent parents and narcissistic parents and you will see that in this article.
Who is a Codependent Parent?
I often speak to clients who have codependent parents. A codependent parent-child relationship is an enmeshed relationship where the boundaries are blurred. Children of codependent parents have a tough time coming out of these enmeshed relationships.
Before I go further, it is important to distinguish between codependent and interdependent relationships.
“Having dependency needs isn’t by itself unhealthy. We all have them. In an interdependent relationship, however, each party is able to comfortably rely on the other for help, understanding, and support. It’s a “value added” kind of thing. The relationship contributes to both individuals’ resilience, resourcefulness, and inner strength. All the same, each party remains self-sufficient and self-determining.” 1
On the other hand a codependent relationship depletes the individual’s resilience, resourcefulness and strength.
In this article I am going to highlight some of the significant characteristics of codependent parents and the impact this has on the children. I will be using brief examples from multiple real life client cases.
1) Child’s welfare vs. Motivated by one’s own interest
In a normal parent-child relationship, the nurturing that the parent gives to the child comes naturally and is influenced by the parent’s desire for the child’s welfare. It is normal for a parent to have aspirations and expectations from the child but in a codependent relationship, it’s more about the parent, what they want, than the child’s genuine needs. Even though the codependent parent thinks whatever they are doing is for the children’s welfare, they fail to see how much of those decisions are based on keeping the child in their control and overly dependent on them.
2) Healthy discussion vs. I’m always right
A Codependent parent is always right. There is no space for a healthy debate or discussion with their children. The children aren’t allowed to express their opinions if those opinions aren’t similar to those of their codependent parents. Any difference of opinion will be seen as an act of rebellion and squashed at the earliest, through subtle manipulation. In the end the codependent parent makes sure that the child’s opinion changes to fit their own opinion.
3) Child’s needs given importance vs. treated as insignificant
The codependent parent has difficulty in understanding the child’s needs. Children of codependent parents repeatedly get the message that their needs and wants are secondary to their parent’s needs, and hence they stop valuing their own needs. And if they try to assert they are given silent treatment (not being spoken to) or physically punished (spanking).
4) Doing self-work vs. Victim mentality
Codependent parents blame everyone for their problems and take no responsibility for their actions. They refuse to work on themselves and resolve past traumas, instead dumping all their unresolved emotions on their children. They always act like a victim in front of their children. Many a times they share their victim stories with their children to garner sympathy. They often expect their children to right the wrongs in their past and even blame them if they aren’t able to fulfill these unrealistic expectations.
Sometimes the parent even ends up playing the role of a frail and weak person who needs protection and parenting by the child. One client remembered her mother’s behaviour with bewilderment and resentment, and said, “I don’t understand how she could do this? How could she burden me with her stories? Only her needs were important, what about mine? I couldn’t be a child in that relationship, I had to be a parent to my mother.”
5) Genuine understanding of the child’s feelings vs. making it all about themselves
In a healthy child–parent relationship, parents allow their children to express all their emotions, even their disappointment, anger, hurt etc with the parent and they seek to understand the child’s emotions and genuinely apologize when they have hurt their children. A codependent parent makes everything about themselves. Children of codependent parents often say that their emotions were hurled back at them when they expressed them; the parent turned their emotions around and made it about themselves. For example if a teenager says, “ I am angry with you”, the parent repeats it by saying, “I am angry with you too” . A client said that whenever she called out on her mother’s behaviour, the mother became defensive and angry and said that the daughter didn’t care for her, how rude she was and was this the way to talk to her mother etc. She would start crying when her adult daughter brought this up; till date the daughter feels unheard and misunderstood.
6) Being responsible for one’s own happiness vs. Making the child responsible for the parent’s happiness
Children of codependent parents grow up feeling immensely responsible for their parents’ happiness. They were somehow made to feel that they had to keep pleasing their parent to keep them happy.
