When parents are emotionally immature, having a healthy relationship with them can be difficult. No matter how the adult child attempts to be heard or understood, often the parent is unable to truly empathize or connect on a meaningful level.
Below are seven symptoms that can indicate that you are a child of an emotionally immature parent. With each symptom, practical advice is given on how to be true to yourself while also being respectful to your parents.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
7 Symptoms of Emotionally Immature Parents
Of course, every parent does their best based on their skills and how well they self-regulate. If they have been able to integrate their experiences from their developmental years, they will be better equipped to handle parenthood. Every parent has challenging moments and will make mistakes. However, emotionally immature parents impact their children tremendously by their inability to be present to the needs of their children.
Let's review some of the symptoms to see if you relate to any of them. Following each one, you will find practical actions you can take to better navigate your relationship with your parents.
When you try to share with your parents how you feel in the relationship or about an event, they deny your experience.
One of the most significant signs your parent is emotionally immature is that they cannot handle conflict and defend what is familiar. As Lindsay C. Gibson, a clinical psychologist, says in her book, Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents, "They dislike the uncertainty of an evolving reality." When you express a feeling or disagreement with them, it can upset them because their view of the world is rooted in very black-and-white thinking that creates dead-end conversations.
As an adult child, it can be discouraging and hurtful when they reject your perspective. Your first impulse might be to cut off communication with them since you're fed up with going along to keep the peace or being unable to be a unique individual separate from them.
Why continue to try when you feel unheard again and again? What’s the use, right?
Take care to avoid being re-wounded when vulnerable in your sharing, especially if they react and reject what you're trying to tell them. Keep extending opportunities for change in the relationship; however, do not leave yourself wide open for prolonged hurt and disappointment.
Be lovingly detached without expecting that you will get the desired response and outcome. Loving detachment will assist you in letting go of the need to change your parents and be about the business of healing and growing yourself.
You avoid a lot of subjects when talking to your parents.
When we disagree with an emotionally immature parent, they will usually dominate the conversation, get defensive, and completely eclipse our opinion and thoughts. They can even become confrontational and aggressive. They may be unable to hear your point of view because they're too busy trying to convince you that their way is the right way—the only way. They say things like, "you'll see my point of view as you get older."
Or an emotional parent who avoids dealing with the conflict will sometimes break down in tears and be unwilling to continue the conversation. These reactions make it difficult for any real connection or meaning in the relationship, so you avoid a lot of subjects. Sound familiar?
Related reading: "7 Signs Your Parent Is Emotionally Immature."
Rather than reacting or telling them why they are wrong, try to find common ground with your parents. Find small statements they make where you can genuinely agree to build a bridge between you and them.
You feel like your parents are "never happy for you" when something good happens in your life.
For instance, you got a raise at work and when you tell your parents, they make it all about them because their car broke down and the mechanic raised the price of labor. Their problems and reactions overshadow and cloud your happy moments. Most every conversation becomes about them. Or they disregard your feelings and experience by expecting you to help them out financially (after all, you got a raise!) even though you’re saving for a down payment on a new house.
Emotionally immature parents cannot see or celebrate you and are often jealous of any success or happiness you created. Why? Because often your successes can reflect back to them their own inadequacies.
A parent's behavior can deflate your successes and excitement as long as you look to them to affirm your experience. Even though you may long to be known by them, accept the possibility that they may be limited.
Yet, your emotions, thoughts, needs, and experiences are legitimate regardless of their responses. The quality of your life and the preciousness of your individuality is independent of them.
Prioritize what YOU treasure and value. Get in touch with what brings you joy and inner peace. Your happiness is an inside job; it doesn’t depend on other people, not even your parents. However, it will feel encouraging to surround yourself with people who can celebrate your successes and champion your goals.
You doubt yourself and have a gnawing feeling that you're never good enough.
You put your heart and soul into the relationship with your parents, but it never feels like enough. You are unacknowledged for the unique, separate individual you are. It feels like they don’t accept you or your choices.
