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Codependency and People Pleasing: How does emotionally unavailable parent trauma show up in my relationship?

Have you ever asked yourself questions like these?:

  • "Why am I that person who always ends up taking care of everyone else?"

  • "Why does it seem like I am always doing so much for other people but everyone around me doesn't seem to put in as much effort as I do?"

  • "Why do I always feel the need to do things for other people when they are upset even if it has nothing to do with me?"

  • "Why do I get anxious when I am in the presence of someone having a bad day?"

  • "Why do I still feel unworthy even though I am neglecting my needs to care for others?"

If you have ever found yourself asking questions like these then you may have learned co-dependent or people-pleasing behaviors due to emotionally neglectful parents or childhood abuse.

How does abuse and emotional neglect from childhood trauma show up in my relationships?

People Pleasing

It is possible that when you were a child you were surrounded by caregivers who were "cold" (emotionally unavailable) and never put any importance on your feelings, needs, and emotions. I have heard clients time after time tell me things like "We didn't talk about feelings in our house", "if I was sad or upset I was told I was being ungrateful", and "If I needed attention or wanted to talk I was told I was being too much or just told to shut up".

Due to this type of response a child grows up with a core belief that they are not enough, they are unworthy, and they should never care about their own needs. Instead what happens is they will make everything and everyone around them more important; even to the detriment of their well-being.


In an effort for the neglected or abused child (who is now an adult) to feel worthy, to feel enough, and to heal from emotional abandonment they may seek out or find themselves in relationships they are highly needed in but greatly unbalanced and unappreciated in. Instead of focusing on their growth and self-worth, they will make their entire world revolve around their romantic partner. They will spend their time trying to anticipate their partner's needs and wants; including trying to read their mind to prevent their partner from ever feeling a moment of unhappiness. Within these types of relationships, there is plenty of room for resentment to grow, manipulation to be learned, and the continuous cycle of abuse and neglect.

What can I do? How can I heal?

To heal from emotional neglect and childhood trauma there are a few areas you will want to focus on, preferably with a professional.

  • Personal growth; instead of making your partner the sun of your world focus on things YOU can do to grow as an individual like having hobbies, having your own set of friends, going to therapy, joining a club, and focusing on physical wellbeing.

  • Healing your inner child; do things that help you heal that small version of you who went without attention by doing things like playing video games, having a pizza party, and having sleepovers while watching wholesome movies with the people you feel safe being vulnerable around.

  • Process Trauma; schedule an individual session with a mental health professional who makes you feel safe and heard, develop a good relationship with that professional, and ask to create a trauma narrative so that you can better understand your feelings and memories of your own family of origin.

****You can also try journaling to process feelings, meditation to calm nervousness and anxiety, and a self-care routine to begin prioritizing yourself in your daily life.****

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