7) Healthy self-regulation vs. Rapid mood swings
The codependent parent cannot manage their own emotions; they have difficulty in self-regulation. They vacillate between extreme show of affection and sudden angry outbursts. They cannot handle or cope with any kind of stress and usually have rapid mood swings.
8) Authentic relationship with the child vs. Emotional manipulation
A codependent parent is emotionally manipulative. They will manipulate subtly to get their point across by using guilt as a weapon. They are skilled in taking their child on a guilt trip (“If you do this…., I will not love you anymore”) or threatening them with abandonment. (“If you don’t do this, I will leave you”) This trait is present in narcissistic parents in a higher degree.
9) Healthy protectiveness vs. Unhealthy control
A codependent parent wants control; they play different roles to get an obsessive love and devotion from the child. When children are young, their growing demands for individuality are squashed by either playing the victim card, by being aggressive, giving a silent treatment, or making them feel guilty. A codependent parent has many tricks up their sleeves to keep the child in control. (This is more common in parents with narcissistic traits)
10) Accepting one’s flaws vs. I’m perfect
Although everyone would like to think that they are the best parents, normally parents have a healthy understanding of their own behaviour and are open to changing their behaviour when needed. However, a codependent parent is miraculously blind to their own faults. They don’t take responsibility for their actions; can never believe that the child is hurt because of them. It’s always someone else’s fault.
11) Active listening vs. Never listening
A codependent parent never listens. Adult children of codependent parents (post 30s) realize that they were treated unfairly, they were unheard, visible to the parent only when the parent needed them for their own reasons. Grown up children of codependent parents often say that they were held responsible for bizarre matters that didn’t even make any sense as the parent never listened to their side of the story. For example, a client’s father wanted him to take on the financial burden of his business when he was a teenager. And when he couldn’t handle it, he was blamed for not helping.
12) Healthy expectations vs. Unrealistic expectations: Codependent parents have unrealistic expectations from their children. They expect their adult children to drop everything for them. They are expected to ‘always’ be there for them. While it is healthy to expect support and kindness from your children, thinking that they only exist for you is a sign of selfishness. (this is more common in parents with narcissistic personality disorder)
Some Effects on children ( Will write more in another blog post)
1) They get the feeling that their needs and wants aren’t important.
2) They are plagued by guilt and anxiety.
3) As an adult, they feel that they had to take on adult responsibilities at a young age; behave like a mini-adults.
4) Feeling overly responsible for their parent’s moods and needs.
5) They feel like they are walking on egg shells.
6) They constantly try to appease the codependent parent.
7) As grownups , they tend to be clingy in relationships, although they might also take up the role of a savior for others.
Conclusion: The worst part is that a codependent parent reading this article will think that they are not codependent. They aren’t aware of the way they behave as they think that enmeshment is a healthy parent-child relationship! However, if they are willing to recognize these signs, they can get into psychotherapy and bring about positive changes. They don’t lack empathy unlike the parents with narcissistic personality disorder, which will be the next blog post. Stay tuned!
Image redrawn from the original image found on this page: https://kingofromania.com/2013/06/05/codependency/
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a bit harsh
Its actually spot on. I grew up with both parents being co-dependent and a fair bit of narc alongside it. It’s only because of repeated short term relationships that seemed to crush me that I’ve taken a good look at my behavior and those I grew up with.
I agree with Lucy. If you do a search on “Narcissistic Parent”, the stuff that comes up is pretty harsh and pretty hard to read. I feel like the author does a good job at addressing this very grey area which is that of having a very codependent parent. I have all the “symptoms”, for lack of a better word, of that of a person who is a “Child of a Narcissistic Parent”. I never fully felt that those descriptions of the parent matched my mother’s however. This is a better match for me. I do get that the idea is not necessarily easy to swallow, though, especially if you’ve held your parent in high regard for a long time (as I have myself).
