Dealing With A Codependent Parent: How To Help Them And How To Heal

By Hailey Davis|Updated August 12, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

When we think of codependency in relationships, we often associate the term codependent with an abusive romantic relationship. In reality, one of the most common forms of codependency is in the form of codependent parents. Often unknowingly, the son or daughter in the situation can enable the unhealthy behavior of their parent. This can take an enormous toll on children and can cause lasting negative effects on the child’s feelings. To help the parent, both parties need to understand what codependency is and how to heal from it.

What Is Codependency?

Confused About Dealing With Codependent Parents (And How To Heal)?
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We often hear about codependency in the context of addiction. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines codependency as “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (such as an addiction to alcohol or heroin).” While associating codependency with addiction is still common, we understand today that substance abuse is not always a factor in codependent people. Today, doctors and psychologists have a better understanding of codependency and know people can become addicted to a person, and online therapy has been proven to be a great resource when navigating codependency.

Codependency is sometimes referred to as a “relationship addiction” because someone can become so dependent on another person to the point of addiction. This addiction can even take form in a parent-child relationship. A parent can become emotionally and mentally reliant on their children when dealing with a stressful situation. A codependent parent will rely on their child for their source of happiness, mental stability, and self-esteem. When the parent loses a sense of control, they can lash out at their children, and can sometimes have severe breakdowns. The child being depended on can experience a severe emotional toll as the codependent parent’s happiness is in their hands.

The Effects Of Codependency

Relationships with codependent people can often be emotionally abusive and destructive. When a child has codependent parents, they can experience a lasting negative impact on their mental health, emotional intelligence, and future relationships. Unfortunately, studies or statistics about children who suffer after growing up with a codependent parent are lacking. However, experts do know the issue is becoming more and more prevalent each year.

Parents and guardians play a big role in helping a child develop emotionally and mentally. When a child has codependent parents, this shapes their future values and behavior. Children pick up on their parents’ behaviors and mimic them. Codependency can be one of the many behaviors learned from a parent. Similar to other forms of addiction, codependency can involve family members, so it is important to be careful when raising a child who has the chance of developing it.

A study by the University College London shows that children with less controlling, but more loving parents were more likely to be happier and more satisfied in their adult years. We know that a person struggling with codependency feels as if they need to have control over their child or else they experience anxiety or worry.

Parents will exert some level of control over their child, but codependent parents will take control of a whole different level. When both a codependent mother or codependent father exert excess control over a child and are overly involved, studies suggest this can decrease life satisfaction and hurt the mental wellbeing of the young child or adult child.

A codependent parent making their child responsible for their own grown up conflicts can really harm a child’s personality, potentially causing low self esteem and lack of a sense of self efficacy. A codependent parent may even cause their child to feel guilty as they struggle with taking responsibility for things that are not age appropriate for the child’s life. This is why it is so important to treat codependency issues once they are diagnosed.

Signs Of A Codependent Parent

Just like with any other addiction, codependency looks different for everyone. It is important to refrain from self-diagnosing, and instead seek a diagnosis from a licensed counselor or a psychologist. But for a tell tale sign of codependent parent codependency, read the list of some signs that there is codependency in a parent-child relationship:

  • Unhealthy psychological control of the child’s life through guilt tripping or emotional abuse
  • Mood swings or anger issues if there is ever a lack of control
  • Overly emotional behavior during an argument, as they rapidly shift from one mood to another
  • Difficulty having conversations without getting angry or enraged
  • Tends to have a victim mentality even if they were the wrong one
  • Making threats to convince the other to do what they want
  • Confusing pity with sympathy
  • Being passive aggressive when they do not get things their way
  • Using silent treatment in a bid to gain control and compliance

There could be many other ways codependency manifests itself in relationships. The typical way to know if someone has codependency issues is to get diagnosed by a licensed professional.

Can A Parent-Child Relationship Go Back To Normal After Codependency?

