Emotional immaturity is not a diagnostic label that a therapist can give to someone. But it is a very real phenomenon! Having emotionally immature parents growing up continues to impact most people into adulthood.
If your parents displayed the majority of the following characteristics, they may have been emotionally immature.
1. They Dismissed Your Feelings
When you tried to talk to them about your feelings, they would minimize them, change the subject, or make a joke.
Emotionally mature parents are able to help their children name, understand, and validate their own feelings, at least some of the time.
2. They Came to You or Your Siblings Seeking Advice or Comfort
This may have been about relationship, sex, career, or financial problems.
Emotionally mature parents seek advice and comfort from fellow adults. Leaning on children for support, especially when that includes sharing details about their lives, is inappropriate and puts too much pressure on them.
3. They Did Not Take Any Interest In Your Interests
They didn't express any curiosity about your interests and may have even poked fun at them.
They might have pressured you into engaging in their interests.
Emotionally mature parents support their children in identifying and engaging in their own age-appropriate interests, even if they aren’t shared.
4. They Were Hesitant to Buy You Things, Even Though They Could Afford It
Of course, if your parents were poor, this doesn’t apply. But if they could afford it and refused to pay for things like field trips, books for school, a backpack, etc., that is a sign of emotional immaturity.
If they refused to buy you things like clothes, shoes, lunch, a new toothbrush, etc. even though they could afford it, this is a sign of neglect.
5. They Spent Very Little Time With You
They often left you with other family members or caregivers.
Again, this does not apply to working class or impoverished families, who had to work often to keep the family afloat.
Emotionally mature parents want to spend quality time with their kids if/when they are able to do so.
6. They Teased You for Not Knowing How to Do Things
They poked fun at you for not knowing things, even though it was developmentally appropriate (for example, not knowing how to tie your shoes at age three.)
Emotionally mature parents understand that kids need help and support, not ridicule, when they don’t know how to do things.
What’s the Difference Between Emotional Immaturity and Abuse or Neglect?
People can be psychologically abusive, neglectful, emotionally immature, or all of these. It can be hard to tell the difference, especially when those people are your parents.
Psychological abuse is a pattern of verbal and non-verbal behaviours that results in psychological trauma. Psychological abuse may include ridicule, name-calling, isolation, threats, and gaslighting (manipulating someone to make them think they can’t trust their own feelings or experiences).
Here’s one important distinction: abusive parents are often on their best behaviour when the family is in public or around others, but behave very differently with kids at home. Emotionally immature parents are immature in all settings. They may get into trouble at work for inappropriate behaviour, have difficulty maintaining deep relationships, and so on.
When parents consistently neglect their children’s emotional needs, this is referred to as passive emotional neglect.
This is different from abuse, which is often intentionally harmful. Emotional neglect can be intentional or unintentional and involves a consistent pattern of disregarding a child's emotional wellbeing. Despite providing basic care and necessities, emotionally neglectful parents ignore this essential aspect of support.
An example of emotional neglect would be a child confiding in their parent about feeling sad about an incident at school, and the parent dismissing it as a childish issue instead of offering support and guidance.
Over time, the child may internalize the belief that their emotional needs are not important, and stop seeking support.
How Are Children of Emotionally Immature Parents Impacted in Adulthood?
Emotionally immature parents don’t model things like healthy self-esteem, emotion regulation, or other emotional skills for their kids. Kids learn from what they see, so the children of emotionally immature parents are likely to struggle in these same areas.
Children who have poor emotional skills are likely to bring those skills into adulthood unless they make a conscious effort to change them.
People with emotionally immature parents may:
- Struggle to identify and feel their emotions – being "emotionally unavailable"
- Have out-of-control, extreme emotions that they struggle to regulate
- Use substances, binge or restrictive eating, or compulsive behaviours to try to regulate emotions
- Have difficulty opening up to others and being vulnerable
- Not have clarity on their interests or long-term goals
- Not understand what their needs are
- Even if they understand what their needs are, they may not believe they are worthy of having their needs met
- Have low self-esteem or self-image
- Experience shyness or social anxiety
- Have an anxious, avoidant, or mixed attachment style
This Sounds Like Me! What Do I Do About It?
- If you experienced abuse or neglect, read our free eBook Understanding and Healing Trauma.
- Learn about emotional unavailability.
- Seek therapy. A therapist can help you work on things like increasing self-esteem, establishing deep relationships with others, and identifying and meeting your own needs.
Trauma-Informed Self-Guided Support for Mental Health
Research shows that self-help materials are often enough for people to overcome mild to moderate mental health difficulties without professional support.
If you’re interested in a trauma-informed self-guided program, be sure to check out The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit.
About RebeccaRebecca Ogle, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social worker and therapist in Chicago, IL.
Rebecca provides therapy to people with anxiety, low self-esteem, and people pleasing tendencies. She uses a feminist and social justice lens, and interventions based in CBT, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing.
For helpful, free content, follow her on Instagram or go to her website.