As an adult, I realize how I’d allowed my parents’ “codependent” (immature) behavior when I was a child to deeply damage me. I’m actually thankful that I never had children because through my twenties and early thirties, I’d have been a terrible parent. I would have raised children to have deep insecurities and emotional instability like I have because I didn’t know any better. My parents did the best they could, but they were really messed up young people when they raised me, and they had no business trying to be parents. Past trauma, drug and alcohol use, and mental problems were the burdens put on me from the time I was a baby. Most of those descriptions above apply, and #4 especially jumps out at me. Educating myself and studying the Bible have released me from the weight of these burdens and have provided slow healing over the years.
Robyn, thanks for sharing. I can only imagine how much pain all this must have caused. I’m glad that you’re healing.
Puja- this post is incredibly helpful. I am looking for literature to assist with finding ways to draw proper boundaries with my parents. Would you happen to have any suggestions?
Hi Natalie, I’m glad it was helpful. Let me check and get back to you.
Here are some resources:
Thanks to this article and another one I accidentally encountered today, I finally know the name of what my mother is: co-dependent. My mother is severely co-dependent. She’ll even begin her intense guilt trips when I get my own cart and go shopping at my own pace, claiming that I am being insensitive about her condition of spinal stenosis and how she needs me because she needs to lift things. She’s even reported that she had to rely on an attendant in the store rather than me and that, she barked, was wrong for a daughter to her to her mother.
I am a 27 year-old, African American female and I am close to earning my bachelor’s in business under human resources and management. I am currently working part-time due to me being laid off from my full-time job this past June and my finances are a bit slower than they were 4 years ago. Before I lost my job, I was about to move in an apartment and my mother made the steps to my preparation before I could even get started and made an appointment to have me meet with a landlord of an apartment that was directly next to her house. I turned it down and she immediately told me it was because I was afraid to live alone which wasn’t the truth.
It was too close to home.
When I finally got my first car, my mom would manipulate me by lamenting me driving by myself without her because I would get into an accident and there would be no one there to assist me with difficulties that would arise from the encounter. She was so incredibly convincing that I literally did not drive my car but she did. When I drove my vehicle, she would bring herself along and become a backseat driver. When I was familiarizing myself with parallel parking, I would tell her to please be quiet and stop raising her voice as I was trying to concentrate but she would say things like, “no, I need to raise my voice because you will learn through that. That’s how people learn!” Yet, when she was younger learning how to drive, she always dreamily told me that her father would not scream or even speak to her. He would tell her what to do and that was that. So, why would she insist on screaming at me and then always saying what a wonderful driver I am?
Unfortunately, I am still living at home with mom. This is because she is always talking about her back pains and her difficulty with getting around yet, she gets around just fine. She has her episodes with her spinal stenosis where walking becomes difficult and I am to help her around but, in truth, I am tired. I want to live on my own and whenever I bring this up, she becomes passive-aggressive. Arguments would even arise due to my wants to moving and finally becoming a full adult and these arguments are often ignited by her and there are usually most strange.
One argument would be me explaining that I am making plans to move and she would say that I am showing signs of being annoyed by her because that’s how children become when their parents become old and/or injured and how she’s going to be in an elder’s home. Always guilt trips about me moving and how she really needs me. Then, let’s say, later that month, she’ll confront me about me being with her too much and that I need a boyfriend and to get married and get my own place and she’ll go on about her being my age already having two cars and having an apartment back in the 1970s. Basically, forcing guilt upon me in a different manner.
I also have major depressive disorder and slight social anxiety as diagnosed by my family practitioner. Due to my current part-time job, I have no health care so I am lacking in the appropriate medication I need to alleviate my depressive episodes. Instead of understanding, my mother would say during my times at my lowest, “just get up and do something. Get over it. If you were alone and had your own place and going through this, no one would feel sorry for you. You have to get up and get out and do something. Feeling sorry for yourself won’t do it.” Or, if I’m feeling down and she asks me what’s wrong but I don’t feel like telling her, she’ll grow angry and say, “I’m just being a good mother and I’m trying to help! Fine, don’t let me in! Be sad!” So, I’m forced, during my “down-times”, to be happy and make everything seem fine. She often says she hates to see me upset because she tells me she thinks she’s done something wrong by me and she’s desperate to fix what’s wrong.
