What is Emotional Immaturity?
Emotional immaturity is an inability or unwillingness to cope with or regulate emotions in healthy ways. It can take several forms. The first is a lack of emotion regulation that presents as emotional outbursts, and the second is emotional neglect and a lack of emotional awareness. Those who can’t regulate themselves may have angry outbursts or cry at inappropriate times. They sometimes use their kids as personal therapists or rely on them to ‘be the adult’ when they are not. Those who aren’t aware of emotions may avoid them and pretend that their feelings do not exist. These patterns emerge in four main types of emotionally immature parents, including the overly critical parent, the controlling parent, the neglectful parent, and the dismissive parent.
Conversely, an emotionally intelligent person acknowledges their emotions but is not overrun by them, accepts their emotional experiences, communicates challenging emotions without criticism or blame, practices healthy coping skills when overwhelmed, and seeks help and support from other adults.
Signs You Have Emotionally Immature Parents
Adult children of emotionally immature parenting styles tend to have several themes in common that you may recognize. You may have grown up with an emotionally immature parent if you normalize ignoring your own needs and feelings. Such parents may be self-centered and concerned with their own life rather than their child’s, which serves as a model for the child. These children may have low-self esteem issues later in life. Driven parents may be focused on work or romantic relationships and not physically present with the child. Adult children of rejecting parents may struggle with healthy relationships or emotional intimacy and have difficulty setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. Childhood emotional neglect from passive parents can result in being unaware of emotions. It’s a sign when parents do not have healthy ways of coping with distress (such as exercise, therapy, or engaging in hobbies) and turn to blowing up, shutting down, or avoiding altogether.
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How Emotional Immaturity Manifests in Parenting
Emotionally immature parents may ignore or neglect their children’s negative emotions while prioritizing their own needs. Self-involved parents may struggle with taking accountability in conflict and take their child’s negative emotions and needs as a personal attack. The immature parent may have unresolved childhood trauma or untreated mental health diagnoses such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or anxiety. Many emotionally immature people lean on their children for emotional support, and the parent-child role is reversed. These adult children may grow up to believe that their emotional needs do not matter. The emotionally immature parent’s reactions tend to be disproportionate to the event with intense emotional reactions (screaming over spilled milk, for example). These challenges may manifest from intergenerational trauma and longstanding patterns of raising families. Many emotionally immature parents are not intentionally harming their children.
Impact on Mental Health
Early childhood is a pivotal time in development when children learn whether the world is safe. Children who experience early abuse may lack the emotional connection to develop secure attachments. The adult child of these parents often experiences mental health conditions. Kids raised with emotional or physical abuse may be more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, substance abuse, depression, or other mental health diagnoses. Children of parents who lack emotional maturity may struggle with feelings of shame, loneliness, feeling like a burden, guilt for internalizing blame and feeling constantly afraid.
Common Behaviors of Emotionally Immature Parents
The overly critical parent blames and criticizes their child’s mistakes, decisions, and personality rather than providing a safe space to learn and grow. This response may result from messaging from their parents that they “have to be perfect” to be loved. These parents have a low tolerance for mistakes and underperformance and tend to be harsh on their children. They may view this as ‘coming from a loving place’ to help the child grow, but that is not the message the child receives. Children raised by these emotional parents may criticize and judge their own emotions. They may be very critical of themselves and others in their adult lives.
The controlling parent lacks emotional intelligence and operates from a place of control and rigidity rather than compassion and care. The child’s deepest feelings are nonnegotiable with these parents. Control from parents may also be due to unresolved trauma. Controlling parents may believe they are doing what is best for the child through control, despite neglecting the child’s emotional needs. Another term for this is the ‘Diva,’ who may have a grandiose sense of self and feel entitled to such control. In these relationships, children do not learn to advocate or negotiate. They may later attempt to take control in secretive or unhealthy ways, such as not eating, using substances, or taking actions to upset their parents intentionally.
Neglectful parents may ignore their children and other family members or leave the children to fend for themselves. Many children of this style struggle with structure, rules, and boundaries later in life. They may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors. Another term for this is ‘the doormat,’ who may be stuck in a victim narrative and does not practice setting boundaries with others. The Laissez-faire parenting style may sound positive, but kids need a balance between structure and mistakes to grow. If these parents attempt to set rules later on, children may not want to adhere to them.
Dismissive parents appear disconnected and emotionally distant from their kids. This emotionally immature person may discount emotions, lack empathy, and encourage their children to ‘toughen up.’ This may cause the kids to feel like a burden. These parents may not be able to identify their own feelings. These parents may be so focused on their own lives that they are unconcerned with their children.
Advice for People Raised by Emotionally Immature Parents
Just because you had an emotionally immature mother or father doesn’t mean you can’t have emotional maturity! You can create your own beautiful adult life and respond to life’s complexity in emotionally mature ways. Your experiences in childhood do not reflect your future. Separate your emotions from your thoughts when necessary. You may feel like a burden, but that doesn’t mean you are one. You may feel alone, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there that love you. Below are some ideas on how to get started.
Practice Self Care
Self-care is individualized to what works for you. It may include meeting your essential health and hygiene needs, exercising, spending time with loved ones, and following your passion. When you learn to prioritize yourself, you no longer give in to the narrative that you are unimportant. Take deep breaths and time to respond when you are experiencing negative emotions. Practice healthy methods of processing such as doing art, listening to music, journaling, or making time for your hobbies and passions. Have patience and grace with yourself. Unlearning modeling is a process that takes time, and making mistakes does not erase your growth.
Seek Support from Trusted Friends
When an individual grows up lacking an emotionally supportive family, they can find communities later in life that offer emotional support. Curating meaningful relationships can be immensely healing for individuals with trauma. In these intimate relationships (whether platonic or romantic), we can learn what it means to be safe and experience deeper feelings in a healthy capacity. You can connect with others through school/work, mutual hobbies and interests, cultural or spiritual organizations, and local events.
Therapy can offer a nonjudgmental and safe space to process and heal from unhealthy parental relationships. You are worth focusing on your trauma and needs. Talk therapy, DBT, and EMDR therapy can help you gain insight into how your childhood affected you and help you to break free from patterns that no longer serve you. Finding a therapist and a modality that’s a strong match for you can take time. It is okay if that takes a few tries! In addition to therapy, seek literature and content that can help you understand the dynamics in your family. You are not alone in your experiences growing up with emotionally immature parents. If you wish to repair these damaged family relationships, doing so with a family therapist may be more effective than trying on your own.
Breaking the Cycle – How to Not Repeat the Same Mistakes in Parenting
Our parents are our first models in the world. They teach us through their actions and examples, which is why intergenerational trauma can be so cyclic. To break this cycle, you can start a journey of self-discovery through therapy, education on healthy communication styles, and putting yourself first. To avoid repeating cycles, and minimize the parenting issues you experience with your own children, first, you must recognize the cycle and how it perpetuates. Breaking the homeostasis of your family’s patterns is uncomfortable, so be prepared for pushback and discomfort. Create a safe space for yourself within your home and community. You may not have had the power to stick up for yourself as a child, but you do now.