What Is An Emotionally Unavailable Parent?
Emotionally unavailable parents are physically present but emotionally detached. They keep an emotional distance from their children, interacting with them only when necessary, and they remain uninvolved in their lives. These emotionally absent parents do not provide emotional support and guidance that a child needs to develop emotional regulation, healthy relationships, and coping mechanisms. Emotional neglect is a form of child abuse1.
Parenting is an emotionally involved experience. There are more joys, affections, anger, and worries involved in raising children than in any other endeavor.
Parents’ emotions affect the quality of care they provide.
Positive emotions promote patient, sensitive care, and early attachment bonding2. Negative emotions promote insensitive, abusive, and coercive parenting3.
There is a strong correlation between parental warmth and favorable development outcomes for children and between parental hostility and negative developmental outcomes.
Emotionally unavailable parents are disengaged. They are unresponsive and indifferent to most parenting tasks necessary for healthy child development4.
When interacting with their children, emotionally unavailable parents display a pattern of physiological under-arousal5.
These detached parents cannot give their children the attention and emotional support they need.
Emotional unavailability in parents could be caused by the following factors.
- Mental health disorders, such as depression and substance abuse
- Distracted by work or commitments
- Preoccupied with their own issues, such as their own childhood psychological trauma
- Emotionally immature parents lack the ability to support their children emotionally
- Distressed by marriage discord or other life events6
- Lack of empathy or socialization-related emotions7
- Emotional instability caused by poor emotional regulating skills
18 Signs of emotionally unavailable parents
Here are some of the common signs of emotionally cold parents8.
- Emotionally cold parents speak to their children with a flat tone of voice
- Avoid eye contact with their children
- Not interested in their children’s activities
- Avoid spending time with their children
- Unresponsive to their children in times of distress
- Always seem busy or preoccupied with something other than their children
- Rarely hug or smile at their children
- No expression of love in words or actions
- Passively reject their children’s display of affection
- Uninvolved in children’s lives
- Dismiss or ignore their children when they display emotions
- Do not praise or offer positive feedback
- No words of encouragement
- Depressed parents
- Have addiction-based issues
- Have a childhood history of emotional or physical abuse
- Uncomfortable with emotional connection
- Critical of children’s mistakes
22 Common Signs in young children
- Develop insecure-anxious attachment during childhood
- Attachment disorder (in extreme cases)
- Passive and withdrawn behavior patterns
- Childhood development delay and failure to thrive
- More anger, whining, negative emotions
- Feelings of worthlessness, humiliation, shame, and self-blame
- Struggle in social interaction
- Speech delay
- Avoidance of mother and other children
- Behavioral issues and symptoms of behavioral disorders
- Difficulties in relationships with peers
- Disruptive and impulsive behavior
- Aggressive and defiant behavior
- Rocking and self-soothing motions in severe cases
- Cognitive deficits
- Low self-esteem and sense of self-worth
- Have trouble focusing
- Suffer from dissociative symptoms
- Less emotional competence
- Difficulty interpreting facial expressions
- Depressive symptoms
- Anxiety disorder symptoms
Effects of Emotionally Unavailable Parents On Older Children
When there is an emotion deficit in parents, children develop a deep fear of abandonment.
Children learn that their parents will respond, but only if they work at it. They make the parent pay attention using attention-seeking behaviors such as being overly demanding or babyish.
Others may care for their parents so they will be wanted by them. Boundary issues result when the duties of parents are blurred with those of children9.
It is likely that children who show this type of behavior and emotional neediness will end up in lopsided relationships or abusive relationships in adulthood.
Some children are also unable to trust or relate to others as a result of emotional neglect. It may be hard for adult children to form deep relationships10.
Children raised by emotionally distant parents may have difficult times developing a sense of self-worth.
They tend to have low self-esteem11.
Parents who are emotionally unavailable to their children are unable to provide optimal stimulation and regulate their children’s arousal.
As a result, children lack emotional regulation skills to cope with challenges of life12.
Emotionally unavailable parenting can have significant, long-term effects.
Children growing up with an emotionally unavailable parental figure are more susceptible to suicide during adolescence13.
Children of emotionally unavailable parents may struggle with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder, and eating disorder later in life14.
How To Heal
Having emotionally detached parents have a profound impact on their children’s development.
Emotion emotional neglect is particularly detrimental in infancy1.
As a child’s development progresses, neglect has an increasingly negative impact on their abilities and deficiencies.
Here are some suggestions to start the healing process.
Healing begins when you recognize the harm that has been done to you. Issues were rotted in your parents’ own emotional needs, not in your inadequancy.
A major obstacle to healing is the belief that you are responsible for your parent’s emotional inaccessibility-that if you behaved differently, they would have been able to love you more. However, this is not true. You are not responsible for their emotional availability or the lack of.
Accept that only they themselves can change their behavior. Your parent may never get better or change, but what matters most is that you do.
Build a Support Network
The importance of seeking out and building a network of emotional support is particularly important for people who grew up without proper emotional support.
A good place to start is by seeking out friends who show understanding.
A support group of people with similar experiences can help you feel understood, validated, and less isolated. Sharing your story allows you to hear what helped others who have been there before.
Plan and Do Positive Activities
Engage in positive activities can increase positive emotions and help you feel more normal.
Positive activities may include doing fun things, exercising, meditating, and helping others.
Seek mental health care whenever possible. In every state, there are public resources available to help those who cannot afford therapy.
An experienced therapist or psychologist can help you make sense of the past. They can also help you develop new ways of looking at yourself and relating to others so you can build meaningful relationships.
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