On occasion, during arguments, I would calmly point out her ways. I don’t believe in arguing with yelling because I always thought screaming back would only add fuel to the fire. During arguments, she would become vicious and will not give me a word an edgewise. She’d always cut me off and say how “Oh, you’re blaming me again. I’ve done nothing to you! I am not your deadbeat father so how dare you treat me that way! I’ve done everything for you and I gave up so much for you and you turn around and treat me like this! You know how you treat me? You treat me like my sister treats me! She acts nice and sweet when she needs something but when I need something, I always have to kiss ass! When I need you, I don’t get anything! You’re ungrateful!”
I often end up crying here because these accusations are just aren’t true. It is true that my one of my aunts treat her terribly but I don’t. Her sister would always manipulate my mother and I always would tell her to stop letting her treat her that way but my mom would tell me “no, you don’t understand. She’s my sister. You don’t have siblings so you just don’t get it. I have to help her, you know? I just can’t abandon her.” I would always give my mom money if she really needed it. She would always ask to borrow money and I would tell her, “what? You don’t have to ask me for money. Just tell me what you need and I’ll be more than happy to pay for it.” She would always smile at that. I help her with groceries and everything. Housework is no big deal to me. She even tells me on practically on a daily basis, “without you, I don’t know where I’d be. You mean everything to me and you’re the only one that’s there in my corner. I can always count on my loving daughter.”
So, where does all of these accusations come from? Just because I don’t dress in that outfit she wants me (although she claims she’s only suggest it) to wear when the family comes over? If I don’t wear that one dress she wants me to, I’m suddenly an ungrateful daughter that does nothing for her and when she wants me to wear that one thing she wants me to wear, I’m suddenly this insensitive person that does not respect the wishes of her mother? When I want to use my own cart and pick up some of my things while I leave her to get her’s, I’m this uncaring person that she would never be toward her own mother and that she’d expected me to be just like her because I’m her daughter and such “care” would just be generally passed down?
I am seriously telling the truth with all of this and everything I have typed her is barely scratching the surface between me and my mother. I mean, I literally fell into tears after finding out that my mother may be considered co-dependent. I finally know what this is called.
And, she will never visit a family therapist. She is simply too stubborn (“goat-headed stubborness” as I like to say) and too combative to participate in such a thing. Even when I question this behavior, the environment becomes venomous and very, very loud. She always tells me, “I’m not forcing you to stay with me! I’ve always told you to go out, get a boyfriend, have children, and live on your own! So, don’t blame this on me! But, hey you know what? Fine, go out and live your life and abandon me. You’re near 30 like you said so, go out and do you. I don’t care anymore. Leave me alone.” Then, the silent treatment.
I can’t afford therapy, honestly. I can barely afford therapy for my own depression so I don’t know what to do…
I need advice and how to deal with this until I move, which I’ve already began secret preparations for. I’m already building money and I’ve wrote down my checklist on what I have to do with a security deposit, rental fees, car payments, groceries, clothing, a “money cushion”, for emergencies, you name it, I got it covered. As of this moment, I’m saving for a reliable, pre-owned, certified vehicle and I’m constantly looking at the Kelley Blue Book for pay ranges. I am also preparing myself for an exam for the city to become an entry level clerical plus keeping my part-time job for extra earnings.
So far, mom, I think, has no idea what I’m doing. Shame I have to keep this a secret.
I really need advice though on how to mentally shield and fortify myself during these rough 2 years of preparations. Thank you for reading about my challenges. I deeply appreciate it.
-A very exhausted, junior college student looking for her own independence.
