Growing up with emotionally immature parents is confusing. Children are keen observers – they notice a lot more than we might give them credit for, so a child can usually recognize emotional immaturity in their parent’s behavior.
The problem is that children don’t usually have the vocabulary and psychological understanding to accurately articulate what they see.
As such, a child might notice that their parent’s behavior is irrational or immature, but not know how to deal with it, and end up feeling lonely, confused, neglected, and frustrated.
Parents or caregivers model to their children how an adult should behave, and how the world works. If a parent is emotionally immature, they teach that behavior to their children, who will either adopt that behavior as they grow older or go to great lengths to distance themselves from their parents to avoid emotional overwhelm.
Both attempts to deal with the parent’s immaturity can harm the child’s development and impact their ability to get close to others in their adult relationships.
In this article, we’ll explore what makes a person emotionally immature, how emotionally immature parents affect their children’s well-being, and how you can help yourself heal from a childhood in which your parents were emotionally immature.
What is an Emotionally Immature Person?
An emotionally immature person (EIP) is someone who moves through life blaming others for their issues. They might feel angry, sad, anxious, or depressed, but instead of looking inwards and working on their difficulties, they seek others to be accountable.
They attempt to gain a sense of control in life by trying to control others. They want others to see and agree with their rigid point of view and are rarely flexible with their perspective. They tend to find a myriad of reasons and excuses to justify their irrational feelings and behaviors.
“Emotionally immature people don’t step back and think about how their behavior impacts others. There’s no cringe factor for them, so they seldom apologize or experience regret.” – Lindsay Gibson
EI people may find it difficult to accept reality and go to great lengths to get others to agree with their projected version of how things are. They are likely to play the victim during confrontations and are reluctant to accept responsibility for wrongdoings.
What Causes Emotional Immaturity?
There are several reasons why a person may not develop enough emotional maturity to have healthy, growth-oriented relationships in adulthood, especially with their children.
A lack of emotional development and maturity often stems from trauma in childhood, where a child may have been neglected, abandoned, abused, or emotionally invalidated to the point where they had to learn what were once survival behaviors, but now have become maladaptive ways of getting their needs met.
Emotional immaturity in adulthood happens because the child never learned to let go of this maladaptive survival response. To the EIP, it can feel as though the whole world is against them, because they may not fully understand why others are frustrated, irritable, and angry around them.
Are My Parents Emotionally Immature?
The child of an emotionally immature parent (EIP) may lack the emotional connection necessary to grow into a healthy, psychologically mature adult.
However, if you’re asking yourself ‘are my parents emotionally immature?’ and the answer turns out to be yes, you’ll be glad to know that by simply asking the question you’re on the right path to overcoming this challenging childhood experience.
Psychoeducation is a powerful tool in helping us recognize areas of ruptured attachment and development in our lives and is the first step on the path back to good mental health and freedom from our past traumas.
“By grasping the concept of emotional immaturity, you can develop more realistic expectations of other people, accepting the level of relationship possible with them instead of feeling hurt by their lack of response.” – Lindsay Gibson
If you’re wondering how mature your parents are, consider the following tell-tale signs of emotional immaturity.
Signs of Emotional Immaturity
There are some telling signs that a parent is emotionally immature, such as:
- Lack of empathy
- Being emotionally insensitive
- Lack of respect or differences in opinion
- More reactive than responsive
- Enmeshment (being too close or involved with a child’s life) rather than seeking genuine emotional intimacy
- Highly self-absorbed or self-involved
- Low-stress tolerance
- Attention seeking
- Demanding respect without earning it
If your parents were (or are) emotionally immature, their behavior may be a sign of an underlying disorder or mental health condition.
For example, self-absorption and an expectation to be treated with unconditional respect regardless of one’s behavior is a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder.
Similarly, substance use disorder, borderline personality disorder, and codependency can fog the mind and make a person act without empathy for others, reduce a person’s ability to tolerate stress and make a person react inappropriately to situations rather than respond mindfully and with others’ well-being in mind.
The Effects of Emotionally Immature Parents on Children
Growing up with an emotionally immature or mentally ill parent, which includes a parent who abuses substances, has codependency, or is a narcissist, is considered an adverse childhood experience (ACEs) – a type of trauma-specific to childhood that impacts a child’s healthy development.
Adult children of emotionally immature parents face an increased risk of relationship issues because our earliest relationship – that with our primary caregiver (usually our mother) – informs how we view ourselves and others as we grow up.
