Treatment for Codependency in Teens | ThreePeaks Short-term Residential Treatment Program for Teens and Their Families

Breaking Free: A Parent's Guide to Treatment for Codependency in Teens

Is your teen's codependency getting in the way of their success and happiness?? Our Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment program offers unique and effective treatment for codependency that empowers teens to take charge of their own lives. Our program leverages the healing power of nature in combination with individual and family counseling to equip teens with the tools they need to overcome their codependent patterns and achieve their goals.

Take our teen assessment and see if a Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment program is right for your family.

Written by: Steven DeMille, Ph.D. LCMHC

Are you tired of seeing your teen struggle with codependency, unable to break free from the chains that are holding them back? If so, then it's time to take action and get your teen treatment for codependency today!

Our nature therapy program is specifically designed to help teens overcome codependency and achieve their full potential. Our team of experts combines the latest evidence-based therapies with the healing power of nature to create a unique experience that's both transformative and empowering. From outdoor adventures to individual and family counseling, we provide the support and guidance that your teen needs to take control of their life and build a brighter future.

In this article, we'll explore what codependency is, the different types of codependency, how to recognize the signs, and what the effects of leaving it untreated can be. We'll also provide some helpful tips on how parents can support their teen and why Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment is an excellent choice for families looking to break free from the chains of codependency and build a brighter future. So, let's get started!

In This Article We’ll Discuss:
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    What is Codependency?

    Codependency in teenagers often stems from taking on an excessive amount of responsibility in a relationship and perceiving the other person as unable to function without them. This can involve taking on excessive responsibility for the other person's emotions and actions, sacrificing one's freedom, and assuming a caretaker role at the expense of one's own needs. In a codependent relationship, a teen's focus on the other person often becomes so intense that they suppress and disregard their own needs, goals, and interests.

    Codependent teens may base their self-worth on helping and rescuing others, which can lead to an unhealthy imbalance in their relationships. Maintaining a codependent relationship requires each person to play their assigned part: one as the overfunctioner providing support, the other as the underfunctioner receiving that support.

    “What’s a codependent? The answer’s easy. They’re some of the most loving, caring people I know.”

    Melody Beattie, Codependent No More

    Types of Codependency in Teenage Relationships

    Codependency in teens can manifest in various ways, but some common types of codependency seen in this age group include:

    • Caretaking codependency: This is the most common type of codependency seen in teens, where they feel responsible for other people's feelings and actions, even when it is not their place to do so.
    • Enabling codependency: In this type of codependency, the teen may enable or cover up for the other person's negative behavior, thereby perpetuating the cycle of dependence.
    • Compliance codependency: In this type of codependency, the teen goes along with the other person's wishes, even if it is detrimental to their own well-being or values.
    • Control codependency: This type of codependency is characterized by a need to control or manipulate the other person's behavior or emotions, often to avoid feeling anxious or out of control.

    It's important to note that these types of codependency are not mutually exclusive, and a person may exhibit multiple types of codependency at different times or in different relationships.

    Signs of Codependency in Teens

    As a parent, it can be difficult to know if your teenager is struggling with codependency. However, recognizing the signs of codependency is an important step toward helping your child.

    The signs of codependency can be grouped into five different categories of behavior patterns, which include denial, compliance, low self-esteem, control, and avoidance. Here are some things to look for:

    Denial Patterns

    Your teen may...

    • Struggle to identify and express their own feelings
    • Minimize, deny or change their true emotions
    • Believe they are completely selfless and only focused on the well-being of others
    • Lack empathy for others' feelings and needs
    • Label others with negative traits
    • Think they can handle everything on their own, without help from others
    • Use anger, humor, or isolation to mask their pain
    • Express negativity or aggression indirectly and passively
    • Be attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable

    Compliance Patterns

    Your teen may...

    • Remain loyal in harmful situations for too long
    • Compromise their values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger
    • Put aside their own interests to please others
    • Be very attentive to others' feelings, often taking them on as their own
    • Be afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others
    • Accept sexual attention when they actually want love
    • Make decisions without considering the consequences
    • Give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change

    Low Self-Esteem Patterns

    Your teen may...

    • Struggle to make decisions
    • Judge themselves harshly and feel like they are never good enough
    • Be embarrassed to receive recognition, praise, or gifts
    • Value others’ approval of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior over their own
    • Feel like they are not lovable or worthy
    • Seek recognition and praise to compensate for feeling inadequate
    • Find it difficult to admit a mistake
    • Need to appear right in the eyes of others, and even lie to look good
    • Struggle to identify and express their own needs and wants
    • Believe they are superior to others
    • Look to others to feel safe and secure
    • Have trouble meeting deadlines and completing projects
    • Struggle to set healthy priorities and boundaries

    Control Patterns

    Your teen may...

