As children, we look up to our parents for support and guidance. Our parents are supposed to guide us with loving care and wisdom.
What if you grew up with an emotionally immature parent?
Emotionally immature parents may provide you with a safe home, a good education, and anything that money could buy.
However, you never received what you really needed emotionally.
You became more emotionally mature than your parents. You often felt like you had to take care of them, instead of the other way around.
This confusing parent-child relationship left you feeling abandoned and insecure.
Childhood emotional neglect or CEN is a painful and lonely experience.
While it is impossible to change your painful childhood, understanding your parents’ emotional immaturity is a step toward healing.
What Is an Emotionally Immature Parent?
Emotionally immature parents do not have the ability to deal with their emotions in a healthy. They do not have effective coping mechanisms to regulate their emotions and maintain competent functioning in stressful situations.
Emotional maturity is the ability to recognize, express, and control one’s own emotions while being able to empathize and respond to the emotions of others.
When parents are emotionally immature, they cannot control their emotions and are too focused on themselves to care about their children’s needs1.
4 Types of Emotionally Immature Parents
According to clinical psychologist, Lindsay Gibson, there are four types of emotionally immature parents.
Although they create feelings of insecurity in their children in different ways, all emotionally immature parents have limited empathy, unreliable emotional support, and a lack of sensitivity. Their inconsistent behavior does not instill trust or security in their kids.
Emotional parents are driven by their feelings.
They are fragile and tend to overreact to situations. They get upset easily, and when they do, the entire family scrambles to soothe them.
Their mood can shift from being over-involved to cold and dismissive in a matter of seconds.
This emotional roller coaster makes them unpredictable and the home environment stressful.
You never know what to expect, and you are always walking on eggshells.
One minute they might be happy and the next they could be throwing 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 emotional parents when they are upset.
Driven parents may seem very normal.
On the surface, they are involved and invested in their children’s lives.
In spite of their heavy involvement in their children’s lives, emotionally driven parents lack empathy for their children. They are emotionally immature because they never adapt to their children’s needs.
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 own needs. So they are often distracted and both physically and emotionally unavailable.
Passive parents avoid conflict and stress.
While this can mean that they’re easy to get along with, they are unable to set any 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 parents ignore harmful family situations.
Rejecting parents want to be left alone.
They don’t spend a lot of time with their family, and 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 their parents because of this and think that they are unimportant to them.
What Causes Emotional Immaturity In Parents?
A variety of risk factors are associated with emotional immaturity in parents.
Growing up with physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect can undercut a child’s ability to develop emotional regulation. In particular, emotional abuse is the strongest predictor of emotional immaturation2.
History tends to repeat itself.
In general, parents who are emotionally immature tend to have parents who are also emotionally immature3.
For emotionally immature parents, being accepted by their own parents may have required shutting down many of the deepest feelings in their childhood.
They were not allowed to explore or express their thoughts and feelings to develop a mature, individual sense of self, limiting their ability to regulate themselves or connect with others emotionally as adults4.
Signs That Your Parent Is Emotionally Immature
Emotionally immature parents manifest their immaturity in various ways. Here are some signs of emotionally immature parents.
They put themselves first
Young children are self-centered. Their primary concern is themselves, and they instinctively do what feels good. They are ruled by their emotions.
Whereas mature adults consider how their actions might affect others before they act.
Emotionally immature parents never really lose their childhood instincts. They prioritize their own needs over those of their children.
They are rigid and always right
This is another manifestation of their immaturity.
Like children, immature parents are rigid, single-minded, and have simplistic views of the world.
It is impossible for them to change their minds once they have formed an opinion.
Criticism or different opinions can make them very defensive and emotional.
They are sensitive and reactive
Emotionally immature people are sensitive and don’t deal with stress well.
The smallest thing can set them off.
Once upset, they become overreactive and cannot regulate themselves.
They expect others to give in and do what they want in order to calm them down.
They fear emotions
In emotionally immature people, deep emotion can easily overwhelm them.
These 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.
They are either too controlling or don’t care at all
Immature parents are at the extremes of the control spectrum.
They are controlling on one end of the spectrum. They tend to be autocratic parents, authoritarian parents, strict parents, or narcissistic parents. They set rigid rules and control every aspect of their children’s lives.
On the other end of the spectrum, they are uninvolved. They are neglectful parents. There are no rules or expectations set by them.
They may suffer from mental illness
Individuals who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression are often associated with a lack of emotional regulation skills5.
Emotional dysregulation is also a common symptom in personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder6, borderline personality disorder7, bipolar disorder8, etc.
They may abuse substances
Emotion dysregulation is highly predictive of substance abuse behavior9.
Thus, emotionally immature parents are more prone to drug abuse.
How Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents Heal
Recognize the issue
Children of emotionally immature parents often grow up thinking that they’re unworthy of love.
You weren’t unlovable, but your parent didn’t know how to show love. Their parents were probably emotionally immature, too.
Having now realized why they behaved the way they did, you know that you have nothing to do with their actions. It was not your fault.
As a child, you may have felt unworthy and unloved. It is time to stop that inner dialogue and create the emotional connections that you craved.
Let them work on their issues while you focus on yours
There are deep emotional issues that can’t be resolved by a simple heartfelt conversation, or even multiple attempts at reconnecting.
A child who had childhood trauma will need to process his or her emotions and break old patterns in order to overcome their emotional immaturity.
It is not your responsibility to raise your parents.
Your job is working on yourself.
You may suggest therapy to them although it is unlikely that they feel they need it.
Connect with your emotions
A lack of emotional awareness may have prevented you from developing meaningful relationships or created ongoing relationship challenges.
Connecting and facing your true feelings can be terrifying after suppressing or hiding them your whole life.
But it also means facing unwanted feelings toward close friends and family. The eruptions of emotion you deemed unacceptable before may make you feel guilty, ashamed, or angry.
This healing journey can be made easier with more emotional support, such as from trusted friends or an experienced therapist.
Meditation or mindfulness practice
Taking good care of yourself is important. Practicing meditation or mindfulness can help you achieve that.
In addition, they can help you connect with your deeper feelings.
With practice, you can also become more conscious of how you treat your own children or any other significant people in your life.
You can break the patterns and start anew—maybe not with your parents, but with your other healthy relationships.
Also See: Emotional Regulation in Children
- 1.Gibson LC. Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents. New Harbinger Publications; 2015.
- 2.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
- 3.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
- 4.Katz LF, Maliken AC, Stettler NM. Parental Meta-Emotion Philosophy: A Review of Research and Theoretical Framework. Child Dev Perspect. Published online May 2012:n/a-n/a. doi:10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00244.x
- 5.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
- 6.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
- 7.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
- 8.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
- 9.Kober H. Emotion regulation in substance use disorders. In: Handbook of Emotion Regulation. The Guilford Press; 2014:428–446.