Our parents play a crucial role in our lives, showing us how the world works, guiding us through the labyrinth of different emotions, and providing the love and care we all need from day 1.

But what if your parents are emotionally immature? What if you had to step into a role of a parent while they acted like a child? What if you were overly criticized, dismissed, or ignored by them? Could it negatively affect your mental well-being? What issues can follow you into adulthood? How to cope with them?

In this article, we answer all these questions and share tips on how to navigate the challenge of having emotionally immature parents. Keep reading to find effective ways to deepen your awareness, strengthen your independence and move towards greater life satisfaction.

Common Signs of Emotionally Immature Parents

Emotional availability is one of the markers of relationship quality between a primary caregiver and their child. An emotionally available parent has the ability to create an emotional environment in which children are free to learn, assert their independence, and feel encouraged to develop their skills and interests. To put it shortly, emotional availability brings us closer to one another, lays a foundation of trust, and allows us to build and maintain healthy attachment.

On the other hand, emotionally immature parents are incapable of creating a safe space for their children and satisfying their emotional needs. As a result, even if such parents are physically present, their children don’t get the chance to bond with them. Since the parents act emotionally distant, cold, absent, and disengaged, forming a close relationship seems impossible.

Here are some of the most common signs of emotional immaturity among parents:

Signs Examples
emotional distance/coldness not providing comfort when their child is sad or anxious
lack of empathy/understanding acting insensitive when their child is distressed
disinterest in the life of their child not asking any questions about their child’s school life, hobbies, friends, etc.
inability to provide emotional support in crisis becoming even more distant in difficult times
self-centeredness: diverting the topic of conversation to their career/hobbies, etc.
emotional instability throwing tantrums, overreacting to minor issues
psychological inflexibility unwillingness to compromise, becoming defensive when receiving constructive criticism, blaming others, etc.

How Can It Affect Your Mental Health?

If an emotionally immature parent raised you, chances are it took a toll on your mental health, causing different issues in your childhood and later on in adulthood. Not having your basic emotional needs met as a child unavoidably leads to developmental trauma, also called core wounding.

When unaddressed, it manifests itself in significant problematic emotional states, beliefs, and behaviors, i.e.:

  • low-stress tolerance
  • emotional instability
  • inability to set healthy boundaries
  • fear of abandonment
  • low sense of independence
  • people-pleasing tendencies
  • trust issues
  • deeply-seeded feelings of guilt or shame
  • substance abuse
  • low self-esteem
  • relationship issues

Children of emotionally immature parents are also at higher risk of developing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or suicidal ideation. That’s why taking care of your mental well-being is so essential.

3 Ways to Cope with Emotionally Immature Parents

Having emotionally immature parents can be challenging and tricky to navigate, even in adulthood. Not only are there painful memories, but also current issues within your relationship dynamic or problems that you struggle with daily. Luckily, there are many steps you can take on this journey toward healing, such as:

Notice and Accept Your Thoughts and Emotions

If you’re an adult who grew up with an emotionally unavailable parent, you probably realized by now that:

  • your childhood experiences cannot be swept under the carpet,
  • some of your current issues are tightly connected to your past,
  • avoiding, suppressing, or ignoring your core wounding sooner or later leads to further problems.

Rather than running away from these issues, choose to face them head-on. While it might seem scary and too painful, you can do so one step at a time:

  1. Start by taking note of any arising thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations when you turn your focus to your emotionally immature parents or issues linked to them.
  2. Set an intention to stay non-judgmental. Simply observe your experience here and now like a scientist would – with curiosity and openness
  3. Allow your emotions to take place, and try to label them. Perhaps you’re feeling a sense of loss, frustration, or shame. Give yourself permission to experience that fully.
  4. Then, open up to these emotional states and try to accept them. If you feel the urge to engage in negative self-talk at any moment, try silencing your inner critic with self-compassion.
  5. Remember that your feelings are valid; they don’t make you a good or a bad person – just human.

If you struggle with intense emotions or notice unhelpful thoughts or beliefs, consider exploring them in psychotherapy with an experienced psychologist.

Let Go of Your Fantasy

Do you ever wish your emotionally immature parent was more empathetic?

 Do you sometimes think that if only you called them more often, they’d finally be satisfied with you?

 Are you hoping that one day your parent will apologize to you?

 These are examples of a healing fantasy you might have linked to your parent. It’s a form of wishful thinking which can effectively prevent you from moving on as an adult, causing dysfunctional tendencies such as:

  • perfectionism,
  • overachievement,
  • replaying this dynamic in your current romantic relationships.

Lindsay Gibson, a clinical psychologist and the author of “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents”, explains how to recover and take charge of your life in your adulthood, one must let go of their healing fantasy.

Start by identifying your fantasy by honestly answering some questions like:

  • Do you hold onto false hope in your relationship with your parent? If yes, in what situations? 
  • Do you tend to think: “If only…”? If yes, when exactly? 
  • Do you keep doing the same thing, hoping for a different result? 
  • What activities do you engage in to win other people’s approval in your life?

 Once you pinpoint your fantasy, try describing it in writing or reflecting on it calmly. Then, choose to let go of it. Try accepting the fact that:

  • most probably, your parent has no intention of changing,
  • the longer you’ll hold onto that false hope, the more frustrated or resentful towards them you’ll get.

Decide to take charge of your expectations and manage them accordingly. Rather than wishing for a fantasy, work with reality. For example:

If your parent is emotionally distant, don’t expect them to become empathetic and warm-hearted. Instead, distance yourself from your parent, seek these qualities in people you surround yourself with, and focus on cultivating them yourself.

 Get to Know Yourself

Shift your focus from your parents onto yourself and prioritize your needs. It can be beneficial to:

  • Take time to strengthen your independence by limiting contact with your emotionally immature parent.
  • Learn how to self-soothe with self-care and mindfulness techniques, such as breathing exercises or body scans.
  • Cultivate your values and authenticity by engaging in your hobbies, communicating assertively, setting healthy boundaries, or stepping away from toxic relationships.

Get Professional Help

Figuring out how to cope with emotionally immature parents is complex and carries much weight. You don’t have to carry it on your shoulders alone. Therapy can help you tremendously by creating an environment in which you can:

  • talk about your issues freely,
  • explore the root causes of your problems,
  • see how they might be linked to your current struggles,
  • learn appropriate coping skills,
  • gain the confidence and clarity necessary to regain control of your life.

Don’t hesitate and contact us here.