    • Believe that people are incapable of taking care of themselves
    • Try to convince others what to think, do, or feel
    • Offer unsolicited advice and direction
    • Become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice
    • Use gifts and favors to influence people
    • Use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance
    • Need to feel needed to have a relationship with others
    • Demand that their needs be met by others
    • Use charm and charisma to convince others of their caring and compassionate nature
    • Use blame and shame to emotionally manipulate others
    • Refuse to cooperate, compromise, or negotiate
    • Adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes
    • Use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others
    • Pretend to agree with others to get what they want

    Avoidance Patterns

    Your teen may...

    • Behave in ways that invite rejection, shame, or anger from others
    • Judge others harshly for their thoughts, feelings, or actions
    • Avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance
    • Use addictions to people, places, and things to distract from achieving intimacy in relationships
    • Use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation
    • Decline to use recovery tools and, as a result, limit their ability to have healthy relationships
    • Suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable
    • Pull people close, then push them away when they get too close
    • Refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves
    • Believe that showing emotion is a sign of weakness
    • Withhold signs of gratitude or appreciation

    Understanding the signs of codependency in your teen can be the first step to getting them the help they need. Now that you know what to look for, let's explore what causes codependency in teens.

    “The first priority is to heighten your awareness and open up your thinking and understanding about codependency and how it continues to affect your family and your life.”

    Darlene Lancer

    What Causes Codependency in Teens?

    There are many factors that can contribute to the development of codependency, such as:

    • Growing up with a family member who had a mental health disorder: Children who grow up with a parent or sibling with a mental illness may learn to focus solely on the needs of the family member, neglecting their own needs. This can lead to a pattern of behavior where the child becomes a caretaker for others and neglects their own needs, forming codependent relationships later in life. These mental illnesses may include:
      • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): The loved one of a person with BPD may become codependent and assume a caretaker role within the relationship. This can lead to a pattern of behavior where they neglect their own needs and form codependent relationships in the future.
      • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often seek out codependent individuals who will provide them with an audience and make them feel important. This can cause codependent partners to neglect their own needs and form unhealthy relationships.
      • Other mental health conditions: Having family members who may need more accommodations, like those with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is also associated with an increased risk of developing codependency.
    • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse: Those who have experienced abuse as children may have learned to suppress their own feelings and needs as a coping mechanism. This can lead to a pattern of behavior where they focus solely on the needs of others, neglecting their own, and forming codependent relationships.
    • A family member struggling with a physical illness: Children who care for ill parents or siblings may develop a pattern of behavior where they prioritize the needs of others over their own. This can lead to a habit of forming codependent relationships later in life.

    It's important to remember that even if a teen enjoys helping others and being a caretaker, this can quickly become unhealthy. Codependency can cause the other person in the relationship to become overly reliant on the caretaker, making it difficult for them to leave. This can cause immense distress to the caretaker, and prevent them from meeting their own needs and forming healthy relationships.

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    Importance of Early Intervention & Treatment for Teenage Codependency

    Early intervention is important when treating codependency in teens because

    • it can prevent the codependent behaviors from becoming deeply ingrained and harder to change later in life.
    • by addressing the issue in the earlier stages, it is easier to identify the root causes and develop coping strategies that can help teens break the cycle of codependency.
    • it also reduces the risk of the codependency leading to more serious mental health problems.

    Addressing the issue early can help teens:

    • build healthier relationships with their family, friends, and romantic partners
    • improve their self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
    • focus more on their own needs and goals
    • develop a stronger sense of independence and autonomy.

    Overall, early intervention can lead to better long-term outcomes for teens struggling with codependency, and can help them lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

    In addition, codependency can have a negative impact on a teen's personal development, relationships, and academic performance.

    Parents hug their teenage son at a graduation from ThreePeaks Ascent, a nature-based short-term residential treatment center for teens and their families

    Not Seeking Treatment for Codependeny Can Be Harmful for Teens

    Leaving teen codependency untreated can have various short-term and long-term effects on their mental, emotional, and physical well-being, including:

    Short-term Effects of Codependency:

    • Poor mental health: Teens may experience mental health challenges when they habitually prioritize the needs of others over their own.  Additionally, teens may experience high levels of anxiety and depression when they are unable to fulfill the needs of others or when they feel rejected or abandoned by the people they are codependent with.
    • Poor academic performance: Codependent teens may struggle with concentration and focus, leading to poor performance in school.
    • Relationship issues: Teens may have difficulty forming healthy relationships with peers or romantic partners, as they may continue to engage in codependent behaviors that prevent them from being authentic and vulnerable, two fundamental aspects of healthy relationships.

