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7 Tips on How to Deal with Emotionally Immature Parents

Emotionally immature parents, characterized by self-centeredness, moodiness, and a lack of empathy, struggle with emotional regulation, leading to unreliable emotional support for their children. Adult children of these parents often face challenges in forming healthy relationships and experience low self-esteem, trust issues, and emotional intimacy difficulties.

Emotional, driven, passive, rejecting, eggshell, and emotionally stunted are different types of emotional immaturity in parents with distinct behaviors. Dealing with emotionally immature parents involves recognizing the issue, setting firm personal boundaries, focusing on personal emotional work, practicing mindfulness and self-care, healing through relationships, and seeking professional guidance. Deciding whether to cut off emotionally immature parents should prioritize personal well-being and mental health, particularly in severe situations.

Signs of emotional immaturity in parents include self-centeredness, rigidity, emotional reactivity, fear of emotions, extremes of control, potential mental illness, and substance abuse tendencies.

woman cries on man shoulder emotionally immature mother example

What are emotionally immature parents?

Emotionally immature parents, despite being adults, display behaviors, responses, and attitudes that are immature or underdeveloped emotionally. Emotionally immature mothers and fathers are self-centered, moody, impulsive, controlling, and intrusive. They lack empathy and have difficulty with emotional regulation. Their unreliable emotional support and lack of sensitivity do not instill trust or security in their children.

What are adult children of emotionally immature parents?

Adult children of emotionally immature parents are those raised by parents who struggle with emotional regulation and maturity. These adult children often face unique challenges. They struggle to build healthy relationships, have low self-esteem, face challenges with trust, and experience difficulties with emotional intimacy.

What are the 4 types of emotionally immature parents?

The 4 types of emotionally immature parents are emotional, driven, passive, and rejecting parents, according to clinical psychologist Lindsay C. Gibson, author of the book Adult Child of Emotionally Immature Parents.

  1. Emotional parents: Emotional parents are driven by their feelings. They are fragile and tend to overreact to situations. They get upset quickly, and when they do, the entire family scrambles to soothe them. Their mood can shift from being over-involved to cold and dismissive in seconds. This emotional roller coaster makes them unpredictable and the home environment stressful. You never know what to expect, and you are constantly walking on eggshells. One minute, they might be happy, and the next, they could throw a tantrum. It is tough to have a parent who is always volatile and never seems to be able to keep their cool. Emotional parents often rely on others to stabilize them. As a reversal of roles, children soothe, calm, or support their parents’ emotional needs when upset.
  2. Driven parents: A driven emotionally immature parent may seem very normal. On the surface, they are involved and invested in their children’s lives. Despite their heavy involvement in their children’s lives, emotionally driven parents lack empathy for their children. They are immature because they never adapt to their children’s needs or nurture an emotional connection. Instead, they force their children to conform to what they think is best for them. They are controlling and intrusive in their children’s lives. They set very high standards and can be very critical and demanding. Driven parents tend to be very busy. They want to raise successful kids at all costs to satisfy their needs. So, they are often distracted and both physically and emotionally unavailable.
  3. Passive parents: Passive emotionally immature parents avoid any conflict or stress. While this can mean they’re easy to get along with, they cannot set healthy boundaries, have honest conversations, or stand up for themselves or their children if needed. Children of passive parents cannot rely on their parents to be there for them in any essential way. They are often left to fend for themselves because such parent ignores harm from the other abusive parent or family member.
  4. Rejecting parents: Rejecting emotionally immature parents want to be left alone. They don’t spend much time with their family; the few interactions are formal and impersonal. Most of their interactions consist of issuing commands, blowing up, or isolating themselves from their families, and they have little tolerance or empathy for other people’s needs. Children often feel uncomfortable around such parents and think that they are unimportant to their parents.

Besides the four types defined by Gibson, emotionally immature parents are known by various names, each reflecting unique traits and characteristics.

What are eggshell parents?

Eggshell parents are emotionally immature parents who are also overly sensitive, fragile, and easily upset, creating an environment where their children feel like they’re constantly “walking on eggshells.”

These parents are reactive to criticism or conflicts. Their constant need for reassurance places an emotional burden on their children. Eggshell mothers and fathers’ sensitivities and emotional issues lead to an unstable and tense emotional atmosphere.

What are emotionally stunted parents?

Emotionally stunted parents characterized by arrested emotional development are sometimes referred to as the “Peter Pan Syndrome.” This term metaphorically encapsulates the phenomenon where these individuals, despite their chronological age, display a psychological immaturity, mirroring the fictional character Peter Pan’s desire to remain a child forever.

Emotionally stunted parents are reluctant or unable to embrace responsibilities and emotional complexities of adulhood, which significant impacts their parenting style and the emotional envrionment they provide for their children.

How to deal with emotionally immature parents

To deal with emotionally immature parents, here are 7 steps.

