“Emotionally Immature Parents”: Can You Relate?

In therapist Lindsay C. Gibson‘s 2015 book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, four types of difficult parents are identified:

  • The emotional parent instills feelings of instability and anxiety
  • The driven parent stays busy trying to perfect everything and everyone
  • The passive parent avoids dealing with anything upsetting
  • The rejecting parent is withdrawn, dismissive, and derogatory

And on the Welcome page of Gibson’s website she indicates some of the problems adult kids of such parents may experience: “Are you the one in your family who is especially sensitive to how other people feel? Do you find yourself taking on other people’s problems, even when it’s bad for you? Is it often hard for you to make choices because you worry about what others want?”

Emotional Loneliness,” the author reports, is common among adult kids of emotionally immature parents. “It is a familiar experience for children who grow up with emotional deprivation. But most people do not connect their feelings of emotional isolation and loneliness with a childhood of emotional neglect.” Indeed, abuse and its effects are much more commonly recognized and discussed.

More on this topic:

Emotional loneliness in adult life is a tipoff that one’s relationships in childhood were not nurturing or supportive enough. If we have suffered emotional deprivation, we will be familiar with feeling unseen. A lack of social confidence is another cardinal sign of growing up in an emotionally depriving environment. If you grew up with emotional neglect within your family, in adulthood you might find yourself attracted to people who avoid emotional intimacy and who are inconsistent in their lovingness.

Not only does Gibson offer ways to overcome some of these outcomes, she also offers tips on how adult children can handle ongoing interactions and relationships with these kinds of parents, noting that “(i)t is difficult to deal with parents who have not developed enough empathy to care sufficiently about the feelings of others” (Huffington Post).

She calls her method the Maturity Awareness Approach, and there are four steps:

  1. Use Your Observer Mind: Emotional detachment is needed.
  2. Express and Then Let Go: Be clear in communication while not expecting them to change.
  3. Focus On the Outcome, Not the Relationship: “…For instance, you can ask for an apology, but you can’t ask for a change of heart.”
  4. Manage, Don’t Engage: “…Your job is to move things along toward the outcome you want.”

“Emotionally immature parents will drive you crazy if you mistake their physical age for psychological maturity,” she adds. “Acknowledge that you may have surpassed them developmentally a long time ago, and their insensitivities will begin to hurt a little less. Remember, they are just too young to think of you much at all.”

Esther Lerman Freeman, PsyD: “This book is not about blame but rather about understanding oneself on a deep level and learning to heal.”

Robin Cutler, PhD: “This is an uplifting book that provides hope and superb coping strategies for those who find it difficult or impossible to bond with parents who lack empathy and sensitivity…Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents is full of wisdom that will enable you to relate to your family members and friends in the healthiest way possible—no matter what age you are—and possibly even to recognize what’s behind some of the dysfunctional exchanges depicted in the news and in popular culture.”

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