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How To Recognize The Signs Of Codependency In Kids & Adults

Are you raising a codependent kiddo? Are you living with (or as) a codependent adult? What a family therapist says you should know.

Originally Published: 
Signs of codependency in children can include a fear of being alone.
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"Codependency" is a word people throw around quite often, but it's not always used in the proper context. That can make it hard to really know if you or someone you know is displaying clear signs of codependency or if you're just not great at creating healthy boundaries. Moreover, it can sometimes be hard to figure out where your codependent traits originated. Was it a traumatic childhood or an abusive ex? While it's easy to blame overprotective parents, that often ignores some other situations that can trigger codependency.

Plus, blaming codependency on overprotective parents can often cause people to overcorrect. As it turns out, that's not the best answer, either. You already know that parenting isn't easy. You can get utterly conflicting information depending on who you turn to for advice. Is strict better? Or should we be more hands-off? Helicopter parenting may save your kiddo from being kidnapped or cracking their head open on the playground. But will it foster independence or codependency?

So, what is codependency, exactly? What causes codependency? How do we avoid raising codependent kids? And how do we steer codependent adults in a more independent direction? The answers are basically the same: a lot of work and self-evaluation.

What is codependency?

The Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as "excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction." OK, 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.

"Nearly all of us have some codependent relationships or codependent tendencies," says Kelly Oriard, a 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 prioritize your own emotional needs. Eventually, the strain of constantly trying to fix everyone or please everyone becomes so draining that feelings of resentment begin to bubble up in more intimate relationships."

How can you recognize codependency?

"Some common signs of codependency are trouble setting boundaries, always wanting to please others, and not being aware of your own needs because you're so focused on others," shares Oriard.

It's worth mentioning that codependency often doesn't present itself in the same way in every single relationship you have. At work, your people-pleasing drive might make you worry you'll get fired every time you make a small mistake. With your partner, it's feeling unloved or rejected simply because they've had a bad day and are grumpy. As a mom, this might look like feeling beside yourself with sadness or anger when your three-year-old is having a meltdown.

Need a list? Check all that apply to you.

Common Signs of Codependency

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Blaming self for the problems of others
  • Lack of boundaries
  • An excessive need to please
  • Poor communication
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Reactivity
  • Tension or resentment in relationships
  • Fear of being alone
  • Difficulty making decisions

How and when does codependency manifest?

"The signs of codependency can manifest early in children if parents or caregivers are modeling codependent behaviors," Oriard says. "Children who are raised in a home with addiction often show signs of codependency early because they quickly get the sense that there is a need to neutralize emotions and keep the peace. They hide emotions so their parent or caregiver doesn't lash out or overreact."

What about adults?

"In others, it manifests later in life when they have more intimate relationships or start a career," explains Oriard. "People in the healthcare field and caregivers are often susceptible to codependency. They are so passionate about caring for others, supporting others, putting the needs and feelings of others before their own [that] they are not tuned in to their own needs."

How can we avoid raising codependent children?

Oriard wants parents (and all adults) to know that some codependency isn't necessarily a bad or uncommon thing. "The first step is to understand codependency and realize that not all codependency is 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 the complete rejection of dependence is not a solution. That instead 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 make sure we're raising kids with only a healthy amount of codependency traits? Oriard says the first step is ensuring you take care of yourself. "As an adult and a parent, if you feel like you have strong codependent 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 big step to raising less codependent kids is making sure you're discussing feelings.

Your job as a parent is not to fix your child's feelings. — Kelly Oriard, licensed family therapist

"Your job as a parent is not 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 handle these feelings," explains Oriard. "Help your child understand that feelings are an important message, telling them what they need. If your child is feeling mad or disappointed that something didn't go their way — let them sit with it. You are there to witness and empathize, not make it magically go away.”

Oriard elaborates, “Parents can model this for their children when they get sad or mad or frustrated. Instead of saying, 'You made mommy mad,' say, 'Mommy is feeling mad right now. I'm going to go take care of this mad feeling by walking away and taking a breath.' Verbalize what you are doing and show you can handle 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 mama or daddy, 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 am beautiful" or "I will take the day I'm given 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 wildly helpful in developing your child's emotional intelligence and independence.

"Another important way to avoid codependency is to help your child know and understand they are enough," shares Oriard. "Their emotional happiness does not need to depend on others being happy. Affirmations can be a powerful tool for helping your child learn this."

How do you "fix" or "cure" codependency in adults?

Oriard is more than just the creator of adorable stuffed animals with great messages. She's even more than just a family therapist. Oriard shares that she's also learning to overcome codependency as an adult.

"I myself have codependent tendencies," she shared. "I grew up in a home with an alcoholic. My job was to be an achiever, 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 fix someone's feelings when they are upset or sad or mad, that I should have done more or done something better or different. I am trying hard to sit with these feelings and remind myself that I did the best I could, and to ground myself in my confidence that I am worthy of love no matter what."

Her tips for overcoming codependent tendencies?

"You can learn to create more balance and healthier relationships by becoming aware of your codependent tendencies, understanding the pattern, and learning where these tendencies come from," she says. "Spend a lot of time with yourself, thinking about who is in charge of your emotional state. Working with a therapist can certainly help you create healthier relationships."

Expert Source:

Kelly Oriard, a family therapist and co-founder of Slumberkins

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