Emotionally immature parents neglect to provide for their children’s emotional needs, leaving them lonely and emotionally insecure. Such insecurity negatively impacts the life partners they choose in adulthood. Emotionally sensitive children are particularly vulnerable to immature parents.
Dr. Lindsay C Gibson outlines four types of immature parents in her book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents. Though each is different, all share the same underlying immaturity. They tend to be self-absorbed, self-centered, and emotionally unresponsive. They fear intimacy, causing them to avoid closeness with their children while attempting to use them to feel better.
They resist reality rather than respond with empathy and understanding. Rarely do they self-reflect or accept blame or apologize for their shortcomings. They see their children as extensions of themselves who are there to meet their needs.
This may explain why you feel lonely despite others’ claims of love and care.
Four Types of Emotionally Immature Parents
Emotionally immature parents tend to come in four flavors. Differences aside, all four types share the same fundamental qualities. These are insensitivity, lack of boundaries, and over-involvement in their children’s lives.
Most parents fall into one type but may behave in ways associated with another. Regardless, immature parents cannot consistently provide an emotionally safe environment.
The Emotional Parent
Emotional parents are the least mature of the four types. They get upset quickly and take their children with them when they melt down. Witnessing their outbursts can be confusing and frightening because their emotions escalate rapidly. Being around them can feel like walking on eggshells. Their most defining characteristic is emotional instability.
A common characteristic of the emotional parent is difficulty tolerating stress and emotional excitement. They lose emotional balance and react to situations more mature people can handle. Substance abuse can reveal and magnify their weaknesses. Such parents can be mentally ill at the far end of the spectrum, including being psychotic, bipolar, or having a narcissistic or borderline personality disorder.
They see life in black and white, keep score, hold grudges, and control others with their emotions. Their reactivity and shifting mental states make them unreliable and intimidating. They are unstable, and family life revolves around their mood swings.
Children of these parents learn to put the needs of others ahead of their own. They can be overly attentive to the feelings and moods of those around them, often to their detriment.
A friend once saw his mom having a nervous breakdown in middle school. Her hysteria and primal scream were alarming and terrifying.
The Driven Parent
Driven parents focus on productivity and come across as the most normal of the four types. You wouldn’t notice anything unusual about them, but they can be deceiving. Their ongoing intrusion into their children’s affairs is legendary and anything but selfless.
Their children often lack initiative and self-control and may even be depressed, despite (or because of) parental over-involvement. They push their agenda rather than allowing their children to chart their path. Their ideas and beliefs take precedence over their child’s needs and wants.
Driven parents usually received little emotional nurturance from their parents. They are usually self-made and proud of not showing emotions. They expect their children to excel without being able to provide the unconditional acceptance needed for success.
Driven parents tend to have high standards for themselves and others, and their children feel judged and believe they are never enough.
We all know people with type-A personalities, and it’s not hard to see the negative impact on their children. “I worry so much about what they expect from me," says one child of a driven parent, "I have no idea what I want. I’m just trying to keep my parents happy and off my case.”
The Passive Parent
Passive parents aren’t aggressive like the other types, but their children still suffer.
They are emotionally available up to a point but withdraw when emotions run too deep. Such parents may love their children but lack the skills to guide or help them navigate life. Their children learn not to depend on them.
Passive parents are immature, yet their playfulness can make them the favorite. Often the child acts as a companion, which can feel like emotional incest or a sexualized relationship.
These parents turn a blind eye to family dynamics that can harm their children. Not having a separate income keeps them with partners who abuse their children. Such parents tend to numb themselves to reality.
Children have trouble accepting that the parent they adore should have protected them.
The Rejecting Parent
Rejecting parents are the least empathic of the four types and prefer being alone to spending time with their children. Their children can feel unwanted and may avoid approaching for fear of further irritating the parent.
Such parents can be punitive, and family life often revolves around them. A typical example is the scary and aloof father with little emotional warmth for his kids. The rest of the family appeases him while instinctively avoiding upsetting him.
Children of such parents can feel like a burden and even apologetic for existing. Unlike more secure children who keep trying, they tend to give up easily. Rejection in childhood makes it hard to ask for help and meet their adult needs.
Finding Intimacy Elsewhere
All four types of immature parents are self-involved and emotionally unavailable. Their lack of emotional maturity makes them difficult to communicate and connect with. They are draining to be around and incapable of interpersonal reciprocity.
The result is that their children rarely, if ever, feel seen.
If your parents were like this, they could never have a genuine emotional connection. You can let go of any expectations of meeting your emotional needs through them. Knowing you were lovable all along means you no longer need to feel betrayed by their lack of closeness.
Understanding your emotional loneliness and where it originated can free you to seek emotional intimacy elsewhere. You can look within instead of holding onto the hope that your parents will finally see you someday.
Until next week,
Please see my book notes on Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents for more details.
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Forget about isolating these descriptions for parents, people with these issues are going to have a rough road.
Thank you for putting this out, Ryan. 🙏 It made me think of various things about my parents. And I can relate to the Emotional Parent type, I have lived 30 years of my life being hypervigilant of others moods. I really appreciate what you're doing.