You might be curious about how to deal with emotionally immature parents. If you value connection and are an emotionally intelligent person, growing up with emotionally immature parents was probably a confusing, lonely and painful experience.
Your parents might not even be interested in becoming more emotionally mature, so how do you deal with that possible reality. How do you make sense of this? How much do you try to change them?
What It Feels Like To Grow Up With Emotionally Immature Parents
You might not even realize that your feelings of loneliness and isolation can come from having emotionally immature parents. They may have provided for all you physical needs like food, clothing, shelter, trips to the doctor, which are all super important things. You knew they loved you, but something was missing.
That empty feeling which comes from a lack of emotional closeness may have made you feel very sad and alone. But you might not have understood what you were so unhappy about. You may try to push those feelings away, but that longing for emotional closeness can still haunt you as an adult.
Kids don’t understand that their parents are emotionally immature. Then, when you become an adult, you might wind up choosing relationships that are equally lacking in emotional closeness.
This can really be painful when you crave closeness and connection. Children will mostly feel that there is something wrong with them for feeling unhappy. They blame themselves.
Unlike physical or sexual abuse, emotional neglect is often hard to put your finger on. It just feels ‘normal’. You don’t even realize you’ve been neglected.
How Growing Up With Emotionally Immature Parents Effects Adulthood
In order to cope, children of emotionally immature parents will learn to put their parents needs first, above their own. If your parent doesn’t show an interest in you, you figure out how to gain their attention by taking care of them. At least if you get some attention that way, you won’t be so isolated. This is how you can wind up doing too much care giving as an adult.
You might have learned to be very self-sufficient, since the best way to get your needs met was to do it yourself. Often, these kids will get really good at taking care of others at the expense of themselves in order to ward off loneliness.
This can be a real trap, sometimes to the point of not becoming independent. It may keep you from developing a fulfilling and independent life, away from your parents.
The opposite can also happen. You leave home as soon as possible, and become super functional. Over functioning in the world to make up for your parents under functioning can become a burden.
Unfortunately, not being able to see the reality that you had emotionally immature parents can make you vulnerable to allowing emotionally unavailable, distant people into your life. Someone who had that closeness to more emotionally available and mature parents aren’t interested in people who can’t connect. They naturally gravitate towards those who can provide mutual emotional closeness.
Even though you crave connection, you might not know how to get it. You might get caught up in trying to change an emotionally unavailable person. So, it’s useful to understand exactly what you experienced with emotionally immature parents.
What Having Emotionally Immature Parents Looks Like
Here are some signs that your parents were emotionally immature. When you were unhappy, your parents weren’t attentive or sympathetic. Instead, they seemed annoyed or impatient or uncomfortable.
Life centered around your parents needs, interests and wants. They just didn’t seem that interested in what you liked unless it mirrored their own interests. They focused on themselves, not on you.
These parents can be overly interested in their own material needs and on how things look on the outside. Emotional needs just aren’t on their radar. As a result, they do things without thinking about others people’s feelings. They lack empathy.
Another sign of emotional maturity is that your parent had strong opinions that they rigidly stuck to, no matter what. Trying to use logic or facts to change their opinion only made them angry and defensive. Rather than being curious and open, listening to someone else’s thoughts or opinions was threatening.
They did not acknowledge that they might be wrong or need to change themselves. Your parents didn’t make room for needs other that their own. As a result, creative solutions were not considered.
Emotionally immature parents turn their kids into their parent. They expect their children to listen to them and take care of them, rather than figuring out who their children are, what they are feeling and what they need.
Can Emotionally Immature Parents Change?
In order for change to occur, your parent must be willing to look at themselves and reflect on their own actions, thoughts and feelings. They must be able to consider what might not be working and be willing to make changes. This is what emotionally mature people do.
If you resist facing your mistakes and taking responsibility for how you may have hurt others, it is next to impossible to make things better. Instead, they just want you to move beyond your feelings and get over it.
This makes it very hard for these parents to change. Instead, they demand that you understand and recognize them, but they don’t do the same for you. Sadly, they are incapable of truly knowing their child. Instead, these parents focus on their children meeting their needs, not the other way around.
Expecting What Your Parents Can’t Give
If you have emotionally distant, immature parents, you naturally want them to change and finally give you what you’ve been craving. Especially if you’ve been working on yourself and you’ve learned lots of helpful communication skills. You might think you can finally reason with your emotionally immature parents and get them to listen, understand and appreciate you.
The Role of Grief
As you start to come to terms with your parents limitations, you will go through a period of grieving for the relationship you always wanted that you will never have. This can be a painful time. However, the process of grieving is what helps us move on and transform ourselves. Once you can move through the grief, you can start to accept your parents for who they are and take care of yourself.
When your parents are terrified of being emotionally close, when you try to connect with them, they see this as an attack. This puts them on the defensive. Detach and observe who your parents really are. Then you can move towards acceptance. Eventually, you can stop trying to change them.
How To Deal With Emotionally Immature Parents
Talk About Things, Not Feelings and Emotions
It can be better to discuss things rather than feelings. For example, find out what they are making for dinner, what they did over the weekend or what the weather is like.
Asking these kinds of specific questions is a safe bet. Don’t try to go deeper into feelings, emotions or analysis. Keeping conversations more shallow and about safe topics can help keep things peaceful.
Emotionally mature people can discuss feelings and emotions in a relationship. You can share honestly and feel more connected, getting to know each other better. With emotionally immature parents, this isn’t possible.
Having Realistic Expectations
Try to become realistic about your parents limitations. That way, you can stop exhausting yourself, banging your head against the wall trying to get them to be different. Freedom begins when you can stop expecting something your aren’t going to get.
Get To Know Yourself
Ask yourself exactly what YOU want, not what someone else wants. What do you truly, honestly want? Once you know what that is, you can approach your parent with a request that reflects your genuine feelings and thoughts. For example, I’d like to come by for an hour on Saturday afternoon. Would that work for you?
Instead of pushing down and suppressing your true emotions, validate your inner needs and wants. This means also having self-compassion and protecting yourself from parents who don’t respect your needs. This might include having less contact.
You might need to see them for one hour instead of five hours. Meet somewhere neutral for coffee or a light meal. Stay with a friend or other relative instead of spending every night in your parents home when you visit. Keeping your distance can be a healthy way to limit disrespectful behavior or set boundaries.
Ideally, you can protect yourself while still relating to your parent. But, you may decide to break contact completely for a time. Some parents just can’t admit that they may have hurt you. This makes it very difficult or even impossible for them to change.
If you feel it is your job to make things ok in your family, it can be very difficult to alter your thinking. It is your job to take care of yourself, not sacrifice yourself for others. It is up to your parents to figure out how to take care of themselves, knowing your boundaries.
Guilt and Shame
When you ask your parents to respect your boundaries, observe carefully to see if they make you feel ashamed or guilty for having boundaries. If this happens, saying simple things like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ or ‘We see things very differently.
Let’s agree to disagree’ or ‘You see it your way and I see it my way, so let’s not try to change each other’. If you need to, get off the phone, tell them that ‘we can talk another time’. Go take a walk, call a trusted friend who does respect your boundaries, even if they are different from yours.
Changing these patterns can take a lot of discussion and then practice. Being in therapy can provide the support and structure to begin making changes. You may need to work through certain issues before you’re ready to change your relationship with your emotionally immature parents.
EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and Neurofeedback are excellent tools. These methods help you process through things that make it difficult to take the steps to change. If you think I can help, reach out to me via email email@example.com or leave me a voice message at 310-314-6933.