Sometimes they will make comments like, "Well, at least I was always there for you while growing up.” or “You're so ungrateful for all we did for you." Or here's a good one: “Why don't you make your family a priority? You're so selfish... everything is always about you.” They might even tell their friends and other family members that "you’re the problem."
Let them be them; you be you. Learn to listen to and take yourself seriously. As a child, you were meant to get comfort, support, empathy, and emotional refueling from your parents. Most likely, that support was vacant and you felt hungry for emotional connection, and still do. However, you're an adult now; it's time to give yourself what you need and become the person YOU love and respect.
Self-acceptance is not about getting it right or being good enough; it's about listening and learning to trust your inner GPS instead of putting others' opinions, perspectives, and feelings above your own. Connect with yourself. Practice showing up for yourself.
It feels like your parents try to control your choices and edit your experiences in life with their inaccurate conclusions.
Even though you are now an adult, you feel as though they treat you like a child. Whenever you share any decision with them, outpours invasive advice or criticism. They don't listen to your feelings, opinions, or ideas; anything that contradicts what they believe makes them too uncomfortable.
They tell you what friends you should have and why (you're not in middle school anymore!), what music is acceptable (personal preferences are not allowed), and where you can go with whom (after all, they see you as an extension of themselves, not a separate person).
Claim your right to be YOU. Recognize that your experience and emotions ARE legitimate and, once listened to, will help you navigate life's challenges. Your feelings and heart CAN guide you.
You feel repeatedly disappointed and confused because what you say to your parents comes back distorted, judged, ignored, or rejected.
A parent is intended to be a reflecting pool for their children's emotions and experiences with support and love. There's no way an impressionable child can see an accurate reflection of themselves in a sea of emotional waves or while interacting with a distorting carnival mirror. A funhouse mirror may be fascinating or even enjoyable for a quick walk-through but it's deeply painful as a child. And it's hurtful and crazymaking for an adult child when their parents are completely unaware of their effect and impact.
Adult children of emotionally immature parents often feel like they're walking on eggshells around their parents. The truth, the only time things are smooth sailing is when the entire visit or experience is centered around them. It's like a script in a bad movie: "When I want to know what you think and feel, I'll tell you what you think and feel."
The drama increases when you unintentionally offend their viewpoint and what they think is rigidly the only way—their way. They seem to be in their own little world, rarely show interest in you or others, and make little effort to understand others. So many times, there is a dead zone in conversations.
Another way this tendency asserts itself is that there is no follow-through. Parents make promises they don't keep, and when asked, they deny committing. Your parent's behavior causes you not to expect much, if anything, from them or others in your life. This way, you can avoid disappointment. Or you're so accustomed to avoiding conflict that you don't even know what you want.
Develop superb coping strategies that you didn't develop growing up. Learn to be present to yourself and your feelings. Observe your daily conversations and experiences. When do others' words and actions drain you, and when do they boost your energy? Understand what YOU need before responding or committing to others.
You feel like you can never relax around your parents.
There is a lot of tension in the air. You might want to run away from your parents as fast as possible! It feels like you need to navigate hidden, unspoken agendas or land mines that make you feel unsafe.
Since you can't relax, maybe you end up saying things that come across curt, or you change the subject quickly to avoid their emotional darts. Or, when growing up in an emotionally barren family experience, you may not be able to connect with your feelings at all. And you may struggle to express your feelings or thoughts authentically.
The chances are that you've neglected your relationship with yourself and perhaps become a people-pleaser, which is a felony against our self. Now, it's time to invest in a nurturing, loving, and connected relationship with YOU.
If you want to build emotional literacy or understand your emotions better, try our free webinar, "How to Use Emotions to Make Life-Transforming Change."
Whatever your relationship with your parents is, it's worth putting loving effort in to make it better. The more you grow and mature in emotional intelligence, the more successful you'll be in handling difficult situations.
Practice some of the actions above. Be gentle with yourself as you try on new ways of interacting. And remember, respect is non-negotiable. It is always a primary ingredient in every healthy relationship.
To learn more about emotional intelligence or to receive coaching, contact us at support@Heartmanity.com.