10 Habits of Kids Who Grew Up With Emotionally ‘Needy’ Parents
If you were raised by an emotionally “needy” parent, you probably didn’t get the parent you needed growing up.
Maybe your parent lived with mental illness that didn’t leave them with enough emotional space to be there for you. Maybe your parent was narcissistic, and you learned no one’s needs mattered except theirs. Or maybe your parent really struggled with emotional dysregulation, and you often weren’t sure if you were going to be given a hug or yelled at.
Though growing up with an emotionally fragile or “needy” parent doesn’t automatically mean a parent is abusive, these parents can end up emotionally abusing their kids by neglecting their child’s needs. Because of this, it’s important to talk about the impact. Raising awareness can help trauma survivors heal.
Growing up with an emotionally fragile parent can leave a lasting mark 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.
We wanted to know what “habits” people who grew up with emotionally “needy” parents have now as adults, so we turned to our Mighty community to share their experiences with us. Below you can read what they had to say.
Here are 1o habits of people who grew up with emotionally “needy” parents:
1. Struggling to Share Details About Your Life
For many children who grew up with emotionally “needy” parents, sharing feelings and needs can be challenging. Whether you had a parent who disregarded your needs because their needs were the “most important,” or depended on you to “hold them up” emotionally, children in these situations often learn their needs don’t matter — so they choose not to say anything at all.
“I don’t talk about myself or how I am doing unless I am asked a very specific question. My ‘needy parent’ would ask me how I was, and I could never tell the truth because they would bring it back to themselves. Comparing it to their feelings or actions. They always had a solution. They always needed that attention. So now, I don’t let myself have the spotlight unless I know the person asking is truly interested.” — GraceAnne H.
2. Trying to ‘Fix’ Everything
Feeling the need to “fix” and “manage” other people’s moods is a common experience of people who grew up with emotionally “needy” parents. If you can relate, it’s important to remember, regardless of what you learned growing up, that other people’s emotions are not your responsibility. It’s not your job to constantly guess what other people may be feeling.
“I try to fix everything. I feel like everyone’s feelings and problems are my responsibility to manage, and I start to panic if I can’t make everything better and everyone happy. There’s this awful terror that’s been with me my entire life that if I don’t fix ‘it’ — no matter what it is — I’m going to be in horrible trouble, and everyone will hate and leave me. I feel I’m only able to be loved if I can be useful to someone, not just because I’m a person who deserves to be cared about.” — Murphy M.
Kids who grew up with parents who were emotionally volatile may have learned apologizing (especially for things that weren’t their fault) was a good way to side-step difficult situations with their parent. This is especially true for kids who grew up in abusive homes where they were made to feel like everything was their fault.
“I apologize for everything and sometimes even take it upon myself to make [everyone else] happy without regard to my own happiness. Even putting myself out at times.” — Deyone H.
“I am constantly apologizing for small things. Whether it be for not returning a text immediately or thinking I’ve said something that hurt [my friend]. I’m constantly over-apologizing.” — Ashley B.
4. Struggling With Boundaries
Asserting boundaries can be difficult when you grew up with a parent who didn’t have appropriate emotional boundaries with you. It’s common to struggle with boundaries like saying “no” and expressing what you need in your relationships in adulthood. If you need a crash course on boundaries with “difficult” people in your life, check out this story.
“I think it makes it hard for people to have clear boundaries and take care of themselves. You get so used to allowing everything growing up, and when you’re older it’s hard to understand boundaries and take the time to focus on your self-care.” — Josie S.
5. Always ‘Being the Parent’
If you struggle with tapping into your “inner child,” you’re not alone. Children thrust into a parental role (also known as parentification), often struggle later in life with “letting loose,” because they constantly feel the weight of responsibility on their shoulders.
“I grew up with an emotionally ‘needy’ mother. It has made me focus more on my husband and child’s needs than ‘play time.’ I always put baths, homework, clothing needs and food needs before fun and play.” — Starla H.
6. Believing Feelings Are Unsafe
If you had an emotionally “needy” parent, chances are you may believe your feelings are not as important as the feelings of others. In your mind, emotions and feelings might feel unsafe — especially if think expressing them means people will leave. If you struggle to express your feelings and thoughts, you might be an echoist. Read more about echoism here.
“I struggle to view myself with importance or value. Any feelings at all, even feelings felt to just myself, are really uncomfortable and unsafe. I’m a big people pleaser. I also have a big fear of rejection which makes me think people will up and leave if I disappoint them in any way — no matter how small.” — Jordan G.
7. Constantly Being Worried People Are Mad at You
In some households with emotionally “needy” parents, kids are left wondering what kind of parent they will get — joyful, raging, despairing? It’s easy to get used to that kind of emotional inconsistency and expect others to act the same way. For this reason, many people grow up constantly fearful their loved ones are mad at them, and may frequently check in for reassurance.
“The fear of silence. I get really anxious when friends don’t respond to texts because I think they’re ‘done’ with me or that I did something wrong and they’re mad at me.” — Rachel L.
“Asking ‘Are you OK?’ and ‘Are you sure?’ when there’s a slight emotional upset or inconvenience.” — Cheryl F.
8. Mirroring Behaviors You See
As human beings, we all tend to mirror the norms and behaviors of others. If you have a tendency to engage in destructive behaviors you observed from your parents growing up, you’re not alone, but you also aren’t “doomed” to repeat their mistakes. Think about your personal values and work with a trusted mental health professional to practice living in accordance with your values.
“I echo. I will mirror the behavior someone is displaying, no matter how unhealthy or what my boundaries are because I don’t want to upset others.” — Laura H.
9. Seeking Validation From Authority Figures
If you didn’t get the emotional support from your parents you needed growing up, turning to other authority figures in your life for validation is common. Though external validation is wonderful and can build you up in the moment, it’s important to also be working on deeply-rooted self-esteem issues you may have. Self-esteem is something only you can give yourself, and you deserve to give yourself that gift.
“Seeking validation from your co-workers and boss.” — Corey H.
10. Leaning on Your Children Emotionally
When you grow up with a parent who is emotionally dependent on you, it’s easy to replicate the same behaviors with your own children. While there’s no shame in struggling, it’s important to break the cycle and get the help you need. Reach out to a therapist and work on cultivating safe adult friendships in your life where you can get the emotional support you’re searching for.
“Depending too much on my children.” — Christina P.
If you grew up taking care of an emotionally “needy” 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.
Can you relate? Let us know in the comments.
Getty Images photo via S.Karnjanapit