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 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is somehow very different from his/her peers (perhaps s/he is depressed, anxious, severely lacking in confidence and withdrawn) without understanding why this is.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 himself, believing him/herself to be somehow intrinsically unlikable.
When such a child becomes an adult, he may continue to be severely lacking in confidence, particularly with regard to his ability to form relationships. In fact, 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 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 and to understand the emotional experiences of their children
- may focus on the physical needs of a child at the expense of his emotional needs
- shallow, but intense, emotions
- may ‘parentify’ their children
- may have a tendency to ‘over-intellectualize’
- may keep others shut out emotionally, however hard they try to make an emotional connection
- 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 (i.e. re-direct it at himself, giving rise to depression, anxiety and irrational self-blame).
- may create what has been termed by psychologists ’emotional contagion.’ ( i.e when the parent is upset she or he upsets everyone else to the point where they feel personally responsible for making him or 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 criticises the parent the parent turns the tables and defensively accuses the child of being the real ‘wrong-doer’ (for example, the parent may accuse the child of being ‘judgmental’ and ‘unforgiving’).
- the emotionally immature parent may be so self-absorbed and focused on his or her own needs at the expense of the child’s that the child fails to form a strong sense of his 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 vacillate, 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 (for example, becoming excessively, and utterly disproportionately, angry when a child makes a small, innocent mistake).
For example, such a parent may be a workaholic, obsessed with pursuing his own goals, controlling and a ‘perfectionist’
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 or her children as a burden, getting in the way of him/her pursuing his or 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).
You may also be interested in my article entitled: EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT DISORDER AND CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.