All children deserve parents who are caring, attentive, receptive, and emotionally mature.
Sadly, the reality is that many of us were born into families who had the emotional intelligence of brick walls. This led to us feeling a sense of being abandoned, ignored, rejected, and never truly seen or appreciated for who we were.
If your parents were distant, self-preoccupied, and insensitive, you likely had an emotionally immature parent.
Table of contents
- What is Emotional Maturity?
- 19 Signs of Emotional Maturity (in Parents & People in General)
- Being Raised By Emotionally Immature Parents is Traumatic
- 19 Signs Your Parents Are Emotionally Immature
- Are Emotionally Immature Parents Also Narcissists?
- 4 Types of Emotionally Immature Parents
- How to Stop Being Controlled By Emotionally Immature Parents
What is Emotional Maturity?
Emotional maturity is the ability to be comfortable with a wide range of intense or conflicting emotions (whether positive or negative). Those with emotional maturity are sensitive, perceptive, empathetic, receptive, and attentive to the needs of themselves and others. They are able to manage their emotions as well as hold space for the emotional complexity within others.
19 Signs of Emotional Maturity (in Parents & People in General)
Let’s look at emotional maturity more in-depth. Emotionally mature people:
- Are realistic
- Are reliable
- Can think and feel at the same time
- Work with reality (rather than fight it)
- Can laugh good-naturedly at themselves
- Don’t take everything personally
- Have consistent personalities
- Respect your personal boundaries
- Reciprocate giving and receiving
- Are courteous
- Are sensitive
- Are flexible and can compromise
- Are empathetic (which makes you feel safe)
- Are even-tempered
- Value your individuality
- Are self-reflective (and willing to change)
- Are interested in getting to know you
- Can laugh and be playful
- Can listen attentively and compassionately
Emotionally mature people are, overall, nice to be around. You feel safe and truly seen in their presence. There is a sense of reciprocity and genuine interest in learning more about you. There is no need to walk on eggshells around them as they are even-tempered, flexible, and down-to-earth. These good-natured and empathetic souls are not scared of emotional complexity or intensity but instead embrace it with love.
Being Raised By Emotionally Immature Parents is Traumatic
Stop for a moment and let me ask you this question: how many of the above characteristics did your parents possess?
If you answered less than five, no doubt about it, you have an emotionally immature parent.
Now, I’m not here to condemn your parents or reinforce a victim/persecutor complex. I’m here to help you face the truth about your childhood and how to overcome the trauma you’ve likely undergone because of it.
Being raised by emotionally immature parents is traumatic.
There’s no getting around it.
It wounds us on a deep level to not be truly seen, heard, or valued. Something within us is suffocated when we are emotionally and psychologically neglected. Something within us breaks when we experience the unfathomably deep loneliness of never being truly seen.
In my own experience of being raised by two emotionally immature parents, one of the most debilitating and profoundly painful wounds I’ve carried has been an unshakable sense of emptiness, loneliness, and fundamental abandonment.
It was only recently when I discovered how soul-deep these traumas cut when, on holiday, I collapsed into a shaking ball of sobs and loud weeping that gushed from me like intense tidal waves. I suddenly realized that I had never truly felt like I existed. I suddenly realized that I had never truly felt seen. No one, not a single soul, had ever truly seen me – not my siblings, my extended family, my friends, my teachers, and certainly not my parents. All anyone had ever done was project their ideas and beliefs onto me, none had ever seen me.
As I held this shaking child within me, it dawned on me how thankful I was to find an emotionally mature partner, someone who could see me. And also, how unspeakably sad it is for a child to be born into a family who is technically present, but offer little in the way of help, protection, or comfort.
As decent human beings, it’s our job, our duty, to learn and evolve. But emotionally immature people are stuck in a stagnant standstill; refusing to deal with our shared emotional reality due to their own unresolved inner wounds.
Download FREE Emotional Maturity Worksheets!
Go deeper with an emotional maturity journaling prompt + printable meditation mandala!
19 Signs Your Parents Are Emotionally Immature
To our inner child – the young and vulnerable place within us – coming to terms with the ugly truth about our parents can be terrifying. It can feel like a grievous betrayal of trust. After all, we still want to please our mommy and daddy, right? (On some level, most of us continue to feel that way.)
But at some point, we need to step into the role of adult, take our inner child by the hand, and go on a journey of healing. This journey requires us to pull apart our childhood, piece by piece, and examine how it impacted us (this is the crux of inner child work, by the way).
For many people, the journey toward true adulthood, or what psychoanalyst Carl Jung referred to as individuation, starts with shining the spotlight on our parents.
So let’s begin.