    Long-term effects of codependency:

    • Chronic low self-esteem: Teens who struggle with codependency may have difficulty developing a strong sense of self and may continue to struggle with self-esteem issues throughout their lives.
    • Mental health disorders: Long-term codependency can lead to the development of mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders, depression, and personality disorders.
    • Inability to form healthy relationships:  Teens who do not develop healthy interpersonal skills to break their codependent patterns may continue to struggle with forming healthy relationships in adulthood, leading to isolation and loneliness.
    • Chronic physical health issues: Prolonged stress and emotional turmoil associated with codependency can lead to chronic physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive issues.
    • Stunted Identity Development: Codependency can significantly impact a teen's identity development. When a teen's sense of self is tied to taking care of others, they may struggle to develop a clear sense of self-identity, values, and beliefs. Instead, they may prioritize the needs of others over their own and struggle to recognize their own needs and wants. This can lead to feelings of confusion, low self-esteem, and a lack of direction in life.

    Teens who struggle with codependency may have difficulty establishing a sense of independence and making decisions for themselves. They may struggle with assertiveness and boundary-setting, leading to feelings of resentment and frustration in their relationships. This can lead to difficulties in forming meaningful connections with others and can affect their ability to develop a healthy self-identity.

    It is important to seek treatment for teen codependency as soon as possible to prevent these short-term and long-term effects from taking hold.

    “Codependents still experience churning emotions. Predominant are anger and resentment and mood swings from fear and anxiety to hopelessness and despair. All of this stress over time leads to depression, which is a lack of feeling.”

    Darlene Lancer

    Early Intervention Benefits the Whole Family

    Early intervention and treatment for codependency in teens can have significant benefits for parents and families, including:

    • Improved parent-child relationships: With the guidance and support of mental health professionals, parents can learn how to better support their teen and establish healthy boundaries. As a result, they may see improvements in their relationship with their teen, including increased trust and communication.
    • Reduced stress and anxiety: Parenting a codependent teen can be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining. By seeking early intervention and treatment, parents can learn coping strategies and develop a support system that can help reduce stress and anxiety.
    • Improved family dynamics: Codependency can have a ripple effect on the entire family, leading to strained relationships and conflicts. By addressing codependency early on, families can work together to establish healthier communication patterns and develop a stronger, more supportive family dynamic.
    • Increased awareness and understanding: Early intervention and treatment can help parents and families better understand the root causes of codependency and how to recognize and address it in the future. This can lead to increased empathy and understanding for their teen and others who may struggle with codependency.
    • Increased self-awareness: As parents work with mental health professionals to support their teen, they may also gain a deeper understanding of their own patterns of behavior and communication. This increased self-awareness can help parents establish healthier boundaries and improve their own relationships, both within the family and in their personal lives.

    By seeking early intervention and treatment for their teen's codependency, parents can not only help their teen but also experience a range of benefits that can positively impact the entire family.

    Codependency Treatment Options for Teens

    There are several options available to parents who are seeking codependency treatment for their teenager. These include:

    • Outpatient therapy: This type of therapy involves meeting with a therapist on a regular basis, typically weekly or biweekly, to address codependency issues. It can be a good option for teens who are able to maintain their daily routines while receiving treatment.
    • Community-based programs: These programs may include support groups or other community resources that focus on helping teens with codependency issues. They can be a good option for teens who may benefit from peer support or who may not require more intensive treatment.
    • Residential treatment: This type of treatment involves a teen staying at a treatment center for an extended period of time, typically ranging from a few weeks to several months. Residential treatment can provide a highly structured and supportive environment for teens to work on their codependency issues. ThreePeaks uses a nature-based campus to help teens work on their codependency issues in a therapeutic and supportive environment. Our short-term residential treatment program can be a good option for teens who may benefit from experiential learning and the challenge of being away from an urban environment, surrounded by nature.

    Choosing the right type of treatment for a teen with codependency issues can be a difficult decision for parents. It's important to consider the severity of the teen's codependency, as well as their individual needs and preferences, when making this decision. Working with a mental health professional can help parents identify the best treatment options for their teenager.

    “Recovery from codependency doesn’t necessitate ending a relationship to become independent. The goal is to be able to function better and more independently in the relationship.”

    Darlene Lancer

    I’m Not Sure Where to Start.

    We’re here to help - take the first step and contact us to see if Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment could be the path to healing for your family.

    “Your codependent [teen] will fight change tooth and nail to stop your progress. [They] need continual support and self-awareness to prevent slipping backwards. Perseverance pays off. The best help comes from people experienced with codependency, whether it comes in the form of a [treatment] program, counselor, or psychotherapist.”

    Darlene Lancer

    Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment

    If your teenager is struggling with codependency, ThreePeaks' residential treatment program can help. Our program combines evidence-based therapies with the transformative power of nature, providing a holistic approach to healing. Led by experienced therapists, our team is dedicated to delivering individualized care for each teen.

