Co-dependent adults struggle to identify who they are and what they need to be independent from others; it's as if their sense of self is dependent on the approval or well-being of someone else. This is the essence of an "outside-in" lens for the world: Other people show me who I am. I've only learned to find myself and feel safe when other people are happy with me.
Co-dependency is really about self-alienation, because you've been taught that your own wants and feelings threaten the stability of a relationship, so you need to get as far away from yourself as possible. Individuals wired this way are attracted to partners who are narcissistic and low on empathy, the perfect opposing puzzle piece for co-dependent traits.
Co-dependency may appear in adulthood, but it starts in early childhood; remember, we are wiring our kids for their relationship patterns.
During childhood, kids are asking these questions: "Who do I have to be to achieve emotional safety? How safe are my own feelings and needs?"
There are very few things that I tell parents not to do. High on the list are Don't Hit, Don't Terrify, and...
DON'T LINK YOUR CHILD'S EMOTIONS WITH YOUR OWN.
Don't wire your child so that her feelings sit right next to their impact on you. This is not a way to create empathic kids; it is a way to create co-dependent adults.
HOW DO WE CREATE EMPATHY AND AVOID CO-DEPENDENCY? By creating *distance* between our kids' feelings and our own - seeing feelings not for their impact on us but for the pain they cause our child.
Instead of "That hurts Mommy's feelings," say, "You must be really upset about something to speak to me that way." Instead of "That makes Mommy sad," say, "I can't listen well when you're speaking to me in that tone. I want to hear about what's happening to you. I care about your feelings, and you're allowed to have them."
And when you do have big feelings? Take responsibility for these as your own. Tell your child, "You're noticing that I'm upset. Yes, it's true. And here's something else true: My feelings are MINE. You don't cause my feelings and you don't have to take care of them.