“Emotional maturity means a person is capable of thinking objectively and conceptually while sustaining deep emotional connections to others.”
Emotionally immature parents often grew up with caretakers who restricted emotional expression. This impedes their development of integrated self and emotional maturity, and they become highly defensive, inconsistent, unable to engage healthily with others. Not all emotional neglect is intentional or malicious.
Highly defensive children often grow up to be parents who can't emotionally engage with their own children in a healthy manner. They lack the tools to do so, and they often cannot self-reflect and change.
Emotionally mature parents are comfortable with emotions and attuned to children's emotional needs. They create security by continuously showing interest, validating emotions, giving affection, and being dependable.
Traits associated with emotional immaturity:
They are rigid and single-minded: They cope by narrowing issues down to something manageable and become defensive when challenged.
They have low stress tolerance: They often overreact, blame others, and have trouble calming down. They believe it's other people's responsibility to calm them down by accommodating their demands. They often use intoxicants or medication to cope.
They do what feels best: They often follow the path of least resistance instead of confronting difficult issues.
They are subjective, not objective: They value their feelings more than reality.
They have little respect for differences: They're uncomfortable in relationships with those who have different beliefs.
They are egocentric: They are constantly anxious about being exposed as bad, inadequate, or unlovable, living in a permanent state of insecurity.
They are self-preoccupied and self-involved: They question their self-worth so deeply they can't consider others. They are constantly monitoring their own feelings. Their self-preoccupation is more like a chronic disease rather than self-obsession.
They are self-referential, not self-reflective: They are opportunistic in talking about themselves. They don't ask follow-up questions. They don't assess their behaviors or motives.
They like to be the center of attention: They dominate conversations. They are not necessarily extroverts because extroverts enjoy others' participation.
They have low empathy and are emotionally insensitive: They can't resonate with others' viewpoints and intentions. They're often good at reading others' feelings but not resonating with them.
They promote role reversal: Emotionally immature parents expect attentiveness, praise, comfort, and to be confided in about adult matters from the child, as a child would expect from a parent.
Emotional immaturity shares links with covert narcissism, which includes the following traits:
Emotionally fragile and sensitive to even limited amounts of perceived criticism.
Self-deprecating and appear highly stressed, shy, and reserved.
Always comparing themselves against others.
Demands constant attention.
Impatient when not talking about themselves.
Easily angered and act victimized when challenged.
Need to control others.
Some of the negative impacts if you have emotionally immature parents:
You may feel unimportant, suppress your anger, and feel dependent on but not connected to your parents.
You may feel like you're the source of all problems, even when they're not.
You may feel emotionally isolated, as your parents failed to connect with you or engage with your interests. When you're an adult you tend to believe you must agree with others for them to value you.
There are four types of emotionally immature parents: emotional, driven, passive, and rejecting. Parents can exhibit qualities from more than one type.
Emotional parents can't regulate emotions, relying on others for stability. Their unpredictability leaves everyone uneasy, fearing to be the next target. Their emotions overshadow their home. Their children work around the parent's emotions. Their adult children may be overly attuned to others, excluding their own needs.
Driven parents push children to achieve without regard for feelings or needs. Their children feel like they need to do exactly what the parent wants. They tend to grow up to be unmotivated and depressed adults whose feelings of success always elude them.
Passive parents are disengaged from decisions impacting their child. They want to appear as loving, fun, and easy, but they don't offer guidance. Their children are left directionless and may see the parents as helpless victims rather than responsible adults. Children who idolized a passive parent may grow up to be adults who rationalize other people's neglectful behavior.
Rejecting parents shows disinterest in their children. They do not spend much time with their children and prefer to be left alone. The children feel like if they didn't exist the parents would be fine. Rejecting parents are the least empathetic and are the most likely to be abusive. The children grow up to have low self-esteem and see themselves as irritants. They also have more difficulty in asking for what they need.
Some children cope with emotional neglect by fantasizing better futures. In adulthood, this can lead to unrealistic expectations while not addressing the root of the persistent loneliness caused by the parents' emotional neglect. For example, you may fantasize about an effortless and perfect marriage, then feel hopeless when faced with the real work required.
Children may take on roles, like the "obedient child" or the "dumb child", to get a neglectful parent's attention and make the parent feel secure. This prevents developing a true self, and sets up entering relationships falsely, restricting authentic engagement and fulfillment. Constantly being inauthentic is exhausting and breeds imposter syndrome.