Hi! Thanks for sharing. I can see that you’re really going through a tough time. I will suggest some stress-relief resources to handle the stress that you experience due to your mom’s behaviour and attitude. It’s good that you are already preparing to become more independent in every way.
Try EFT (emotional freedom techniques). Ideally working with a practitioner will be more helpful but you can certainly start off by yourself. It will help you to deal with the anxiety and the stress of moving. It is a self-help tool that can ease the pressure and the stress that you face on a daily basis.
Here are some video links for tapping: tapping points and how to tap.
tapping meditation for morning clearing (audio)
clearing overwhelm (audio)
download the free manual here
Thanks for the article. It is the beginning of my own search for help. However, I am the mother…. And about a year ago, I began to realize how I have forged and been so very responsible for the co-dependent relationship with my oldest son. Since that realization hit, we have found him an amazing therapist who has so helped him maneuver through the confusion, fear and anxiety this type of enmeshment can bring. Yes, I searched for a therapist to help my son become free of me. He has grown by leaps and bounds and though it has been difficult, I have seen him become more confident and much more his own person. For that I am grateful. However, there is still the “me” factor. I still have the same tendencies and the weight of it overwhelms me at times. Though I was raised in a ton of abuse (physical, emotional, spiritual) myself, there is much I have overcome and not passed along to my family. However, I realize that I have so tried to avoid the abuse and rejection issues of my own upbringing that I overcompensated by smothering, hovering, and over-protecting. And in doing so, my son was losing himself because of me. With my son in therapy, I cannot afford to secure another therapist for myself. Could you refer me to some teachings, books, articles, that can help the one that has been the cause of the co-dependent relationship? I still struggle with some of the very things you iterated in your article that the parent tends to do. And I do not want to. I want to contribute in healthy ways to my son’s life, not in ways that are destructive. Thank you for your time.
That’s a very brave step, Beverly. By referring your son to a good therapist, you’re really helping him navigate the confusing territories of co-dependency. Lots of parents aren’t aware of this and it’s so refreshing to come across someone who is aware and willing to help herself and her kids.
So the fact that you are aware of the underlying patterns that drive your behaviours is a very good start. Being conscious of something is the first step towards healing it.
Here are some resources that you can check:
I’m at a loss on what to do with my mother.
My earliest memory of her is comforting her when she’s sobbing.
If I ever was or am angry at her, it’s because I don’t love her, even though everything she has ever done has been for my sake.
Always discouraged me from being upset so I had to hide my feelings.
Lives her life according to a strict code of ethics that essentially define whatever she does as ‘right’ as long as she stands by them, despite making them up herself and applying them selectively.
Made me promise not to stand up for myself as a disabled kid when I was being literally spat on because “what if I got arrested?” And when I was younger tried to lower my self esteem on purpose because ‘standing up to bullies is dangerous’ (she admitted this one all on her own)
Has selective memory and doesn’t remember actually trying to ruin Christmas when I didn’t drop what I was doing with dad for her last minute plans. (For instance)
Is in chronic pain from fibromyalgia and Elhers-Danlos Syndrome (which I only believe she has because family history on both sides confirms it)
She called me 2 months ago to tell me that if she kills herself it will be my fault.
I’m 27, and most of my life has revolved around trying to make her happy, with her always trying to fix me. And I want us to have a good relationship, but I can’t forgive someone who won’t acknowledge that they have wronged me.
How can I impress on her why it’s selfish and mean to ‘fix’ others, even if it’s for their own good, or why boundaries matter. I can’t even give her a reason for why she should atone for anything she’s done if she can’t undo the past.
How can I stop feeling responsible for her?
How can I get over a lifetime of being told anger is weakness and self respect is vulgar?
How can I get over 5 years of sexual harassment and assault (but not battery, I went to a therapist if I hit them when they haven’t done battery) that I promised to submit to?
Is what I’m describing even codependence? There’s a lot of moralized self loathing in there.