1. Recognize the issue

Adult children of emotionally stunted parents often grow up feeling unworthy and unloved. It is time to shift your inner dialogue.

You aren’t unlovable. Your parent is not mature enough to know how to show you love.

Understanding why your parents behave as they do is a significant first step in healing. Their actions are the results of their limitations and not your fault.

2. Set boundaries

Emotionally immature parents are often controlling and intrusive. Set your firm personal boundaries and communicate them.

Reflect on what behaviors you find unacceptable or harmful. Express your boundaries to your parents clearly and assertively. When your boundaries are breached, disengage and uphold your limits consistently. Do not tolerate their violation.

3. Let them work on their issues while you focus on yours

Your immature mother or father may have deep emotional issues that can’t be resolved by a simple, heartfelt conversation or even multiple attempts at reconnecting. Your parent must work on their childhood issues, process their emotions, and break old patterns to overcome their immaturity.

It is not your responsibility to raise your parents. You must detach yourself from your emotionally immature parents. You may suggest therapy to them, but know that they may not take your advice.

4. Connect with your emotions

A lack of emotional awareness may have prevented you from developing relationships in meaningful ways. Now is the time to recover and reconnect with your feelings through deep emotional work.

Connecting with your true feelings can be terrifying after suppressing or hiding them your whole life. Facing unwanted feelings toward close friends and family can be devastating at first. The eruptions of emotion may make you feel guilty, ashamed, or angry. This healing journey can be easier with more emotional support from trusted friends or family members.

5. Mindfulness and self-care

Taking good care of yourself is essential to healing. Mindfulness practices such as meditation can help reduce stress, regulate emotions, and connect with your deeper feelings. With practice, you will also become more conscious of sharing your emotional experience with others. Meditation can also help you be a mindful parent if you have children.

6. Relationships heal relational wounds

An adult child of emotionally immature parents carries a relational wound resulting from insecure attachments. Emotional wounds can be healed through meaningful relationships. However, someone who has never experienced a deep, fulfilling relationship may not know what to look for or how their behavior may affect it.

7. Seek professional guidance

Professional help can facilitate your recovering from emotionally immature parents. An experienced therapist can help you identify unhealthy relationship patterns, navigate the dynamics, and cultivate meaningful interactions with others. They can assist you in identifying destructive behavior patterns, learning productive communication skills, and establishing boundaries in relationships.

You can break the patterns and start anew—maybe not with your parents, but with your other healthy relationships.

Should I cut off emotionally immature parents?

You should prioritize your well-being and mental health. If your boundaries are violated and the situation is severe, cutting off emotionally immature parents may be necessary to protect yourself from psychological harm. If in doubt, consult a mental health professional who can assist you with a solution that fits your unique situation.

What are the signs of emotionally immature parents?

Here are 7 signs of emotionally immature parents.

  1. They put themselves first: An emotionally immature mother or father never loses their childhood instincts. They are self-centered. They feel and act like they are the center of the universe. Their primary concern is themselves, and they instinctively do what feels good. Their emotions rule them. Unlike mature adults who consider how their actions might affect others before they act, an immature parent prioritizes their needs over their children’s.
  2. They are rigid and always right: Like children, immature parents are rigid, single-minded, and have simplistic views of the world. They can’t change their minds once they have formed an opinion. Criticism or different opinions can make them very defensive and emotional.
  3. They are emotionally reactive: Emotionally immature people are sensitive and don’t deal with stress well. The most minor thing can set them off. Once upset, they become overreactive and cannot regulate themselves. Reactive parents expect others to give in and do what they want to calm them down.
  4. They fear emotions: Deep emotion can easily overwhelm this type of parent. Immature parents often dismiss their children’s feelings or disallow them to show them. Children are discouraged from expressing their feelings or talking about them freely.
  5. They are either too controlling or don’t care at all: Immature parents are at the extremes of the control spectrum. Some emotionally immature parents are controlling parents on one end of the spectrum. They tend to be authoritarian, strict, or narcissistic. They set rigid rules and control every aspect of their children’s lives. Some immature parents, on the other end of the spectrum, are uninvolved and show little interest in their kids’ lives. These neglectful parents set no rules or expectations.
  6. They may suffer from mental illness: Individuals who suffer from mental health conditions such as depression are often associated with a lack of emotional self-regulation skills. Emotional dysregulation is a common symptom in personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, etc.​1–5​
  7. They may abuse substances: Emotion dysregulation is highly predictive of substance abuse behavior. Thus, emotionally immature parents are more prone to drug abuse.​6​

The lack of emotional maturity in these parents often make them emotionally unstable and unavailable.

Are emotionally immature parents narcissists?

Some emotionally immature parensts are narcissistic or show narcissist traits, but not all of them do. Emotional immaturity and narcissism are not synonymous.

What is emotional maturity?