Overall there are two styles of coping:
Internalizers believe it's their job to resolve problems. They take on too much responsibility, enjoy being competent, appear perfect while falling apart inside, and see their needs as burdensome.
Externalizers blame others, aren't self-reflective or adaptable, react impulsively, feel powerless, are self-defeating, and have difficulty asking for help to heal relationships.
Externalizers seek solutions outside of themselves, assigning their problems to others. They easily get emotionally overwhelmed and deny the seriousness of their problems.
Internalizers are adaptable. Externalizers believe reality should bend to match their desires.
Most emotionally immature parents employ the externalizing coping style.
Adult children of neglectful parents often feel profoundly isolated without knowing why, since life can seem outwardly normal. Prioritizing parents' needs while denying their own temporarily soothes the parents, but it is without real connection and worsens loneliness. It also hurts the children's ability to forge genuine connections with others because some parts of it would feel inauthentic.
Children who repress feelings often end up in disconnected relationships because the dynamics feel familiar and comfortable. Without connecting to their own feelings, they may rely on others to define their emotions.
Adult children of emotionally immature parents often lack self-worth. This is because the children's needs and feelings were often neglected or shamed.
The path to healing is to connect with your true self.
Learn about your true self by creating two lists, one including things you loved to do as a child and things you love to do now (call this list “My True Self”), the other including things you're doing for others that you dislike (call this list “My Role-Self”), then compare the two lists to evaluate if you're living primarily for your true self.
Embrace breakdowns, this is an opportunity to learn about yourself and better yourself.
Acknowledge and validate your true feelings by thinking of a person who causes negative feelings in you and describe out loud, in clear short sentences, their behaviors that are damaging you (e.g., “I don't like it when this person….”). Voicing your feelings aloud can help restore emotional well-being.
Emotionally immature parents punish anger the most, but anger can be a catalyst for change and self-worth. Conscious anger in overly responsible, anxious or depressed people can indicate their true self emerging.
Relationship issues present a big opportunity to find your true self as they're often caused by unresolved issues from your childhood.
Realizing your parents have weaknesses, are vulnerable, and are not always wiser or know better than you do, can help you process your true self.
Consciously recognize and appreciate your strengths to self-validate. Emotionally immature parents do not show enough appreciation for their children's positive qualities, leading the children to be embarrassed to show their aptitudes.
Talk about your past to process it. Research shows that emotional injuries affect us less if we discuss and integrate them.
To move forward healthily you must view your parents objectively. Realize that most immature parents are unable to change. Accepting this reality lets you interact based on who they are, not who you wish them to be, thus better managing limitations.
Use these strategies to limit emotional damage when engaging with emotionally immature parents:
Speak unemotionally and with focus. Express what you need to say and don't let your parents' reactions consume you.
Keep a goal in mind with each interaction. Focus on the outcome (e.g., set holiday plans) and don't get distracted.
Be detached during interactions. Pretend you're a researcher observing the situation. This prevents you from feeling powerless and too emotional.
If you become emotionally reactive: breathe deeply, refocus on observing with detachment and repeat “detach, detach, detach”, silently describe the situation objectively, or make an excuse (e.g., bathroom, an errand) to walk away to regroup.
You may need to set boundaries (e.g., suspending contact) to limit the damage your parents do to you. It can be difficult and most parents will protest, but it may be necessary. However, the boundaries can improve the relationship because they'll feel less pressured to change and you'll learn to need less of their acceptance.
Adult children often repeat dysfunctional relationship patterns by gravitating to what's familiar. Break the cycle by consciously bringing emotionally healthy people into your life while being your true self, communicating your needs, and seeking support when needed.
Characteristics of emotionally mature people:
They're realistic, consistent, and reliable.
They're able to think and feel at the same time.
They don't take things personally or perceive slights where there are none.
They can laugh at their shortcomings.
They don't constantly seek reassurances from others.
They're respectful of boundaries and reciprocate generosity.
They're flexible and collaborative.
They don't pressure others into doing things.
When something is wrong they don't sulk or withdraw affection, they tell you about it and ask you to do things differently.
They're willing to change and be influenced.
They apologize genuinely, reflect on their actions, and make amends.
They're empathetic and make you feel seen and understood.