Thanks for sharing.
I would strongly urge you to go for therapy. You could try EFT (emotional freedom techniques), Psychotherapy (CBT) or EMDR.
I didn’t understand this sentence, can you elaborate? Were you sexually harassed and assaulted growing up?
“How can I get over 5 years of sexual harassment and assault (but not battery, I went to a therapist if I hit them when they haven’t done battery) that I promised to submit to?”
Thank you for such a fast reply.
From the ages 11-16 I promised not to stand up for myself. I don’t remember verbatim what was said, but it wasn’t far off from this. I mean, in her own words she said “standing up for yourself is dangerous”
I’m a gay cripple. Neurological problems made me so uncoordinated that I even had trouble speaking. There was a lot of bullying, and the only advice I was ever given was to keep my hands to myself. I told her once that I wished one of the kids that harassed me was dead, and after trying to tell me over and over that I couldn’t mean that (she was always policing my emotions and disapproved of anger), she was preoccupied with me not going Columbin on anyone, and sent me to therapists for anger problems every time I ever razed a hand to anyone. No therapist ever said there was something wrong with me in that way, though all agree I have depression.
Because her daddy used to beat her and she decided anger is evil and she is desgusted with herself when she gets angry.
Most people think that anger is a bad emotion. On the contrary, healthy anger helps us define our boundaries and also helps us understand other’s boundaries. Only when it is suppressed or acted upon, does it become a problem. There is a beautiful article on this by Karla Mclaren, that I suggest you to read:
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I don’t know if my mother falls into this but seems like she does
1- I was never allowed to sleep at my friend’s place and when I did her response will make me feel giluilty fine do whatever you want with an attitude and be next day will be silent treatment’
2- she didn’t agree on my studying a certain major and I didn’t argue to make her happy
3- I’ve been helping out financially a lot the past 10 years and now I have depts she is still inderctly is ok with me paying for the house knowing how much dept im in and may I add she earns well back home but she doesn’t want to go live there as she hates it
4- she constantly blames and complains about my father not being ambitious after 40 years, although he is a great man, and she’s always complaining to me, I tried to help and advice but she still complains
5- when I tried to open up about my sexuality she went dramatic and said I should see a doctor I ignored it and diverted the subject not to hurt her
6- she keeps saying I’m her best friend and she’s got no one to talk to, I then discover that she’s complaining to her sister too who she also criticises and another young man who use to work with my father
7- I ask her to seek a phsyciatrist for her depression she says I got you and that no one can help her.
I’m not playing the victim as i didn’t speak up I wanted to please her I’m 35 and I just wanted to understand how I feel now towards her no compassion what so ever, and I’m feeling a bit guilty about it
It’ll be difficult to say whether this is codependent parenting or not, I’ll need more information. But it does seem that she is overly protective of you and has difficulty in accepting that you have the right to make your own decisions and have your own choice in terms of your sexuality. I would suggest seeing a psychologist to understand your own feelings about all this, resolve the guilt and draw clearer boundaries. Therapy will help you cope better with the situation at hand and have better self-regulation skills.
How do we establish boundaries with our parents when they behave in this manner? Do we ignore the emotional/guilty backlash? Can we even be honest with them knowing that they are delusional? I am at a pivotal point in my relationship with my mother. I am done with this cycle and am ready to make changes. When I try to establish boundaries I get a sea of crazy accusations and guilt to the nth degree. I have been in recovery for 3 years and I am moving on with my life. I don’t want my kids around such toxic behavior. Can a relationship with her even be possible? These are the questions I’m asking myself and looking for answers wherever I can find them.
Check out Hailey’s page. She has a codependency recovery program.
