Primary Author: Sabrina Hossain | Secondary Author: Sophia Barson LCSW
Have you struggled to develop an emotional connection with your parents? If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, it could be due to having emotionally immature parents.
Parents who are emotionally immature lack the ability to adequately care for their children’s well-being. This does not mean that your parents are inherently “bad.” There are many reasons why parents lack emotional maturity; from unhealed trauma, undiagnosed mental illness, and insecure attachment. However, the reasons behind your parents’ emotional immaturity does not invalidate the hurt you’ve experienced. If you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your parents, here are some coping strategies to consider:
Manage Your Expectations
Your desire for your parents to grow and change are valid. However, parents are human and it is up to them to decide if and when they want to change. When you manage the expectations of your parents’ growth, you are less likely to set yourself up for disappointment. Your parents may never learn how to communicate in a healthy way so you may have to relate to them in a way that they can emotionally tolerate.
Looking after your well-being is crucial. Dealing with emotionally immature parents can be draining so it is important to engage in relaxing or fun activities to keep yourself grounded. Some examples of self care are:
- Unlearning beliefs that no longer serve you
- Engage in exercises that you enjoy
- Call a friend for emotional support
- Take mindful breaths during stressful events
- Understand that Connection is Normal
- Create Emotional Connections outside of your family
- Avoid doing emotional work for your parents
- Don’t engage in self-neglect
Establish Connections and Relationships With Trusted Individuals
- School counselor
- Other adults in life
Establishing healthy boundaries is essential in supporting healthy relationships. Creating emotional boundaries with your parents will help protect your peace. This can look like managing interactions with your parents rather than engaging, developing a detached, observational state of mind, retaining your own thoughts and feelings. For example, your parent makes a hurtful comment, this is when you detach instead of react. You can express that what they said is hurtful and then let go. How they react to your boundaries is not something you can control.
Emotionally invalidating parents can impact their children’s mental health. The child may become a people pleaser, perfectionist, or struggle with binge eating. These are all common outcomes as children of emotionally immature parents are not given the proper tools to regulate their emotions. Due to the emotional immaturity of your parents, you may have felt very lonely throughout your childhood. Parents who are emotionally-invalidating are often unable to show affection or provide the comfort that the child needs. This feeling of loneliness may continue into adulthood. Even as an adult, the loneliness may still linger.
Again, it is normal to want your parents to heal and give you the love and affection you deserve. However, as individuals with free will, they will not grow unless they want to. Sometimes parents do not have the tools or resources to change. Whatever the case may be, it is best to create peace within yourself by focusing on what you can control. You cannot control your parents. But you can control your actions and behaviors towards them.
You will save yourself from so much heartache if you free yourself from expecting emotional support from your parents. When you release the expectation of love, attention, and communication from your parents and build a support system outside of them instead, you can grow to accept the relationship for what it is. It is best to surround yourself with individuals who will meet your emotional needs.
For more information on how to heal and manage your relationship with your parents, look into Dr. Lindsay C. Gibson’s work, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents. Dr. Gibson is a clinical psychologist who works with adult children of emotionally immature parents.