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What are emotionally immature parents?

If you grew up with an emotionally immature parent, you may have observed any of the following traits from your parent(s):

  • They are rigid and single-minded and can become very defensive when people have other ideas.

  • They have low-stress tolerance and have trouble admitting mistakes, discounting the facts, and blaming others instead.

  • They do what feels best, often following the path of least resistance.

  • They have little respect for other people’s differing thoughts and opinions.

  • They are self-preoccupied and egocentric.

  • They have low empathy and are emotionally insensitive.

  • They fear feelings and might have taught their children that certain feelings are shameful or “bad”.

  • They place focus on the physical instead of emotional needs of their children.

  • They can be killjoys, responding to their children’s ideas or enthusiasm in a dismissive or skeptical way.

  • They have intense but shallow emotions, and typically quick to react.

As an adult, you may now experience:

  • Lingering feelings of anger, loneliness, betrayal, or abandonment.

  • Feeling guilty for being unhappy.

  • Feeling highly sensitive and perceptive to other people.

  • Difficulty trusting your own instincts.

  • Lacking self-confidence.

  • Feeling trapped in taking care of your parent(s).

People with emotionally immature parents often feel emotionally lonely around their parents, even when they’re together. While there is typically a huge emphasis on the physical needs that were met, there is little to no focus on the emotional needs.

This can be difficult for kids who grew up with a parent like this because they are likely to deny their own struggles in the future. They might believe that they shouldn’t have anything to complain about because their experience wasn’t “bad enough” compared to those who did not have their physical needs met.

Being a parent is much more than just providing clothing, a roof over your head, and food on the table. For children to develop into healthy adults, they need to feel safe and supported to grow, be known, and express themselves.

Most emotionally immature parents have no awareness of how they’ve affected their children. To be clear, we aren’t placing blame on these parents, we are seeking to understand why they are the way they are. The goal here is to help you gain new insights about your parent(s) in order to increase your own self-awareness and emotional freedom.

Keep in mind that each type exists along a spectrum, from mild to severe, with varying degrees of narcissism.

  1. Emotional parents

    The emotionally immature parent is often run by their feelings. They react to small upsets like the end of the world and tend to rely on external factors, like other people or intoxicants to soothe and stabilize them. The emotional parent will likely swing between being overly involved in their child’s life to abrupt withdrawal. These parents are prone to instability and unpredictability and have been called, by Dr. Lindsay Gibson, as the most infantile of the four types of emotionally immature parents.

  2. Driven parents

    The driven parent tends to look the most normal out of the four types, even appearing highly invested in their children’s lives. However, these parents are highly controlling and interfering, rarely pausing long enough to have true empathy and emotional connection with their children. Instead, the driven parent is often busy and compulsively goal-oriented. They often expect everyone to want and value the same things they do.

  3. Passive parents

    The passive parent typically avoids dealing with anything upsetting. They are usually the “favorite” parent, seeming more emotionally available than the other types, but only up to a certain extent. The passive parent rarely offers their children any real limits or guidance to help them navigate the world. They prefer taking a backseat to a dominant partner, even allowing abuse and neglect to occur by looking the other way. The passive parent copes by minimizing problems and acquiescing.

  4. Rejecting parents

    The rejecting parent mostly wants to be left alone. They often rule the family and home, everything revolves around them, and the family instinctively tries to not upset them. These parents show little to no closeness or real engagement with their children, and their interactions consist of issuing commands, blowing up, or isolating themselves from family life. When met with attempts to draw them into affectionate or emotional interactions, the rejecting parent will likely distance themself.

If you have found this insightful, and are eager to learn more about emotionally immature parents and how to heal, be sure to read Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson.

Source: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD

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