Co-dependent mothers and how this affects their children

I often work with teenagers and adults who find themselves in a cycle of people-pleasing, scared to say no or object to demands made on them. They have little or no personal boundaries - agreeing to do things for others that are detrimental to their own life, health and happiness for fear of upsetting or antagonising the people they are attempting to please.


Quite often, this type of behaviour creates a dis-ease within; low- self-esteem, a sense of being unfulfilled, unimportant, worthless, resulting in physical symptoms manifesting themselves in a variety of ways - fatigue, pain, auto-immune dysfunction, migraines, skin disorders - even non-epileptic seizures.

The one thing most of them seem to have in common is that the relationship with their mother (and quite often father as well) is unhealthy. (For the purpose of this article I will use the word mother but this can equally be applied to the father.)

Whether as younger children, they felt they had to maintain the peace, which is so often the case with alcoholic or drug dependent mothers, chronic depression or other long-term mental or physical illnesses.

Or perhaps they were never certain what mood their mother was in when they walked in the door, having to change their own emotional state in a milli-second, to meet the needs of the mother.

Or maybe, the mother was unaccepting of the child growing up and becoming less dependent on them creating a lack of purpose in themselves; keeping their child as a child beyond what was reasonable, thereby creating an unhealthy expectation of love or devotion from the child.

I knew one client who had a father who had imposed an expectation on them as a child, that they needed to care for him and so they did - becoming his rescuer in matters relating to adult concepts, beyond their cognitive capabilities. This continued into adulthood until they realised that this was unhealthy and began to change the dynamics of the relationship for the better - with coaching to help them learn the skills to set clear boundaries.

More often than not this unhealthy co-dependent attachment is created as a result of what was missing from the mother's life, filling a need or just simply not being able to be in a place to be dependent from the child. There is no sense of blame or judgement because I truly believe that nobody makes a conscious decision to create unhealthy relationships with their children.

People-pleasing, whether it is in a friendship, work, family or intimate relationship is unhealthy for the person who is pleasing. It can also attract an unsustainable sense of expectation from those around the person who people-pleases; they ask, they get, they expect.

You can also find yourself in the position of feeling like the victim, "why I am always the one who....".

Learning to take responsibility for any part you may have played in creating the situation is the start of changing this unconscious pattern of behaviour. You cannot change what has occurred already. The past is the past. You are responsible for you, your actions, your behaviours and responses. Every moment of every day, you have a choice to choose a different path.

This takes courage and confidence, this isn't often easily achieved by the person who has become the people-pleaser - it seems that pleasing and being confident and courageous are not things that naturally go hand in hand. If you have confidence and courage, you are unlikely to be a people-pleaser to the point that it is unhealthy for you.

As a life coach, I would always recommend you seek help and support to change some long-standing patterns of behaviour. As human beings, we are designed to be part of a community, a tribe, to have a number of resourceful people available to help and guide us. However, modern-day life segregates us and it seems that toxic family relationships widen that segregation. If you seek to make changes in your own personality, to stop being a people-pleaser, then look for someone who you feel can identify with you, what you have been through and can help you make the changes you want to for a healthier, happier life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN
Written by Nikki Emerton
Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN

Having spent the majority of my adult life not really knowing how to be resilient to life's ups and downs, I discovered NLP, hypnotherapy and coaching. I've found this invaluable in my own life and now use the skills I have learnt and the experiences I have had to help others change their thoughts and behaviours to achieve health and happiness.

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