Do You Have Emotionally Immature Parents?
Updated: Jul 29
Did you grow up feeling lonely? Were your parents preoccupied with their own stuff and/or unavailable to support you emotionally? Do you struggle with expressing your needs, such as asking for help?
Many people come to therapy due to unmet needs. These needs may be fulfilled (or unfilled) outside of ourselves through relationships with our family, friends, and/or partner(s). Some of our needs are internal/physical, including how we take care of our basic, emotional, and psychological needs. Although we are not always aware, a lot of how we are as adults is shaped by our upbringing in childhood and, specifically, how our caregivers/parents took care of us emotionally and physically.
Emotionally Unavailable Parents
All children have emotional and physical needs. Emotionally unavailable parents may focus on their children’s physical needs, such as providing shelter, food, clothes, etc. and do not recognize their children’s desire for an emotional connection. For example, if a child falls and has a cut, a parent attuned to their child’s physical safety will tend to the wound. Similarly, if a child is crying, an emotionally available parent will offer comfort and understanding when their child is distressed.
Emotionally immature parents are often avoidant of their own feelings and disconnected from the internal experiences of their children (Gibson, 2015). They may cope by denying their reality and distracting themselves. Due to their discomfort, parents may become upset when their children have emotions and punish rather than comfort them (e.g., “I’ll give you something to cry about”). Over time, the constantly invalidated child may also learn to disconnect from their own needs and/or feel shameful about seeking help for themselves.
While emotional immaturity is about the parents’ own relationship with emotions (e.g., lack of self-reflection, poor impulse control, etc.), emotional neglect describes the inability for parents to support their children’s emotions. Emotionally immature and emotionally neglectful parents usually do not have the self-awareness of the impact of their actions. This means they can hurt their children firstly without knowing and secondly without meaning to. It is likely they treat their children in a similar manner to how they were treated by their parents. This is distinctly different to psychological/physical abuse, which is purposely/intentionally hurtful.
Signs of Emotional Immaturity
Below is a list of traits emotionally immature parents can have:
Have a hard time understanding and communicating their emotions
Uncomfortable, dismissive, and/or reactive to emotions of their children
Intense reactions to seemingly minor events
Fear or dislike of being emotionally vulnerable
Low empathy towards their children’s problems
Difficulty with perspective-taking
Unaware of impact of their behaviors and contribution to problems
Majority of conversations centered on their own interests and goals
Rigidly held beliefs and lack of openness to different opinions
Ignoring facts in preference of own beliefs
Seek comfort and support from their children (e.g., vent their frustrations about family problems)
Unable to see children as their own person (e.g., seeing their children as an extension of themselves/their dreams)
Unaware of their needs, don’t feel deserving of caring for their needs, and/or want their children to care for their needs
Indirectly cope with emotions through staying busy and engaging in activities that offer temporary relief (e.g., drinking alcohol, retail therapy, gambling)
Have insecure attachment patterns, such as avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized
Usually, emotionally immature parents were once children who did not get their own needs met. Many parents may have tried their best to raise their children while also enduring financial, work, and acculturation stress. Despite their best efforts and intentions, the impact of their parenting can leave emotional pain and scars. While our parents could not choose their circumstances and we cannot choose our parents, we can choose what we want to do in our own healing journey.
If you are interested in gaining awareness and working through unhelpful family patterns, you can reach out to us here.
Stay tuned. Our next topic is “Understanding the Impact of Emotionally Unavailable Parents.”
Gibson, L. C. (2015). Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.