Co-dependency and the adult child defendant.

As most people know, codependency exists where one person supports another person’s addiction, anger or other psychological weakness. In the criminal context this unbalanced relationship rears its head very frequently. To the extent a parent or other loved one unequivocally and unreservedly supports the weakness of a child or other loved one, the cycle of codependency renews itself.


In my practice, I am presented on almost a daily basis with a parent of an adult child overcompensating for the child’s deficits. The hallmark of a codependent relationship is a lack of bilateralism, that is that the parent and child, regardless of the age of the child do not share in the responsibilities of their daily lives. Often times, the parent tries to explain away, justify or otherwise limit the moral or ethical responsibilities of his or her child.


Codependent people typically lack self-esteem and seek external influences to make themselves feel better. Typically, this is most often seen in alcohol or drug dependency. Sometimes though, it can rear its head in domestic violence settings.


The cycle begins when the stronger party attempts to rescue the week individual because the stronger person believes that the weaker one will recover their strength very soon. The primary problem with his thinking is that the weaker person has never possessed the internal strength to correct themselves. In fact, the weaker person usually treats the stronger person abusively, whether verbally or physically and will deploy any number of psychological techniques to gain their immediate goals of money, drugs or whatever they need.


What makes this situation so difficult to end is that the codependent person identifies themselves in a heroic light. They think that they alone can rescue the weaker person. This is demonstrably not the case. In fact, every effort they make to rescue weakens the person further. The codependent feels a heightened sense of self-worth and sometimes has their own issues of control, which is satisfied by “helping” the weaker person.


While facing criminal charges is a serious matter and requires the help of a family member or loved one, that help cannot be conditioned upon the approval of the person charged with a crime, nor can it act as a substitute for the change that must come to break the cycle of dependency between the two people. It is very common for parents of a child to be divided into how to deal with the child’s weakness. Often times, the child will attempt to divide the parents him or herself in order to gain the support of the codependent parent. This can result in divorce, alcoholism and other negative effects. It is very important that if you are in a codependent relationship and your loved one is facing criminal charges that you seek immediate legal help. We frequently refer clients for mental health evaluations and counseling where appropriate. Do not hesitate to contact me if you’d like to discuss this further.