Here are nineteen signs your parents are emotionally immature:
- They are self-preoccupied and self-involved
- They have dramatic (but shallow) displays of emotion
- They are killjoys: they can’t enjoy their children’s happiness
- They focus on the physical instead of emotional
- They can’t experience mixed emotions ( which is a sign of emotional maturity) but instead experience only black or white emotions
- They can’t self-reflect or think about their thinking (a form of higher intelligence) because it’s too emotionally threatening
- They’re only comfortable if conversation stays on an impersonal and intellectual level
- They expect you to read their minds and know what they need, but push you away when you try to help
- They think literally and talk only about ‘what’ (what they saw, what happened) but can’t talk about deeper topics (like ‘why’ this happened, why I felt …)
- They crave exclusive attention (like children) and aren’t interested in mutual/reciprocal conversations
- They don’t try to understand your emotions and even take pride in being insensitive (e.g., “I’m just saying it like it is,” “I can’t change who I am” etc.)
- They communicate their emotions through emotional contagion and upset everyone around them (similar to what young children do)
- They don’t say sorry or try to repair relationships
- They expect you to mirror them
- They enforce strict roles and encourage toxically enmeshed family dynamics, rejecting individuality and boundaries
- They feel entitled to do what they like simply because they’re the “parent” and you’re the “child”
- They play favorites
- Their self-esteem rides on you giving them what they want or you acting in a way they think you should
- They shame you and show contempt for who you authentically are and how you genuinely feel
How many of these signs did you say “yes” to?
Are Emotionally Immature Parents Also Narcissists?
It’s not always clear whether emotionally immature parents are also narcissists.
There is definitely an overlap between EI parents and narcs – in other words, emotionally immature parents often display narcissistic behavior. But pathological narcissism (a medically diagnosable mental issue), is a whole other matter.
So there’s no black or white answer here. Yes, some EI parents might be clinically diagnosable narcissists. But others aren’t – they’re just petulant and scared children at heart wearing the disguise of adults.
4 Types of Emotionally Immature Parents
Usually, emotionally immature parents fit into four different types (that often overlap), as defined by clinical psychologist Lindsay C. Gibson. These are:
1. Emotional Parents
Characteristics: Ruled by their emotions. Swing from over-involvement to sudden withdrawal. Tend to be unnervingly unstable and unpredictable. Perceive other people as their rescuers or abandoners. Often overwhelmed by anxiety and depend on others to ground them. Treat small upsets as the end of the world.
2. Driven Parents
Characteristics: Extremely busy and compulsively goal-oriented. Controlling and interfering. Have excessively high expectations. Try to perfect everything, including their children. Use work as a way of avoiding reality and emotions.
3. Passive Parents
Characteristics: Rarely set in place rules or do much in the way of actively parenting. Prefer to let their children do whatever they want (because they want to avoid dealing with conflict). Take the backseat to a more dominant mate. Tend to be push-overs. Don’t stick up for their children. Will allow abuse and neglect to occur by looking the other way. Cope with stress by minimizing and acquiescing.
4. Rejecting Parents
Characteristics: Don’t enjoy intimacy. Mostly want to be left alone. Punish strong displays of emotion. Don’t tolerate the needs of others or differences in opinion. Actively shame and belittle you. Fail to treat you as equal. Issue commands from a place of “parental superiority.” Have a pattern of blowing up and isolating themselves.
What categories do your parents fit into?
Remember that it’s possible to have a parent who fits into multiple types with varying intensities.
How to Stop Being Controlled By Emotionally Immature Parents
Emotionally immature parents fear genuine emotion and pull back from emotional closeness. They use coping mechanisms that resistant reality rather than dealing with it. They don’ t welcome self-reflection, so they rarely accept blame or apologize. Their immaturity makes them inconsistent and emotionally unreliable, and they’re blind to their children’s needs once their own agenda comes into play.– L. C. Gibson
Being the child of an emotionally immature parent is a terribly and inhumanely lonely experience. We grow up not only feeling fundamentally unsafe in the world, but we may even lack a sense of our own basic realness.
Having adopted false roles as children in a desperate attempt to be accepted, we struggle to discover who we authentically are. We may feel ashamed once we do discover our genuine needs and desires, leading to chronic self-esteem issues. Our sense of alienation and emotional deprivation means that we are more prone to suffering from addictions and mental health issues like depression and ongoing anxiety.
We may, on some level, blame ourselves for the lack of real connection and love in our childhoods (as the inner child often does), leading us to a basic sense of unworthiness and brokenness. In an attempt to find real connection, we may become desperate people-pleasers, self-sacrificers, or codependents who attract egocentric and exploitative people who are similar to our parents in an unconscious attempt to try and resolve our childhood issues.
The list goes on and on … the trauma runs deep.
But we don’t need to remain victims forever. We can free ourselves from the manipulation, emotional coldness, false hope, and desperation that comes as a result of being the child of parents who lack emotional maturity.
Usually, it’s important to seek some kind of professional help. (I did, and it certainly helped.) But this article will give you a place to start if you’re not quite ready to take that step yet:
1. Understand that their neglect was about them, not you
It’s not your fault that you couldn’t connect with your parent/s. It’s not your fault that you were shamed, ignored, rejected, unseen, or emotionally abandoned. A parent’s job and responsibility is to care for their child on a physical, mental, and emotional level. If your parents neglected you, that’s their fault, not yours. Free yourself from the guilt and shame of feeling not good enough – your parents weren’t good enough when it came to parenting, and that’s a harsh reality to accept, but it’s the truth. Accepting this truth will free you from the toxic core belief that there’s something fundamentally “bad” or “broken” about you. As a child, you were a beautiful, joyous, divine being who deserved to be seen, held, and validated. ALL children are. If your parents couldn’t see that due to their own unresolved baggage, that’s on them NOT you.
