Growing up we start to view life based on our experiences within the relationships in our immediate circle (aka family). This helps us navigate our view of ourselves, the world around us, and the relationships we build outside of the home. For this to take place, it is critical for us to have healthy attachments to our caregivers (parents/other family members/whoever raised you) to build the confidence to thrive in our social and emotional development (psychiatrist John Bowlby was the god father of attachment theory). Without this, we can find ourselves struggling to find a place in the world around us and to have the support we need in our lives. What happens when we don’t grow up with healthy attachments? What if we find ourselves with emotionally immature parents? The misconception of emotionally immature parents is that a child must come from a chaotic household. Even those of us who had a safe home, educated parents, and were financially stable can experience parents who were unable to give us the emotional support we needed to guide us through all the normal developmental stages. Even more confusing, is that often children with emotionally immature parents feel conflicted in how to they feel towards their parents as we love them, but we are also unresolved in the things we lacked growing up creating this love/hate dynamic (we want them in our lives but being around them can cause a lot of triggering reactions and stress). So, what exactly characterizes this type of parent?
Some Common Signs of Emotionally Immature Parents (Provided by ParentingforBrain)
· Emotionally immature parents lack the ability to deal with their own emotions in a healthy way (think of coping with stress, regulating emotions, identifying/communicating needs etc.).
· Children from emotionally immature parents lack the emotional support, understanding, and are neglecting in this area of attachment.
· This style of parent-child relationship may leave children feeling abandoned or insecure.
· Emotionally immature parents struggle to control and understand their own emotions and are too focused on themselves to be able to support and attune to their children’s emotional needs.
· This can create in children the same style of emotional immaturity as they grow into their adulthood, creating difficulties navigating their own emotions and the relationships they develop with others.
4 types of Emotionally Immature Parents:
Clinical Psychologist Lindsay Gibson notes that the cause of emotionally immature parents can stem back to their own early life experiences (emotional/physical/sexual abuse, neglect, mental health issues, or substance abuse for example). Creating 4 types of Emotionally Immature Parents (listed below).
· Emotional Parents: driven by their own emotions (think mood swings, easy to upset, requires others in the family to help them regulate their emotions). Often children are taken on an emotional roller coaster and experience very stressful home environments. Children can end up the ones to support their parents’ emotional needs and may feel like they are walking on eggshells.
· Driven Parents: this parent can be really involved in their children’s lives. The difficulty in this situation is the lack of empathy this type of emotionally immature parents may have as they struggle to adapt or nurture their children’s needs and find it difficult to emotionally connect with them. They are driven by their need to control their children into becoming what they feel is best (think high standards, lots of critiquing, never good enough) and can be distracted by focusing on making their children the “best” with the downside being unavailable to their children’s emotional needs.
· Passive Parents: this form of emotionally immature parents find it difficult to navigate conflicts and stressful situations, often avoiding them. While this style of parenting may feel easier to get along with, they may not provide healthy boundaries, be able to openly communicate, or be able to have confidence to stand up for themselves or their children. This can lead children to not feel they can rely on this parent as they may not be able to be there for them when things can get hard in life.
· Rejecting Parents: this type of parent most often wants to be left alone (think of parents who are absent from family time, not many interactions with other family members, communication seems service level, children may also feel they don’t really know their parents very well). Children may experience interactions that can be high conflicts (explosive parent), a parent that isolates/avoids them, feeling a lack of empathy towards their children’s emotional needs. Children may feel uncomfortable being around them or feel that their parents don't care much for them.
So How Do We Start the Healing Process?
While the above information is helpful to a better understanding of why we may be struggling with dealing or coping with our own emotions or relationships, it still makes its hard to navigate processing unresolved issues with our emotionally immature parents. How can we start to heal when we don’t know where to start? Here are some helpful tips that may be useful for you.
· Awareness and acceptance: Your emotionally immature parents may never be able to understand the impact they have had on your emotional maturity and mental wellness. Accountability is often difficult for these types of parents, and you may not get the resolution you are hoping for if you do try to bring up these issues with them.
· Grieving: We all have expectations and hopes of what we wanted out of our parents and the relationship we developed with them. The reality is that we often must grieve the loss of what we needed as children to be able to move towards healing. Working towards forgiveness may be helpful to allow yourself the space to let go of this weight you may be caring (especially if your emotionally immature parents are still present in your life).
· Setting healthy boundaries: While we cannot change our difficult experiences with emotionally immature parents, we can create a safer space in our lives as adults. Explore what boundaries you may have needed (or continue to need) and decide what boundaries are necessary for you to move forward in your relationship with them.
· Allow your emotionally immature parents to deal with their own issues: while we may have grown up tending to the needs of our parents, that doesn’t mean we have to continue as adults. You are not (and were not as a child) responsible for their emotional needs so be mindful of the type of support you can provide them without draining your own emotional tank.
· Feel those feelings and work through your own process: Like I always say, feel those feelings! While the weight of childhood trauma may seem too hard to navigate all at once, be gentle with yourself. Coping and processing these childhood experiences are hard so go at your own speed. Tune in and check in on yourself and your own needs (yes you are important! And what you need matters!). Check in with your support people, try out some old or new coping skills that help you feel good and keep you grounded, or seek out some additional therapeutic support if you need it. Whatever helps you feel centered is going to help you throughout the healing process (check out my resource page for some additional tools and books to support your healing journey).