Family of Origin and Codependency

Sometimes our early experiences continue to have an impact on our daily lives. Our patterns of relating to others and to ourselves are often laid down through how our families interacted with us in our younger years, putting powerful programming, roles, expectations, self-talk, and limiting beliefs in place that can keep us stuck in repetitive cycles.

When we are little, we rely on our caregivers to help our emotions and nervous systems regulate. We “ping” off each other and the quality of the attunement of our parents is what allows us to know we exist, have needs, and be soothed. We need strokes to survive: physical touch and emotional connection. We also need stability and consistency. This helps our brains and bodies to develop in healthy ways.

Unfortunately, if our parents or caregivers had untreated trauma, mental health or addictions issues, they may have been unable to adequately respond to our emotional needs as children. If the parenting style we were exposed to was unresponsive, dysregulated, detached, unavailable, anxious, rigid, shaming, judgmental, abusive, chaotic, narcissistic, smothering or enmeshed with us, this can leave a lasting impression. The impact of our early experiences can influence not only the types of relationships we get involved in and our capacity for connection, intimacy and healthy, secure attachment, but how we perform at work, how we interact socially, and how we treat ourselves. For a review of different attachment styles in adult relationships, click here.

As a result, you may be struggling with:

  • identity issues, fragmented sense of self
  • low self-worth
  • vulnerability and shame
  • believing you don’t deserve better
  • feeling unworthy of love
  • dissociation, splitting off or difficulty “feeling yourself”
  • taking ownership of others’ issues
  • anxiety, depression or mood swings
  • reactivity and defensiveness in self-protection
  • fear of being abandoned or rejected
  • poor boundaries
  • tolerating poor treatment from others
  • relying on others to feel better
  • attaching to others too quickly or keeping them at a distance
  • overriding your needs to please others
  • difficulty giving yourself permission for self-care
  • having to “go away” in order to maintain relationships

Attachment and dysregulation challenges can occur even in the absence of intentional abuse and neglect, when parents struggle – by no fault of their own – with their own trauma, anxiety, depression, intergenerational patterns, or exposure to war, poverty or other extenuating circumstances. Thankfully, “good enough” parenting in which acknowledgment, empathy and repair occur can go a long way to mitigating the effects of these challenges.

Sadly, a parent’s lack of awareness, shame or defensiveness can lead to blaming the child for being the problem when the child acts out or has difficulties, when in fact the issue is far more complex and requires gentleness and compassion for all involved.

Thankfully, healing your core wounds is possible with the right support to address the emotional, behavioural and relational patterns, both current and intergenerational, that are preventing you from moving forward in your life.


Do you tend to constantly seek to fulfill the needs of others at the expense of your own? Are your emotions or mood dependent on others around you feeling of acting a certain way? This type of relationship pattern is known as codependency, and comes as a result of experiencing relationship trauma, often stemming back to challenges in one’s family of origin or other relationships that taught us that our needs and emotions did not matter.

People who have codependency issues typically form unhealthy or toxic relationships with people who have a limited capacity for intimacy and connection, who are not accountable for themselves, who are emotionally detached or who are overly needy or clingy. These relationships are often emotionally abusive, and sometimes physically abusive. Sometimes, people who are codependent form relationships with people who have addictions.

In codependent relationships, these people:

  • feel responsible for other people
  • fix or manage others’ emotions
  • put in a lot of effort and put up with a lot while getting very little in return
  • wonder why others don’t do the same for them
  • feel guilty being happy when others are sad
  • tolerate unending promises of change
  • accept alibis and lies
  • walk on eggshells
  • say yes when they mean no
  • feel hurt, unappreciated and victimized
  • do not express their anger or set boundaries
  • are enmeshed in a drama that feels out of control
  • feel perpetually dissatisfied or frustrated but can’t walk away
  • keep hoping endlessly for things to improve, or
  • undermine or block improvement in order to preserve the codependent dynamic

While codependent people largely believe that their partner’s behaviours are the cause of their problems, in reality codependency is about their relationship with themselves – about being split off from self and one’s responsibility for oneself:

  • low self-worth and/or shame
  • believing one is unlovable or at best conditionally lovable
  • believing one does not deserve to be happy or have needs
  • taking things personally, reactivity and being easily offended
  • not trusting oneself
  • criticizing oneself
  • needing excessive reassurance or praise from others to feel good about themselves

For a longer list of codependent traits, click here.

Breaking the codependent cycle is possible, and relationships with others often begin to shift when we work on our relationship with ourselves. This can involve working on restoring your ability to value yourself and your self-worth, healing your core shame and belief there is something wrong or inadequate about you, learning to self-soothe and self-regulate, expressing your needs, learning assertive and non-violent communication, and setting clearer boundaries.

EquuSpirit The Refuge Trauma Trainings

© 2013 –   Sarah Schlote.

The Refuge and EquuSpirit are registered trade names of the Schlote Psychotherapy Professional Corporation