Managing healthy relationships with parents as an adult can be a bit challenging. There are healthy relationships and then there’s codependency. It’s important to know the difference.
“Overly involved parents almost always get an initial response from the adult child of, ‘Why does my parent not trust me or the decisions I’m making?’, or the adult child picks up on the insecurities of the parent and either begins to avoid or feed the insecurity,” says Erin Murphy, provisionally licensed professional counselor for the Family Guidance Center.
Recognizing the responses can help with identifying the signs of codependency.
“When a parent feels an emotionally negative response about themselves or their adult child because the child didn’t respond in a way to the parent that was expected, the parent goes into help mode. Here are my offerings of assistance to you. Here’s what I suggest you do,” Murphy says.
“An adult child responds in a way that makes the parent feel negative about themselves or about the adult child that might be a red flag that that parent is way too involved,” she says. “What that’s saying is the parent is confused that this adult child didn’t do what the parent suggested or thanked them in a manner that made them feel good when they reflected upon themselves. These are red flags.”
As a child dealing with a codependent parent, it’s important to not feel guilty for making your own decisions.
“What will happen is the adult child will then feel they have another added responsibility in life, which is, “I am in control of my parent’s emotional state of mind now,” Murphy says. “If the adult child plays into this irrational belief, what is created is codependency, which is, ‘I am not emotionally regulated unless you are.’ The adult child says, ‘Mother is mad. So, now I’m upset because I’m not doing my new job, which is regulating her emotions. So, now I’m going to go over and beyond until I get an emotional response from her that makes me feel OK again.’”
Murphy says when this happens the parent who is pushing boundaries will buy into the accepting the response of the adult child, and it will feed the parent’s irrational belief that “I was right. I do need to be overly involved”. So, now you have two persons mimicking one another’s feelings, she says.
Before you know it, both parent and child have no idea what their sole identity is. Therefore, future individual decision-making will result in that person going to the codependent to figure out their issues together, which, “feeds the monster” of codependency the two have established between one another, and they are now “one” person instead of “two,” Murphy says.
Murphy says if you find yourself giving unsolicited advice, often selling criticism as constructive feedback, or realize that your child isn’t returning your calls or texts, that can be a possible red flag for development of or already present codependency.
“It’s so much deeper than just my son won’t talk to me for a week. This is the brain saying that I’m not being valued, I don’t have self-worth. Why?” Murphy says. “When you have an unhealthy person that why isn’t always handled in a healthy way. It’s not always handled with, ‘Maybe I’m coming on too strong. Maybe my parenting is too overwhelming. Maybe I’m pressuring my adult child too much to what I think.’
“When you’re a co-dependent type of person and you’re already starting that behavior, you’re already not mentally well enough to sit back and self-reflect,” she says.
Educating yourself on codependency can help identify how to handle a codependent relationship.
“Ask yourself foremost, ‘Why am I doing this? What part of me is “missing” that I’m trying to feed it with the events of another person’s life?’ There is a piece of you that’s missing,” Murphy says. “Commit to yourself that you’re going to start a trek of self-discovery that may involve counseling, volunteering.”
Murphy says that using “I” statements can help adult children communicate with a codependent parent.
“Address it right away,” Murphy says. “Say ‘Mother, I feel a little overwhelmed. I notice that all of this is making me question if I’m being trusted in the decisions I’m making for myself.’ Reinforce to your parents what your boundaries are and what the outcome will be if those boundaries are passed.
“This is you as an adult, doing what was taught of you, taking responsibility for your own well-being,” she says.