A psychological construct, codependency refers to a “specific relationship addiction characterised by preoccupation and extreme dependence — emotional, social and sometimes physical — on another person,” writes J Lampis in a 2017 study.
Codependency can affect a parent-child relationship too when parents form an unhealthy addiction or attachment to the child. According to family therapist Sheila Tucker, “a codependent parent is bringing what they learned in their own relationship with their parents to the relationship with their children.” This interferes with their parenting decisions, often blurring healthy boundaries with the child.
How can codependency affect a child
Given the nature of a parent-child relationship, the symptoms of codependency can be camouflaged in the name of parental love. This, however, bears the risk of the child not learning to give importance to his or her own emotions and feelings but feel responsible for that of their parents by trying to appease them. And they might repeat the pattern when they have their own children.
Psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg writes in an article, “Codependency anorexia often results in the codependent parent unfairly and inappropriately seeking to meet their emotional, social and personal needs through their children…which is harmful to a child’s psychological development.”
Signs of codependent parenting
So, how do you identify codependency in your relationship with your child? Here are some signs to look out for:
1. You play the victim
A codependent parent tends to garner sympathy from the child by making them feel guilty for the wrongs committed against them. There are many parents, for instance, who want their child to fulfill their unfulfilled aspirations as compensation.
2. You are never wrong
Almost every child grows up hearing that their parents are always right about everything and whatever they do is for the child’s wellbeing. Any disagreement or rebellion is seen as a way of challenging the parent’s authority who then refuses to budge.
3. You are highly emotional about your child
The fear of losing control over a situation or the upper hand in an argument often makes a codependent parent resort to crying, yelling or giving the silent treatment to turn things in their favour.
4. You are controlling
For a codependent parent, control is the main aim. They expect their child to be devoted to them. To achieve this, codependent parents can adopt measures from playing the victim card to turning aggressive when the child disagrees.
5. You manipulate subtly
This is yet another way for having absolute control over the child. This entails silent treatment, passive aggressive behaviour to denial of wrongdoing, making the child doubt his or her judgement.
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