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In today’s blog, you’re going to learn about dealing with emotionally immature parents. Specifically, adults whose emotional attachment needs weren’t met by their own parents. These parents often do not have self-awareness about how it can affect their children’s development. We will address identity formation and how that impacts the developmental perspective. Additionally, we will address how having emotionally immature parents can interfere with being your authentic self. Finally, we will discuss how to move forward if this is your story.

Why Do Trauma Therapists Find Children of Emotionally Immature Parents in Their Office?

Often, when we consider therapy, we don’t consider the well-adjusted, or perceived “normal” person in our space. Therapists hear these clients talk openly with surrounding individuals. Choosing to discuss with them the challenges they are experiencing. This makes the therapist go “ Whoa, why is this person in my office and not the person they are describing being involved with”. Rather, we find introspective, sensitive, and kind people in our space trying to get along with impulsive reactive people, who run wild.

Here is what trauma therapists find…

Psychoeducation can be a very healing and freeing part of experiencing life. Talking to clients about their development and the potential development of those around them gave them a sense of peace. Although these parents and individuals were bright, intellectual, and capable of being a leader. Somewhere during their development, they didn’t develop emotionally, leaving them to lack a sense of empathy.

In comparison, when individuals looked at how they reacted in their own life. As well as how it was taught to them, clients are able to see how they were developmentally stunted. Helping individuals see what they are looking at, also empowers them to realize that due to their own maturity, there is a healthy way to interact with these emotionally immature and reactive individuals.

Individuals who grew up dealing with emotionally immature parents need…

Compassion. This is a kind and compassionate way to validate an individual’s experience about what is happening. It is unfortunate that these individuals are stuck cleaning up the messes of emotionally immature parents. However, empowering them to take action where they can is compassionate. It also helps validate their underlying stress about recognizing that their parents did not meet their needs.

How do Emotionally Immature Parents Get To This Point?

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Parents and caregivers are human. They experience the joys and sadness of life. What we need to know is that if the parent’s experience, not having their needs met, abuse and losses, having to grow up too soon. For example, our parents and grandparents had to go to work when they were 10  and stuff like that. It’s not that the parents didn’t want to take care of their kids and try to do a good job it’s that they didn’t have the skills.

Simply put, they did not have the emotional development to be able to do it. So consequently, the kids may have deficits as well. They may have certain areas well-developed and others are sort of stuck in certain times when things went wrong. This can be a helpful way of looking at it because while you may want to call parents who are preoccupied or depressed narcissistic, this allows a more compassionate approach.

By looking at it this way, we are seeing parents as a layered cake. The individual didn’t develop all at once, but instead, small pieces of the cake were cooked at different times. So in other words the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. Therefore, a parent may blow up one moment and then be ok 30 minutes later. Think of it as a stock market graph, it all depends on what is going on that day. A parent may feel threatened or anxious resulting in more intense reactions and vice versa. Where it really affects the kids is when you realize that the parent is doing anything they can in order to feel safe and in control. Yet it takes a lot out of the kids.

Two Key Factors That Come Along with An Adult Child of Emotionally Immature Parents

Along with emotional loneliness, an adult child of an emotionally immature parent is confused. Individuals have described this as a “brain scramble.” Meaning when you were around them you kind of had to follow along with their reactivity. It becomes very confusing because one minute, they’re saying this,  and another minute they’re saying that. Then the next minute they’re denying that they ever said the other thing and it becomes very, very confusing. So if you can explain to them that it’s not that, and that’s what makes people feel crazy. And they doubt themselves and say, well, wait a minute, maybe, you know, maybe I have it all wrong. Because they cannot have A and B at the same time, individuals struggle to validate their truth.

The importance of knowing your true self

Essentially, in therapy what we have is a child in adult clothes. One who is struggling to have an integrated self because they are always second-guessing themselves. 

We are capable of knowing when we are and are not ourselves. You feel put together, calm, and most importantly authentic and in line with your true self. When you don’t have good self-development, you feel off-balance all the time. This leads individuals to try to get their balance back, usually through some kind of interaction with another person. They depend on people to help them recover their emotional stability. Plus, they depend on other people to help them with their self-esteem.

However with emotionally immature parents

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Parents do not have the capability to gain support from their friends and family in a safe way. Rather than recovering and attending to self-esteem, they instead recruit people around them. In order to emotionally stabilize them thus entering the job of the child. They expect these individuals to regulate their emotions and make them feel good about themselves. This negatively affects the child because it means the adult is asking the child to act as the adult to meet the parent’s needs first.

So we find ourselves seeing parents’ needs being met but the self-discovery with children being dampened. This explanation is helpful because now we can help clients understand how a parent goes from suddenly erupting when they were smiling and calm five minutes ago or 30 seconds ago? You know, did I do something? What are they reacting to? This places the child in an awkward situation because they depend on the adult for everything. So if we put the parent first, then the kid’s needs never exist on this list.

Check out the continuation of this blog in part two talking about self-care, authenticity, and boundaries.

Find a Trauma Therapist Near Me Today!

Dealing with emotionally immature parents might have affected you. No article or podcast can substitute for talking with a qualified therapist. If you are wondering if you are an adult child dealing with the after-effects of dealing with emotionally immature parents, talk to a trauma therapist. You can usually speak to them by phone before scheduling an appointment to make sure they feel qualified to help with the issue that affects you. 

Finding a therapist who understands the effects of dealing with emotionally immature parents on child development and has specialized training in trauma recovery can make a huge difference. Additionally, taking the steps to address the trauma from your childhood can improve your current relationships. Therapy can help. Whether it is for your own trauma or the trauma of someone you care about. Don’t keep suffering. Reach out for the helping hand of a trauma therapist.  The first step is understanding that your trauma is real, that it matters, and that you can feel better. Then the hard part comes – trusting a therapist to help you. I know there are many caring and skilled trauma therapists out there who want to help. Find A Trauma Therapist by clicking here.

I hope this article was helpful to you. If it was, please share and/or leave a comment below! 


Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

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Post Details

Publish Date

March 7, 2022

About the Author

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C is an integrative trauma therapist and owner of a group practice, the Baltimore Annapolis Center for Integrative Healing. She is also the host of Therapy Chat and Trauma Chat podcasts and the founder of the Trauma Therapist Network, a website for learning information about trauma and finding resources and help for trauma.

Learn More