A relationship with her is only possible if you put boundaries in place and don’t give in to guilt and accusations. Remember that you have to take care of yourself and your kids. They will be affected by the toxicity too. Melody Beattie in her book recommends a compassionate detachment. Do look up her book “ Codependent No more”
Hello Blue Istari,
Establishing boundaries isn’t an easy task. I have helped people navigate these kind of emotional backlashes. We all have certain rights – right to have feelings, right to express them, right to make our own decisions without hurting ourselves and others. However, sometimes people do get hurt when you stand up for yourself because they don’t expect that from you. Maybe they’re used to always getting their own way with you and hence they can’t accept this “new you”. In those situations you can calmly explain your wishes and choices and if they continue to make you feel guilty unnecessarily, then nothing much can be done. In time, they might realize or they might not.
This is the best description of parental enmeshment I have come across.
What is the recommended treatment for a teenager struggling with a Parent exactly like this?
Recommended treatments would be:
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) http://www.eftuniverse.com
Hello I have a codependant father and I myself is codependant too. I also have a narc mother and what you are describing here is a narcissist. a codependant would over rescue the child and not manipulate them.
Yes, a codependent parent would over rescue the child. But the way they do it can involve emotional manipulation as well. Although it is much less compared to the narcissistic parents. A codependent parent believes that whatever he/she does is good for the child, and often he/she ends up making the child feel guilty for making choices different from a parent. The codependent parent also enables dependence in the long run by not drawing healthy boundaries and their body language often indicates disapproval when their child tries to express a different opinion or assert his/her individuality. These non-verbal signs of disapproval, disconfirmation etc are also subtle ways of emotional manipulation, that carry a lot of weight.
Thank you for this article!! And for the resources. My mom is super codependent on me, always has been. I was her counselor, her friend,maid, and scapegoat for everything that went wrong. I moved out at 17 and have cut her out of my life in spite of her constant attempts to weasle her way back in. I am 31 now and still to this day I attract extremely needy men and friends. My kids have a very irresponsible father, balanced out by me, their overly responsible mother. I do everything for them and for years cleaned up their dad’s messes. I hate the way I am. I find myself way overburdened, being everything for everyone, constant resentment. And as aware as I am of this issue, I never realise the pattern until the next day when I’m figuring out why I am so angry, tired, and resentful.
I hate the people I attract. My two kids seem to have pretty healthy needs, although I overrescued my son during his early years. But they also hate my friends and boyfriends, and i don’t blame them. I can handle my two kids just great, we are the three musketeers. But I cannot handle them with a friend or with a boyfriend. My friends refuse to share me with each other, and they all refuse to share me with my kids. I can only do my best to give them each one on one attention. Cant hang out with other people if my kids are home. It’s exhausting and there’s rarely anything left for myself. I resent the fact that I cannot find helpful people. Only overbearing needy people. I’m stuck alone until I figure out how to change this.
Rephrase.. I can’t handle friends or boyfriends when my kids are around. They all end up fighting to be the loudest and most needy. It’s absolutely ridiculous. If I say a word to my kids, the friend or boyfriend gets up and leaves. It is ridiculous. But I refuse to abandon my kids just because we have company, so people don’t end up staying long. Sigh.
Hi Jen, thanks for your message.
Sigh! That’s a lot of stuff going on there. I’m glad you were able to establish boundaries with your mom. And it seems to be a pattern that you’re still attracting extremely needy people. Maybe you need to ask yourself some questions as to why that still happens. Do you feel the need to rescue people and is that why needy people get attracted to you? And if so, how does being a rescuer feel? Does it bolster your self-worth, make you feel wanted, loved? These are hard questions but sitting with them with a therapist will help.
All the best in your healing journey, Jen.