    During the program, your teenager will engage in activities such as hiking and camping, working closely with their therapist to address codependent patterns. The simplified setting allows them to disconnect from daily distractions and focus on personal growth. The natural environment serves as a metaphor for their journey, as they face challenges and learn to establish healthy boundaries and develop a strong sense of self.

    One of the significant benefits of our program is empowering teens to take ownership of their healing process and develop the skills necessary for lasting recovery. Our program serves as a stepping stone towards building healthy relationships and fostering independence, without relying on ongoing codependency.

    We understand that choosing the right treatment program for your teenager can be a difficult decision, and we are here to support you every step of the way. Our team is available to answer any questions and provide additional information about our specialized program for codependency. With the right support, we believe your teenager can overcome codependent patterns and move forward to lead a more balanced and fulfilling life. Contact us today to learn how we can help your family.

    Benefits of a Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment Program

    Being immersed in nature can have a profound impact on a teenager. It improves their mental, emotional, and physical health.  Combined with a proven clinical approach, our therapeutic experience helps codependent teens.  Here are specific benefits your family can expect to see while your teen is in nature-based short-term residential treatment.

    The first stage of effective short-term residential treatment focuses on assessment and stabilization.

    1. Assessment 

    By observing your teen in a novel environment, our experienced therapists gain a deep understanding of what is really happening with your child. Research indicates accurate mental health assessments can lead to a 20% reduction in the number of days in treatment.

    2. Stabilization 

    Mental health stabilization provides a safe environment to deescalate your teen’s level of distress and/or reduce their acute symptoms of mental illness. Until teens feel genuinely safe, they cannot begin to heal. One therapeutic modality emphasizes that “Cues of safety are the treatment” and “safety is defined by feeling safe and not simply by the removal of threat.” It is not enough to merely tell a teen in crisis that they are mentally and emotionally safe, they must actually feel and believe it.

    Once your teen feels safe, our nature-based residential treatment program provides a novel and challenging environment that disrupts their unhealthy patterns and behaviors. Behaviors that either:

    • cause your teen's mental & emotional health struggles
    • or that your teen has developed as a negative way of coping with their struggles.

    The second stage of an effective residential treatment program focuses on engaging teens in the therapeutic process and empowering them with the skills needed to thrive.

    1. Engaging Teens in Therapy (even if they’ve been resistant to it before)

    The ThreePeaks Ascent treatment program is designed to re-engage teens in healthy adolescent development. When your teen attends a short-term residential program, they are taken away from negative distractions they may have at home. They engage in treatment in a way that would not be possible in any other setting.

    Your teen will participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions while in treatment. This allows them to process their behavior as well as make changes in their personal life and family relationships. They are also able to learn from their peers, realize they are not alone in their struggles, and gain motivation to make changes.

    We've found that by the time of discharge, 90% of teens were actively engaged in treatment. When contacted six months after treatment, most of these teens maintained the motivational progress they made during treatment.

    2. Empowering Teens Through Skill Development

    As your teen engages in the therapeutic process, they’ll start to see huge progress. But for long-term healing, it is not enough to only alleviate your teen’s struggles, we must also empower them with the skills needed to thrive in life. These skills include:

    • Self-awareness skills like a growth mindset, identifying one's feelings, developing interests & sense of purpose
    • Self-management skills like emotional regulation, self-motivation, resilience, setting & achieving goals, planning & time management
    • Responsible decision-making skills like showing curiosity & open-mindedness, anticipating & evaluating the consequences of one’s actions, internal locus of control
    • Relationship skills like communicating effectively, seeking & offering support, resolving conflicts constructively
    • Social awareness skills like showing empathy & compassion for others, taking others’ perspective, recognizing strengths in others

    Your teen is powerful, intelligent, and capable. They are among the leaders of tomorrow. That is why the third stage of our short-term residential treatment program focuses on helping teens redirect their previously misused potential toward developing mastery in life.

    Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed years ago, “Happiness is the feeling that power is increasing—that resistance is being overcome.” When teens develop competence and mastery they:

    • gain self-reliance and self-confidence
    • become more resilient
    • have a greater sense of meaning and purpose
    • and better resist negative emotions.

    Overall, building mastery helps teens develop a positive mindset. Because they feel competent and in control, they go from feeling, “I’m not capable” to “I can do this!”

    About the Author

    Steven DeMille, Executive Director at ThreePeaks Ascent, a short-term residential treatment program for teens in crisis

    Steven DeMille, Ph.D. LCMHC


    Steven DeMille is the Executive Director of ThreePeaks Ascent. He is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. His educational experience includes an MA in Mental Health Counseling and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. His research focus is on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment, nature, adolescent development, and counseling ethics. He is actively involved in the counseling and psychology profession and holds regional and national leadership positions. He publishes and presents on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment and the use of the outdoors. This is done around the world at the national and international conference levels. 

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