2. Validate your emotional pain
Many people struggle to heal from childhood wounds because they carry the belief that “if it wasn’t physical, it wasn’t real.” But as psychologist Gibson writes,
The loneliness of feeling unseen by others is as fundamental a pain as physical injury, but it doesn’t show on the outside. Emotional loneliness is a vague and private experience, not easy to see or describe. You might call it a feeling of emptiness or being alone in the world. Some people have called this feeling existential loneliness, but there’s nothing existential about it. If you feel it, it came from your family.
Just because a wound isn’t external or physical, doesn’t mean it is any less important or painful.
In order to validate your emotional pain, to admit to yourself that it is real and it f*cking hurts, try journaling about your pain. Let it all out! You have the right to face and feel your grief. Your anger, disgust, sadness, and disappointment are all valid and they all deserve to be acknowledged and felt.
3. Discover what role-self you’ve had to adopt to be accepted
Children with parents who lack emotional maturity aren’t accepted for who they authentically are. Authentic is too real, too raw, too emotional – and thus, it is rejected. So instead, they must adopt a role-self in order to play a valuable part in the family.
In her book (which I encourage you to read), Lindsay C. Gibson provides an activity to help you identify your role-self. I’ll include it below.
On a blank page, complete the following sentences:
- I try hard to be …
- The main reason people like me is because I …
- Other people don’t appreciate how much I …
- I always have to be the one who …
- I’ve tried to be the kind of person who …
Then, create a summary of how you answered each sentence.
Here’s how I finished each sentence (yours will be different):
- I try hard to be likable and acceptable to others.
- The main reason people like me is because I am easy to get along with and don’t create drama.
- Other people don’t appreciate how much I am thoughtful, sensitive, and caring.
- I always have to be the one who is reasonable and deals with people’s emotional crap.
- I’ve tried to be the kind of person who gets along with everyone.
Summary: I have played the role of being an easy-going person who tries to create harmony, tries to be likable and acceptable and deals with what others throw at me. Basically, I resort to playing small. Not asserting my needs. Not daring to be disliked. Being a martyr/caretaker.
Just like I’ve done above, reflect on your role-self and how you still enact it in your life. The key to breaking this role is to slowly and gently introduce opposite behaviors. For example, for me, it would be to not play small, not hide my feelings, and not play a role others like.
4. Become observational and detached
In order to stop getting wound up in your emotionally immature parent’s behavior, become like a scientist or detached therapist. Watch their words, how they think, and how they behave, treating it as an observational science study. Doing so will help you get out of the wounded child role and into the empowered adult role.
5. Relate to them instead of looking for a relationship
Relating instead of relationship – remember this.
Many children of parents who lack emotional maturity believe, on some level, that there’s a genuine and fully-developed self hiding inside of their parents. They believe that one day, they might be able to connect with this hidden self, if only their parents would let them.
Here’s the thing … there is no strong self to build a relationship with.
Give up hope now.
I know it sounds harsh, but your parent is emotionally immature meaning that they don’t have a fully developed self – there is no stable, solid, or consistent self to relate to.
Instead of wishfully hoping for someone solid and real to build a relationship with, try relating to them instead, as an adult. Express yourself clearly and calmly as an adult would. Step out of the child role and into the adult role.
6. Creating boundaries means creating safety for yourself
Create strong boundaries with them. Emotional connection with your parents is the basis for developing a sense of safety – but because you’ve lacked that, you will always feel fundamentally unsafe around your parents.
Creating boundaries means creating a safe place that is free from the influence of your parent/s. Learn more about assertiveness, discover your needs, and find the areas in life where you need to draw a strong boundary, put down your feet, and say a firm “no.”
7. Do inner child work
Being emotionally abandoned creates a painfully deep wound within you. This wound needs to be addressed so that you can live free of the self-destructive patterns, relationship issues, and health crises that inevitably come with carrying a battered inner child.
To begin inner child work, it’s important that you simultaneously learn how to love yourself (the two go hand-in-hand). Read my free guide on inner child work to continue this healing journey.
Emotional maturity is a crucial life skill that, tragically, many people don’t possess a whit of. When our parents lack emotional maturity, we will inevitably grow up feeling lost, abandoned, alone, rejected, and fundamentally unseen. I hope this article has shown you that you don’t need to stay in the victim role anymore.
Are you the child of an emotionally immature parent? What has been the hardest part for you? I’d love to hear your story below.
Gosh, where to start. Both parents fit this for me unfortunately. I’m in my 40’s now and I’m still struggling. I work a lot on myself but with no solid role models growing up I’m flying blind. This is a great article.