The Emotionally Immature Parent:
Emotionally immature parents fail to connect with their children on an emotional level.
This can leave their children feeling emotionally insecure, existentially lonely, empty and hollow.
The emotions these children feel remain invalidated by the emotionally immature parent; indeed, the parent is frequently so self-obsessed that s/he fails to notice the child’s feelings and emotional needs.
However, as the child generally has no point of comparison, s/he may remain oblivious to the fact that s/he is being emotionally neglected.
As a result, the child might feel that s/he is somehow very different from his/her peers (perhaps s/he is depressed, anxious, severely lacking in confidence and withdrawn) without understanding why this is. Very sadly, such a child may, wrongly, blame him/herself, believing him/herself to be somehow intrinsically unlikeable.
When such a child becomes an adult, s/he may continue to be severely lacking in confidence, particularly with regard to his/her ability to form relationships. In fact, s/he may develop a powerful fear of relationships, believing that the rejection s/he experienced as a child would be quickly repeated in any incipient adult relationship s/he managed to develop.
Due to this avoidance of relationships, the individual can perpetuate his/her feelings of emotional loneliness indefinitely throughout adulthood.
Some Typical Characteristics Of Emotionally Immature Parents:
– poor ability to empathise with / understand emotional experiences their children
– may focus on physical needs of child at expense of his/her emotional needs
– shallow, but intense, emotions
– may ‘parentify’ their children ( click here to read my article on this)
– may have a tendency to ‘over-intellectualize’ (click here to read my article on this) / relate to others on an intellectual, rather than emotional, level
– may keep others shut out emotionally, however hard they try to make an emotional connction
– may induce anger and rage in their child, due to the frustration and hurt the child feels in response to ‘being kept at arm’s length’ (The child may internalize such anger (is re-direct it at him/herself giving rise to depression, anxiety and irrational self-blame)
– may create what has been termed by psychologists ‘emotional contagen.’ ( ie when the parent is upset s/he upsets everyone else to the point where they feel personally responsible for making him/ her feel better – this may take the form, for example, of protracted sulking)
– may be very adept at turning the blame on others. For example, if the child criticised him/ her it is the child who s/he defensively accuses as being the real ‘wrong-doer’ (eg s/he may accuse the child of being ‘judgmental’ and ‘unforgiving’).
– the emotionally immature parent may be so self-absorbed and focussed on his/her own needs at the expense of the child’s that the child fails to form a strong sense of his/her own identity. To use an expression coined by the psychologist Bowen (1976) the child may become psychologically ‘de-selfed’.
Types Of Emotionally Immature Parents:
According to Gibson, PhD, an expert in this field, there are four main types of emotionally immature parents. I provide a very brief description of each of these below:
A) Emotionally Volatile:
Such a parent can exhibit dramatic mood swings and may vascillate, unpredictably, between being too involved with the child’s life and being too remote and withdrawn from him/her. Such a parent may also be prone to extreme over-reactions eg becoming excessively, and utterly disproportionately, angry when a child makes a small, innocent mistakemistake.
For example, such a parent may be a workaholic, obsessed with pursuing his own goals, controlling and a ‘perfectionist’ (click here to read my article on this)
This type of parent, according to Gibson, minimises (thus largely invalidating) the child’s emotional problems. If the child is being abused by the other parent, this type of parent might even turn a blind eye to this, preferring not to ‘rock the boat.’ Indeed, such a parent generally takes the ‘line of least resistance’
This type of parent may come to view his/her children as a burden, getting in the way of him/her pursuing his/her own life goals. In this way, the child is both resented and essentially rejected.
Individuals who have been adversely affected by having been brought up by an emotionally immature parent and have developed problems such as anxiety, depression, lack of identity and poor confidence can be helped by various types of psychotherapy; in particular, numerous studies have been conducted showing the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Click here to read my article on this.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).