With the right boundaries and care, a parent-child relationship can be healthy again after codependency. Normally, the corrective behavior has to begin with the parent, especially if the child is at a young age. There are some steps that have been identified by professionals for getting on the road to a healthy parent-child relationship.

Steps To Heal A Relationship

Relationships that have suffered from a form of addiction need to be treated with loving care. When trying to stop the negativity that codependency brings, it is important to be careful, respectful, and sensitive at all times. It may be difficult, but closely following these steps can potentially fix a damaged relationship.

  1. Seek the help of a professional who is experienced with codependency or addiction. Counseling sessions with a licensed therapist will likely lead to better results.
  2. Have open communication while staying calm and respectful to one another. Often, codependent parents struggle with lashing out or expressing anger towards their children when they share their feelings. This is a cycle that must break to achieve normalcy again.

Confused About Dealing With Codependent Parents (And How To Heal)?

Give children more freedom and control over themselves and their own personality. In some situations, years will go by with the child feeling as if they have no control over their decisions because of the codependent patterns of a parent, even as they enter into adult business and life in the “real world.” As mentioned above, a child must have a sense of independence for them to build self confidence and have a greater chance of feeling satisfied with their sense of self and future.

Set boundaries in codependent relationships. Setting boundaries, expectations, and rules with a codependent parent is a big part of having a healthy parent-child relationship. With codependent parents, it is very likely that boundaries have never been set. It is best to set boundaries, so there are clear rules in the relationship moving forward.

Be forgiving when boundaries are crossed, and when rules are broken. Recovering from a codependent parent-child relationship is a long journey for both parties, and it will be tough. Forgiveness should be freely given when one party is genuinely sorry for their behavior. The child should remember their parent is dealing with a diagnosed condition that causes their behavior. It should be noted that codependent parents can use manipulation to control children, and purposefully crossing boundaries is not okay.

How To Heal After Growing Up With Codependent Parents

Growing up with codependent parents as a child is undeniably hard, and carries over into an adult child’s life. The negative and controlling behavior of a codependent parent is shown to have a lasting impact on the child who is dependent on them. Once the child reaches adulthood, it can be challenging to have healthy friendships and romantic relationships. This adult child may also exert the learned codependent behaviors of unhealthy attachment in their future family or with their own children as well. But emotional support and healthy boundaries are possible for both children and adult children who have dealt with a codependent parent.

Counseling

Confused About Dealing With Codependent Parents (And How To Heal)?

To avoid suffering from codependency in the future, doctors recommend adult children and the parent in this situation seek help from a licensed counselor to work through their feelings and own needs. This can help break the generational effect a codependent relationship has on children and parents, and teach a person to set healthy boundaries.

If the “child” is now an adult, they should consider going to relationship counseling with their partner. We learn how to treat others, including our kids, from our parents, and growing up with codependent parents is not an ideal environment to learn in. Even if the adult child is not in a relationship or their romantic relationship is healthy, counseling can equip people with emotional support and the healthy relationship skills they had not learned before.

No Longer Enabling

In an ideal world, the relationship will be fixed and can be healthy again. This would be great and would help to diminish the harmful effects of codependency. In reality, this does not always happen. Just like with other forms of addiction, the person struggling may not desire to recover or make little progress. In this case, it is the child’s job to stop enabling the behavior.

No longer enabling the harmful behavior can be different for each relationship. One of the easiest ways is to repeatedly say, “You are breaking my boundaries, and I will not be controlled.” This takes the parent out of their position of power and can help them realize what they are doing. Often, the enabler feels in control if they can spark emotions in their child. Trying to not react to the parent’s hurtful actions and words is also a great step to no longer enable.

Dealing With Codependent Parents

Getting a codependent parent help is a selfless and courageous step for any child to make, no matter what age they are. Being depended on for someone else’s happiness is too much responsibility that no person could be prepared for. The best way to help is to get the codependent parent the help they need by a licensed therapist so they can stop their behavior. It is also highly recommended the child in the situation seeks counseling to help them feel confident in having healthy relationships in the future.

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