One of the most significant and challenging symptoms of growing with an emotionally immature parent is the deep sense of loneliness one learns and carries into their adult life.
Though a parent may have been there physically, they may have been emotionally distant or showed no compassion or empathy for your emotional experience, leaving you to deal with your strange and unfamiliar emotions on your own.
Given the natural proximity that occurs between families living in the same house, you might feel a family bond to your parents, but such a bond is not the same as having a secure attachment style.
Secure attachment is a prerequisite for healthy development and is ruptured when a parent exhibits emotional immaturity.
“Growing up in a family with emotionally immature parents is a lonely experience. These parents may look and act perfectly normal, caring for their child’s physical health and providing meals and safety. However, if they don’t make a solid emotional connection with their child, the child will have a gaping hole where true security might have been.” – Lindsay Gibson
If you didn’t develop a secure attachment style with your caregiver (i.e. they didn’t attune to your physical and emotional needs with consistency and compassion) then you may have developed an insecure attachment style, which can leave a lasting imprint of loneliness and abandonment on the psyche.
Lindsay C. Gibson is a clinical psychologist who specializes in emotional neglect in children who grow up with parents who are emotionally immature. In her book, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, Gibson explains:
“Emotional loneliness is so distressing that a child who experiences it will do whatever is necessary to make some kind of connection with the parent. These children may learn to put other people’s needs first as the price of admission to a relationship. Instead of expecting others to provide support or show interest in them, they may take on the role of helping others, convincing everyone that they have few emotional needs of their own. Unfortunately, this tends to create even more loneliness, since covering up your deepest needs prevents genuine connection with others.” – Lindsay Gibson
The emotionally lonely child may learn to reject or suppress their own wants and needs because those feelings were neglected by incapable or rejecting parents.
In their adult relationships, these children might struggle to get their needs met because they don’t know how to ask, or fear an overwhelming or irrational reaction from their partner even if they did ask.
The experience is deeply lonely and may drive the adult child of emotionally immature parents towards maladaptive coping behaviors to overcome their loneliness and sense of disconnection from their inner selves.
In relationships, the adult child of emotionally immature parents may accept feelings of loneliness, distance, and immaturity in their partner because they were conditioned to allow those things in childhood.
How do you Deal with Emotionally Immature Parents?
How your parents raised you was their responsibility. Parents are responsible for attuning to, and meeting, their children’s physical, emotional, and psychological needs so that they can grow into healthy adults.
Unfortunately, many parents get caught up in their own issues to the point that they might forget to be mindful of what they are teaching to their children.
Many people claim to have had a bad childhood, where their parents were immature, irrational, or unloving. Still, if we continue to blame our childhood for our present-day issues, all we are doing is allocating blame on someone else for our problems, which is a sign of emotional immaturity.
If you want to break the cycle of immaturity and not make the same mistakes your parents did, then it’s important to take responsibility for your own well-being, and not rely on blaming others to make you feel better.
You might want to lash out at your parents or try to control their behavior, but these are also signs of emotional immaturity. Instead, it’s best to do what they didn’t and do some inner work. This involves letting go, bringing mindful awareness to your emotions, and accepting that you’re the only one responsible for how you move forward in life.
Overcoming the difficulties that stem from growing up with emotionally immature parents is by no means easy, but the rewards are more than worth the effort.
Liberating yourself from your past experiences leads to more emotional freedom, greater self-compassion, and significantly improved familial and romantic relationships.
If you need extra help dealing with your parents’ immaturity and the effect that had on you as a child, don’t hesitate to speak to a therapist.
Should I Speak to a Therapist?
When we think of the term ‘grief’, we often think of death. However, grieving isn’t exclusive to the loss of life. If your parents’ behavior was neglectful and made you feel lonely, guilty for expressing yourself, or ashamed of who you are, then you may be experiencing grief for the loss of secure attachment and a supported childhood.
A therapist can help you explore your grief-related emotions and help you understand your childhood and adulthood with significant depth.
In therapy, you can recall your childhood narrative and get heard by an attuned and compassionate individual, which goes a long way in reducing the feelings of isolation and loneliness associated with growing up around emotional immaturity.
A therapist can also help you discover deeply held yet false beliefs about yourself that you may have learned in your childhood. Uncovering these false, limiting beliefs can help you identify areas of your life in which you’re not meeting your full potential, and how to make a positive change.
They can also help you learn to set healthy boundaries and regulate your emotions. If you believe that speaking with a therapist may benefit you, a convenient and affordable option is Online-therapy where you can speak with a therapist from the comfort of your own home.