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 of emotionally immature parents and see if you relate to any of them. Following each one, don't miss the practical actions.
Symptom #1 of Emotionally Immature Parents: Denial of Your Experience
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? Or maybe you turned into a people-pleaser to try to get on your parent's good side.
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 open for prolonged hurt and disappointment.
Practical Advice - Tip #1
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.
Symptom #2 of Emotionally Immature Parents: Avoiding Conversations
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 opinions 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."
For true emotional intimacy, we need to be able to talk about any subject maturely. It's the only way we can truly know each other, what we feel, and how we experience the world. The trouble is when a parent is feeling emotionally immature or fragile, they have no desire to go to unknown territory.
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, so you avoid subjects altogether. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, emotionally immature parents have a tendency to be too full of their own emotions to acknowledge their children's experiences. At these times, be present to your own feelings.
Related reading: "7 Signs Your Parent Is Emotionally Immature."
Practical Advice - Tip #2
However, reacting or telling them why they are wrong never works. 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.
Symptom #3 of Emotionally Immature Parents: Can your parents be happy for you?
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 emotionally immature 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 celebrate you; sometimes they are jealous of the success or happiness you created.
Because your successes can reflect their own inadequacies.
A parent's behavior can deflate your 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 are independent of them.
Practical Advice - Tip #3
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. Surround yourself with people who can celebrate your successes and champion your goals.
Symptom #4 of Emotionally Immature Parents: You Doubt Yourself
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. Being unacknowledged, 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.”
- “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 may still feel a hunger for emotional connection. However, you're an adult now; it's time to give yourself what you need and become the person YOU love and respect.
Practical Advice - Tip #4
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.
Symptom #5 of Emotionally Immature Parents: Criticism and Control of Choices
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 a decision with them, outpours invasive advice or criticism. Even though they may not see themselves as "rejecting parents," that's exactly what they are doing—rejecting the essence of YOU!
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).
Practical Advice - Tip #5
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.
Symptom #6 of Emotionally Immature Parents: You Feel Invalidated or Rejected
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 clear reflecting pool for their children's emotions and experiences. 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 for a child.
And it's hurtful and crazymaking for you when your parents are completely unaware of their effect and impact.
Adult children of emotionally immature parents often feel like they're walking on eggshells around rejecting parents.
The truth, the only time things are smooth sailing is when the entire visit or experience is centered around them—agreeing with them IS the only option.
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 parents' behavior trains 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.
Healthy relationships have conflict; the difference is that in healthy relationships, conflict is resolved and often win-win solutions are created. We are interconnected!
Practical Advice - Tip #6
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.
Symptom #8 of Emotionally Immature Parents: You Can't Relax!
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 as 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."
Practical Advice - Tip #7
Whatever your relationship with your parents is, it's worth putting loving effort into making 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, emotional intimacy may feel scary at first but you can relax into it. Healthy relationships are worth the effort!
For more on parenting, especially if you're a parent yourself, check out our Imperfect Parenting Blog with many more great insights.
To learn more about emotional intelligence or to receive coaching, contact us at support@Heartmanity.com.