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15 'Habits' of People Who Grew Up With an 'Emotionally Fragile' Parent


If you grew up with an “emotionally fragile” parent, chances are, you didn’t have the typical, idyllic childhood you often see in movies.

Maybe your parent lived with debilitating depression that thrust you into the role of caregiver from a very young age. Maybe your parent was always teetering on the edge of absolute rage, so you learned to tiptoe around them to avoid an explosion. Or maybe your parent went through a divorce or separation, and leaned on you for more emotional support than was appropriate to expect of a child.

Growing up with an emotionally fragile parent can leave lasting damage on a person as they leave childhood and enter adulthood. If this sounds familiar to you, we want you to know you’re not alone and there is help available. To give and get support from other people who “get it,” head to our #TraumaSurvivors community page on The Mighty.

Though it’s true many kids who grow up with emotionally compromised or neglectful parents struggle with their mental health in adulthood, it’s important to remember parents seldom set out to abuse their kids. Oftentimes they simply do not have the support or resources to care for their own mental health. If you are a parent struggling with your mental health, we want you to know there is no shame in struggling, but it’s important to seek the support you need.

We wanted to know what “habits” people who grew up with emotionally fragile parents have now as adults, so we turned to our Mighty community to share their experiences with us.

Here’s are the “habits” our community shared with us:

1. Constantly Apologizing

Constantly apologizing is just one of many things I do as a result of an ’emotionally fragile’ parent. Another is panic and, again, apologize if someone looks at their watch or checks the time when I am doing something, particularly if shopping. It is why I prefer to be alone and do things at my own pace, the anxiety and fear such an innocent thing like checking the time because of me is horrible.” — Jodie B.

Constantly apologizing for normal things like having an opinion and crying, bending over backwards to please everyone and keep the peace, not standing up for myself because when I did at home I’d get blown up at, etc.” — Natalie J.

2. Overthinking

I overthink everything all of the time because I’m trying to prepare myself for the next thing you will be disappointed in.” — Faith L.

3. Always Feeling Afraid of Upsetting Others

“Not talking or doing anything for fear of getting into trouble or making people upset. Feeling like you can’t move or speak without permission, even amongst your closet friends.” — Rye B.

4. Having “Control Issues”

“I have huge control issues because I felt responsible for everyone’s feelings. My father had a hairpin trigger temper and my mother was a perpetual victim, so I tried to micromanage every little thing to keep him from exploding, and protect her. Now I have debilitating anxiety and it becomes worse if I feel like something is out of my control. Because if I can’t control everything, then something might upset someone, and it’ll be my fault and not only will I be in trouble, but no one will love me. It’s exhausting.” — Murphy M.

5. Being a “Parent” for Others

“Be the mom for all my group friends. The mature person who will be there to give you the advice someone else can’t.” — Gladys M.

Automatically parent everybody because I had to do it my whole life, but then I break down when it comes to trying to take care of myself.” — Chloe L.

6. Struggling to Make Decisions

“I have a hard time making choices, or having an opinion. When you spent your whole childhood, teens and part of your 20s without the ability to choose things for yourself, you either feel guilty, or really uncomfortable having an opinion. Because you feel like you’re going to get in trouble, or you’re going to have a panic attack.” — Kaylee L.

7. Ignoring Your Own Feelings

“I feel like I always have to fix everyone, take care of everyone, control everything. I feel like I have to ignore my feelings, and I have a hard time reaching out to people.” — Kayla O.

“[I] try so hard to hide my feelings rather than rock the boat.” — Jodi A.

8. Being a “People-Pleaser”

“I find it impossible to talk about how I feel. I constantly try make others happy, even if it means hurting myself. But I grew up with a dad who was both physically and emotionally abusive.” — Jamie J.

“Being a people-pleaser. I do a lot of ‘fawning’ now because I always had to watch what I said in case it triggered either severe depression or anger.” — Sela M.

9. Feeling Like You’re a Supporting Role in Your Own Life

“I always feel like I’m just playing a small supporting role in the great drama of other people’s lives instead of my life being a story of my own. I have a really hard time believing my feelings are valid and matter.” — Susanna L.

10. Constantly Fearing Abandonment

“Constantly fearing abandonment… And no matter how much reassurance I get, I keep waiting for the moment where that love disappears.” — Monika S.

11. Overanalyzing the Behavior of Others

“I overanalyze how people talk and their body language. When you’re used to looking for small clues to try to make life easier or prepare for a meltdown, it’s… a hard habit to break.” — Lexi R.

12. Pushing People Away

I push people away when I hit my depression low since that’s what my mom did. I’m trying to learn how to let people in but it’s hard to do at times and I never know how to tell people.” — Jennifer B.

13. Getting Offended Easily

“My daughter would say I cry too much and get offended too easily, and she isn’t wrong.” — Kat E.

14. Cleaning Up After Others

“Cleaning other people’s homes while you’re there because you grew up cleaning up after everyone because your parents didn’t clean.” — Des S.

15. Being Very Empathetic

“Yes there has been some negative impact but I also recognize that I learned how to be empathetic at a really young age. I remember my mom crying — I was only about 3 years old — and I went and got her the stuffed bear she had in her room.” — Lauren A.

If you grew up having to take care of an emotionally fragile parent, you’re not alone. Whether you’re struggling to assert boundaries in your life, have trouble communicating your needs or don’t know how to take care of yourself, we want you to know there’s a community of people who want to support you in your recovery journey. To connect with people 24/7 who really “get it,” post a Thought or Question on The Mighty with the hashtag #TraumaSurvivors.

For more from our Mighty community, check out the following stories:

Can you relate? Let us know in the comments.

GettyImages photo via asmakar