Codependent Parental Neglect

Codependent Parental Neglect
Codependent Parental Neglect

Written by Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Self-Love Recovery Institute – President/CEO
PsychotherapistEducatorAuthorExpert Witness

Unfortunately, most codependent parents subscribe to the “better the devil you know than the devil you don't” philosophy when deciding for themselves and their children not to leave and find protection from the harmful narcissist partner. Despite this situation always being complicated and nuanced, the codependent’s decision to stay often is not in anyone but the narcissist’s best interest. For those who accept this observation, it is easy to make the leap that codependents share some responsibility for harming their children.

Although I empathically suggest codependents should share the responsibility for harming their children, I refuse to attribute one-dimensional blame lest we forget these people were once defenseless children subjected to abuse, neglect, and deprivation at the hands of their own harmful parents.

To be extraordinarily clear, this pronouncement in no way blames the beaten down and suffering codependent for the abuse, neglect, or abandonment perpetrated against them and the children by the other narcissist parent. Instead, the attribution of responsibility is strategically mentioned, not to pile even more guilt and shame on a person who is already buried by them, but to help them break free from the invisible denial systems that paradoxically keep them cemented into a fear-based and largely irrationally pessimistic view of protecting the children and themselves.

Attributing responsibility for the children’s suffering should never be reduced to a simple "good or bad proposition. It is simply too complicated to cast a one-dimensional blame net. However, because we live in a society that holds adults responsible for their actions, it is vitally important to understand the consequences and losses that result from Codependent Parental Neglect, even if the person causing the harm is also the victim.

It is factual that almost all codependent parents sincerely do not want their children harmed. Some even go to extraordinary measures to protect them. Yet, despite their best intentions, the dysfunction they brought to the relationship overcomes them. Independent of their fears, their compulsive desire to satisfy their narcissist's unreasonable and insatiable selfish needs depletes energy, time, and emotional resources that otherwise would be available to their children.

The stark reality is that the Human Magnet Syndrome theory almost guarantees that codependent parents, like their single brethren, deeply and intensely, intractably fall in love with pathological narcissists.  Despite fulfilling one of their life's ambitions to have children, they choose to stay in harmfully dysfunctional relationships, even though the harm they and their children experience is seemingly unbearable. Trying to control a person who, by definition, cannot, while delusionally seeking their love, respect, and caring, maintains their complicity in the prison-like family experience.

A preoccupation with being unfairly judged and rejected deepens the codependent's baseline pessimism. And suppose they could overcome such negative thoughts. But unfortunately, they would still need to overcome the self-fulfilling prophesy hurdle that predicts the impossibility of ever finding a truly loving, respecting, and caring person who would see the same in them.

Convinced if such an angel of a person should take an interest in them, they will eventually uncover their biggest fear and secret: being inherently damaged, uninteresting, expendable, and therefore undesirable. Thus, the decision to stay or leave is irrationally and dysfunctionally remedied by distorted logic that keeps everyone put, while the onslaught of shame, guilt, rejection, and fear of bone-aching loneliness is kept at bay.

Codependent parents often succumb to the inculcated, hopeless self-story or gaslight narrative they brought to the relationship, which the narcissist conveniently deepened and broadened. This untrue but seemingly spot-on narrative "tells them" that should they leave, it will overcome them with paradoxically abandoning thoughts and feelings that instruct them to return to the now sympathetic and vulnerable narcissist.

Besides the mind control "booby traps" and other entrapment strategies, the biggest nemesis to any escape plan is Codependency Addiction. Such an out-of-control experience dependably reminds them that by abstaining from their drug of choice, the relationship, they will inevitably experience intolerable bone-achingly painful withdrawal symptoms, namely pathological loneliness.

When combining pathological loneliness, core shame, and the capitulation to the "return to my repenting and willing to change narcissist" gaslit narrative, the decision to not run makes more sense to this embattled codependent, especially when a fallback plan includes self-medicating, detaching, disassociating, while pessimistically dismissing any possible escape plans. When they find the courage to make a mad dash for a "relationship exit," they find themselves on a hamster wheel-like path that predictably ends with exhaustion and disappointment. Tired, beaten down, and remembering the futility of fighting back, many codependents give up any power to escape their prison-like existence.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the very important fact that without the codependent parent's attempts to manage, avoid and mitigate the harm, the total psychological damage to the children would have been far worse than if the children were raised solely by the pathological narcissist. 

Consider the long-term implications for the person who sincerely and courageously commits to overcoming their life-long codependency. Without a doubt, a large swath of lives can be impacted, wounds healed, and bitter and angry hearts softened to the point that they might consider forgiveness. But, think about it, such people engage in an uphill recovery struggle that requires them to wear a knapsack loaded with heavy boulders of guilt and shame. And yet they keep climbing. I don't know about you, but they are my heroes!


Ross Rosenberg M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, is Self-Love Recovery Institute’s CEO and primary contributor. His internationally recognized expertise includes pathological narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and attachment trauma. Ross’s “Codependency Cure™ Treatment Program provides innovative and results-oriented treatment.

Ross's expert educational and inspirational seminars have earned him international acclaim, including his 23 million YouTube video views and 250K subscribers. In addition to being featured on national TV and radio, his “Human Magnet Syndrome” books sold over 150K copies and are in 12 languages. Ross provides expert testimony/witness services.

More about Ross and his educational and inspirational work can be found at www.SelfLoveRecovery.com.

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