Most of us view parents as the mature ones, the grown-ups, particularly when we are kids. The ones who nurture and guide us to healthy adulthood.
But, what if you’re dealing with emotionally immature parents? Ones who are distant, rejecting, needy, negative or self-preoccupied?
What if a parent is emotionally immature? Forcing the child to become the parent in the relationship?
Or, to come up with coping mechanisms to deny the fear of never being good enough?
Emotional immaturity in parents can take many forms:
- There are those who are needy and whose moods fluctuate. The family walks on eggshells, as their behavior can be infantile.
- They’re like a child themselves, reacting emotionally, without thought to any consequences.
- They can’t control their impulses and everyone else is to blame. Or responsible for calming them down and their stability.
Or there are those who are driven, always busy getting things done. They have all the answers. They know what’s best for everyone else, including their child.
- They fear their child will embarrass them if they don’t live up to their measure of success. They intervene in adult children’s lives. Even after the child has left home and is in a relationship.
- There are the parents who do the opposite.
- They build a wall around themselves. They reject them.
It’s as if their children don’t exist at all.
Their irritation towards their children teaches the kids to keep their distance from them.
Immature men may fall into this category, ruling the home as the aloof and scary Dad. He may even doll out physical punishments to his children
Then there’s the passive, emotionally stunted parent. The one who acquiesces to the more dominant one (usually another emotionally immature adult).
- They may look after your physical health, feeding you and buying your clothes. But, your emotionally immature parent is so preoccupied with themselves they ignore your emotional needs.
- They can’t see what you’re experiencing or feeling. They don’t express empathy, they can’t support you.
- They’re uncomfortable with their own emotions or feelings. So, they won’t go there if you try to express yours. If you’re upset they’re likely to tell you.
You’re too sensitive.
Or, make a sarcastic remark. Anything to change the subject.
- They are egocentric, single-minded and have a low level of tolerance to stress.They like to be the center of attention and can be emotionally insensitive.
- They become defensive if you disagree with them. They get irritated if others have a different point of view.
- They don’t pay you any attention unless you’re sick.
- They’re inconsistent and unreliable. You walk on eggshells around them.
- Like a child, they erupt in emotional distress at the drop of a hat. The whole family runs around trying to work out what the problem is and how to fix it.
- They may be passive/aggressive towards you.
- They rarely accept blame or apologize for their behavior.
- They may become so enmeshed with you, they’re living through you and your achievements. Which never live up to their exacting standards.
- They may choose you as the ‘needy child’ they can rescue and control. Seeking their identity through an intense, dependent relationship with you. But it’s not a healthy adult to child one.
- Or, they may deem you the ‘little grown-up’ that doesn’t need them. Ignore you, whilst focusing all their attention on your sibling.
As a child of an emotionally immature parent you may feel:
- Anger. But, suppress it and turn it in on yourself. This may later manifest in depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
- As if you’re not being listened to. Your parent is insensitive to your feelings.
Nothing is good enough to make your parent happy. Nothing you do is good enough either, nor are you.
You can’t talk to them in an open and honest way. For fear they’ll minimize it with:
You’re too sensitive, too emotional.
Or dismissed with:
I can’t change who I am.
A child can’t see this for what it is. A parent who grew up emotionally stunted.
Perhaps they were from the: ‘children are seen and not heard’ generation like mine were? Their own childhood needs were never met and so they are incapable of nurturing yours.
There is no emotional intimacy.
Someone you can tell anything to. Express feelings and emotions you have and feel safe with doing so.
Instead, you suppress them. Deny them.That’s how I felt as I grew up.
This can lead you into dysfunctional, even an abusive relationship in adulthood. I know that now.
I learned to become a ‘people pleaser’. To morph my behavior to keep the peace.
To ignore my gut instincts. If I felt shame or upset, my mother told me I was wrong to feel that way.
As an adult I was a chameleon, spouting opinions that weren’t my own. Taking on those of others who were more confident than me.
I told them what I thought they wanted me to say and hear. I was always someone I was not. Forever hiding, in fear, they’d find me out.
I didn’t even want to go into the relationship with my ex. I knew it was no good for me. But, I lacked the confidence to say no.
Besides, I had this fantasy in my head:
If I can love him enough, then he’ll become the man I need.
The one who could fill that hole I had inside me.
I attracted needy people like him. But, I liked the role of rescuer.
I can fix this
That’s what I thought. My friends believed I could as well.
I took responsibility for both sides of the relationship. Even after abuse, kept trying to make it work.
I’m not the only adult child of an emotionally immature parent to do this.
We create this story in our heads. A fantasy, that one day our unmet needs will be met.
We believe the cure for our childhood emotional pain lies in changing ourselves enough to affect this outcome.
If only I am attractive enough. Self-sacrificing enough. Famous. Rich enough. Then I’ll be happy.
Anything other than:
I am enough