Emotional maturity is the ability to recognize, express, and control one’s own emotions while being able to empathize and respond to the feelings of others. Emotionally mature people can maintain goal-directed behavior when competing emotions exist. Mature people tend to foster strong relationships with others.

What causes emotional immaturity in parents?

According to a study, adverse childhood experiences such as emotional abuse cause emotional immaturity in many parents. Child abuse and neglect can undercut a child’s ability to develop emotional regulation. Research also shows that emotionally immature parents tend to have parents who are also emotionally immature.​7,8​

Is emotional immaturity toxic?

No, emotional immaturity is not inherently toxic. Some emotionally immature parents are toxic but some are not. Parents are considered toxic only when they create a chronically stressful environment for their children.

What are the effects of growing up with emotionally immature parents?

Here are 7 effects of growing up with an emotionally immature father or mother.

  1. Parentification: The child becomes more emotionally mature than the parent feeling like they have to care for the parents instead of the other way around. This experience can lead to parentification trauma.
  2. Low self-esteem: Childhood emotional neglect often leads to feelings of being undeserving of love and affection.
  3. Difficulty in trusting others: The lack of a stable emotional foundation can make it hard to trust others.
  4. Struggle in relationships: The lack of trust also affects the ability to relate to others and form deep relationships.
  5. Anxiety and depression: The emotional turbulence and neglect experienced can predispose the child to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
  6. People-pleasing behaviors: Tendency to excessively please others, rooted in the desire to avoid conflict or gain the approval that was lacking in childhood.
  7. Difficulty Setting Boundaries: Due to the intrusive nature of emotionally immature parents, children often struggle to develop and uphold their own personal boundaries later in adulthood..

Can emotionally immature parents cause PTSD?

Yes, emotionally immature parents can contribute to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in their children. When a child is repeatedly exposed to emotional neglect, instability, or emotional volitility, it can be traumatic. The unpredictable or reckless behaviors of immature parents can create a persistently stressful environment. This ongoing toxic stress can lead to trauma and PTSD, characterized by symptoms such as chronic anxiety, flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, and mood disturbances.

However, only a trained professional can make an accurate diagnosis. Please see your healthcare provider if you suspect you or someoen you know may suffer from PTSD.

Do emotionally immature parents ever change?

Some emotionally immature parents do change while others do not. With a strong commitment to self-improvement and the help of professional counseling, even those who are emotionally stunted can begin a journal toward emotional growth and maturity. This process involves learning new coping strategies, understanding and managing emotions more effectively, and improving interpersonal skills

Can you change emotionally immature parents?

It is possible for emotionally immature parents to change, but understand that this change must be self-motivated; it cannot be compelled by others. Therefore, you likely cannot change emotionally immature parents, but they can change themselves, if they want to.

Are people with ADHD emotionally immature?

Studies have found a strong association between ADHD and emotional dysregulation, menifesting in an inability to self-soothe, refocus attention, and continue goal-oriented activities. However, it doesn’t mean all people with ADHD are emotionally immature.​9​


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    Gibson LC. Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents. New Harbinger Publications; 2015.
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    Austin MA, Riniolo TC, Porges SW. Borderline personality disorder and emotion regulation: Insights from the Polyvagal Theory. Brain and Cognition. Published online October 2007:69-76. doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2006.05.007
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    Fletcher K, Parker G, Bayes A, Paterson A, McClure G. Emotion regulation strategies in bipolar II disorder and borderline personality disorder: Differences and relationships with perceived parental style. Journal of Affective Disorders. Published online March 2014:52-59. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.01.001
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    Joormann J, Stanton CH. Examining emotion regulation in depression: A review and future directions. Behaviour Research and Therapy. Published online November 2016:35-49. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2016.07.007
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    Ronningstam E. Pathological Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Recent Research and Clinical Implications. Curr Behav Neurosci Rep. Published online January 19, 2016:34-42. doi:10.1007/s40473-016-0060-y
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    Kober H. Emotion regulation in substance use disorders. In: Handbook of Emotion Regulation. The Guilford Press; 2014:428–446.
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    Li D, Li D, Wu N, Wang Z. Intergenerational transmission of emotion regulation through parents’ reactions to children’s negative emotions: Tests of unique, actor, partner, and mediating effects. Children and Youth Services Review. Published online June 2019:113-122. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.03.038
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    Burns EE, Jackson JL, Harding HG. Child Maltreatment, Emotion Regulation, and Posttraumatic Stress: The Impact of Emotional Abuse. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. Published online November 18, 2010:801-819. doi:10.1080/10926771.2010.522947
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    Bunford N, Evans SW, Langberg JM. Emotion Dysregulation Is Associated With Social Impairment Among Young Adolescents With ADHD. J Atten Disord. Published online March 29, 2014:66-82. doi:10.1177/1087054714527793


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *