Growing up with an emotionally immature parent can be a confusing, upsetting and lonely experience. Emotional loneliness comes from not having enough emotional connection with other people. It often begins in childhood with our parents. Emotionally immature parents can look and act normally enough. They care for a child’s health, provide meals and safety. However, when it comes to their relationship with their child, they don’t make an solid, secure emotional connection. Children of these parents suffer a gaping hole when it comes to feelings of emotional security that can last a lifetime.
Emotional intimacy means you have someone you can tell anything to, share your feelings with and feel totally safe being that vulnerable. Emotionally mature parents provide this for their children by being emotionally attuned to their feelings and needs. They sooth and comfort them and help them feel connected and secure. Emotionally immature parents are usually so preoccupied with their own needs, that they are unaware of their children’s inner experience. If you were a child of emotionally immature parents, you would not have been aware that something was wrong at the time. You would not have known that your ‘hollow feeling’ was abnormal.
According to psychologist Lindsay Gibson in her book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, children who experience emotional loneliness because of parent emotional immaturity, will do whatever it takes to create some form of relationship with their parent. Rather than expecting to be taken care of, they will go to extreme lengths to feel connected. They may compensate by helping others and acting as if they have no needs themselves. They grow up quickly, are eager to leave childhood behind and learn to become self-sufficient at a younger age than most. They tell themselves, “I am already taking care of myself, I might as well get the benefits of being an adult.” Unfortunately, they often leave home early end up marrying the wrong person who takes advantage of them, or in the wrong line of work which exploits them.
Were You Raised by an Emotionally Immature Parent?
Dr. Lindsay Gibson explains that emotional immaturity has been studied for a long time. However, the more recent focus on diagnosis or personality disorders, has little benefit to help you gain a deeper understanding of the person, and learn what to do to relate or cope. Dr. Gibson has come up with the following exercise to help you know if you were raised by an emotionally immature parent.
Read through the statements and check any that describe your parent.
My parent often overacted to relatively minor things.
My parent didn’t express much empathy or emotional awareness.
When it came to emotional closeness and feelings, my parent seemed uncomfortable and did not go there.
My parent was often irritated by individual differences or different points of view.
When I was growing up, my parent used me as a confidant but wasn’t a confidant for me.
My parent often said or did things without thinking about people’s feelings.
I didn’t get much attention or sympathy from my parent, except maybe when I was really sick.
My parent was inconsistent – sometimes wise, sometimes unreasonable.
If I became upset, my parent either said superficial and unhelpful things or got angry and sarcastic.
Conversations mostly centred on my parent’s interests.
Even polite disagreement could make my parent defensive.
It was deflating to tell my parent about my successes because it didn’t seem to matter.
Facts and logic were no match for my parent’s opinions.
My parent wasn’t self-reflective and rarely looked at his or her role in a problem.
My parent tended to be a black-and-white thinker, and unreceptive to new ideas.
Since all these items are potential signs of emotional immaturity, checking more than one suggests you may have been raised by an emotionally immature parent. All of us have can, on occasion, loose emotional control and may show one of the behaviours listed above. But an emotionally mature parent does not show a consistent pattern of these emotionally immature behaviours.
Emotional mature people can think objectively while sustaining deep emotional connections to others. They are comfortable and honest about their feelings, get along well with others because they have empathy, impulse control and emotional intelligence. They have reciprocal relationships with others sharing their inner lives while being interested in the inner lives of others. When under stress, emotionally mature people cope in a realistic forward-looking way, while deliberately processing their feelings. They can know themselves well enough to know their weaknesses and admit to their mistakes.
Recognizing that you grew up with an emotionally immature parent is the first step toward healing the childhood wounds of neglect, rejection, confusion or pain. The next steps are to free yourself from repeating compensatory negative patterns with others, recover your true self, and learn an effective way to deal with your emotionally immature parent as an adult.