Mom to non-drinking alcoholic/drug adult daughter and to an adult daughter with Down Syndrome. It feels confusing to me as to when I am being co-dependent and when I am being empathetic. There are grey areas. Sober daughter is still rude, aggitated, angry, and judgmental towards me then says she loves me so much. I have attended Al-anon and use the steps to cope with my tendency to want to rescue or excuse her. But I think there must be more subtle behaviors that I am not seeing in me, because the problems with our communication and relationship continue. Who knew that the daughter with a disability would be the easier. It seems clearer with Down Syndrome as there are times I need to step back and let her have her independence and other times I have to act on my duty of care. Not much confusion. But with addiction and recovery, not so clear. I have all the books, been to Al-anon meetings, other support groups, friends in program…..but seem to be stuck in my own goopy co-dependency.
Hi Sheila, Thanks for sharing your personal experiences. It’s not an easy road and it can be confusing. Taking help from a therapist can really help in navigating these areas.
I have NEVER read anything so accurate about my relationship with my mother. I have categorised her as a narcissist all these years only to find that her behaviour (like mine) was codependent. Thank you, you’ve totally hit the nail on the head. Extremely helpful.
Hi Melissa, Thanks for your message. I’m glad the article was helpful. Take care and best wishes in your healing journey.
I experienced every single one of these behaviors from my codependent mother. I would also like to share an additional point that is inferred here but not explicitly mentioned is that codependent mothers activity sabotage Their children who display any signs of autonomy, and then once they break down their child to the point of depression will swoop in to provide comfort. They are addicted to their children being emotionally wrecked because it gives them a sense of purpose. They might cook you meals and brush your hair while you’re down but the moment you get the courage to pick yourself up they feel irrelevant and the cycle of abuse continues.
Many give advice to the child of a codependent to break the cycle, by refusing to accept the codling behavior, set up boundaries and exert your autonomy. This however can prompt rage and hostility in the codependent who will then try even harder to control. Some people like me with codependent mothers have severe ptsd and cannot cope when the codependent is in hostility/ control mode.
Hi Rachel, Thanks for your reply. That’s a valid point. For a young child it’s a tough cycle to break and even as an adult, it isn’t easy. Learning how to cope with the codependent in a hostiliy mode isn’t easy at all. It takes time and therapy to achieve that. Best of luck in your healing journey Rachel. I hope you find a good therapist who can guide you through this process. And I’m really sorry that you had to go through this and have severe PTSD as a result of that. Sending love and light.
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This article helped me a lot. My parents divorced when I was a freshman in college. I became very avoidant-dismissive toward my mother and I now realize it’s probably because she has displayed every single attribute described in this article. I want our relationship to improve, and this article has helped give me some direction.
My question is, do you have any resources/suggestions in how having a codependent mother can affect ME and my relationships? How do I deep dive into those “side effects” you’ve listed? I’ve had significant problems with not being able to let go of an ex (years and years later), intrusive thoughts of my ex and his new relationship, insecure friendships and relationships, being afraid of betrayal and abandonment, shutting people out completely at first signs of betrayal, etc. I want to break this generational pattern but I don’t know where to start.
Can’t wait to read more in your site. Wishing you health and happiness,
Hi Francesca, Thanks for appreciating my article and for your comment. I’m glad this article gave you some direction. My first suggestion would be to start reading codependency no more by Melody Beattie.
I’ll be writing another other article on how to deal with codependent parents and one more one on handling codependency patterns in oneself. Hopefully that’ll help too.
1) Start by working through your feelings – anger, guilt, and others that arise from childhood. Inner child healing will help.
2) Look at your beliefs about relationships. What makes you feel unsafe in relationships? Digging deeper with a good therapist will help. Even IFS ( internal family systems) might help
3) Healing the generational patterns requires first building a good self-regulatory capacity to handle intense emotions and working with a therapist who makes you feel safe.
Once you’ve learnt some self regulatory tools, start working on incidents from childhood where your mom displayed the attributes I’ve listed. EMDR, EFT ( Tapping) will help but only with a therapist who can hold a safe space for you.
Inner child healing will help too. Healing that younger self that’s still carrying the pain and processing it through a somatic therapy or EMDR/IFS.
These are some suggestions I can give, based on what you’ve told me.
All the best in your healing journey.