‘The flow of care is off’: Therapists tell us the signs you grew up with emotionally immature parents

Childhood should be whimsical, nurturing and validating. But for many children, this is not the case.

Some children have parents who can support their children physically, but do not understand how to support their child emotionally or mentally. These types of parents are known in the therapy world as emotionally immature parents.

An emotionally immature parent is a parent who can’t meet your emotional needs, whether as a child or an adult, said Aparna Sagaram, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Space to Reflect in Philadelphia. They are focused regardless of what is going on in your life.

In other words, it’s all about them, their emotional needs and what’s going on in their day, Sagaram explained. An emotionally immature father often struggles to regulate his own emotions, said Jennifer Chaiken, a licensed marriage and family therapist, co-owner of The Therapy Group in Pennsylvania and co-host of the ShrinkChicks podcast.

Emotionally mature parents are the opposite: They’re parents who are better able to relate to you emotionally, Chaiken said. They are able to truly recognize and understand, and also affirm your emotions without taking them personally, or trying to change how you feel.

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Emotionally mature parents possess emotional intelligence, which allows them to navigate their emotions while communicating with their child in an effective and encouraging way, Chaiken added.

This level of support allows the child to grow and give[s] them the space to be their true selves, rather than imposing their own desires on the child, Chaiken said.

Whether someone is an emotionally immature or emotionally mature parent has a lot to do with how they were raised. These behaviors were modeled for them, so this is how they think they should handle situations with their children.

Often, parents who are emotionally immature also tend to grow up with emotionally immature parents. It gets passed down from generation to generation until we realize that’s what’s going on and do the work to heal the wounds of having emotionally immature parents, Chaiken said.

Below, experts share the signs of an emotionally immature parent and what to do if you have (or are) one.

1. They pour out emotionally on their children.

Two people sitting together, one appears to be a young adult and the other could be his father, engaged in conversation

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Emotionally immature parents do not manage their emotions well. In fact, according to Sagaram, emotionally immature parents are known to talk to children about their adult problems.

This could be anything from problems at work to problems in your marriage to financial difficulties.

Emotionally immature parents tend to do this because of the hierarchy that exists in parent-child relationships, Sagaram said. “Parents who are not able to regulate themselves now turn to their child because it feels safe, it feels comfortable, it feels like, Oh, this is like a non-threatening person that I can dump all my stuff on,” Sagaram said. .

If you’re a kid and you’re hearing all these problems from adults, you can imagine how chaotic it must feel, Sagaram said, but eventually you learn to deal with those emotions.

Often, this causes children to shut down emotionally or project onto other people, she said. It can also make the child feel responsible for their parents’ moods and emotions.

2. Emotionally immature parents depend on their children for emotional support.

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Another big sign is your children’s dependence on them for emotional support, according to Chaiken. So they may turn to their children for a level of validation, comfort and companionship … the attentional stream is off, Chaiken added.

Children can’t (and shouldn’t) properly give their parents the support they need, so this leads to another problem.

Another characteristic is that they get angry with you for not being there for them in the way they want, Sagaram added. So often emotionally immature parents expect you to know what they want and need…if you can’t do that, or support them in the way they want to be supported, they get emotionally ripped off. explosive with you

3. They lack empathy.

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Emotionally immature parents are unable to recognize how their emotions can affect those around them, Chaiken noted.

Such parents may struggle to understand their children’s feelings and needs, she said.

Think about it: someone who is all about themselves won’t be able to think about how a decision or conversation affects you.

4. They struggle with boundaries.

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If your parent refuses to respect your boundaries or has questionable boundaries, that’s a red flag.

This can go either way, they can set boundaries that are too rigid or, on the other end of the spectrum, they can be extremely lenient and have a hard time finding the balance, Chaiken said.

In addition, they also have difficulty with the boundaries you set with them, Sagaram noted. For example, if you ask your mother to call before stopping by your house, she may take offense and continue to drop by unannounced.

5. They use guilt and the silent treatment as a weapon.

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As you get older and work to set boundaries with an emotionally immature parent, you may notice that they use shame or guilt as a weapon, Sagaram said.

This might sound like: Oh, you never let me see my grandkids again or no one ever calls me again.

Also, emotionally immature parents often use the silent treatment, Sagaram said. If they feel unhappy about your behavior, they avoid talking to you instead of talking about the problem like an emotionally mature person.

And you left thinking you did something wrong, even though this whole time it’s been a power struggle, he noted.

6. They often have inconsistent behaviors and reactions.

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Often when an emotionally immature parent has a rough day at work, they make it a problem for everyone, even though it has nothing to do with their children or spouse.

It causes emotional outbursts in the family…they really don’t have the ability to regulate their emotions [and keep them] separated from his parents, Chaiken said.

This can also lead to inconsistent behavior, he noted. For example, if your mom usually helps you with your math homework but had a rough day at work, she might explode when you ask for your regularly scheduled help.

So they can have these unpredictable reactions to situations that lead to a level of inconsistency in their parenting, Chaiken said.

7. They don’t respect your individuality.

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Another characteristic, they don’t respect your individuality… when we think about healthy family systems, parents raise their children to be individuals and a person outside of themselves, Sagaram explained. And you want to start this very soon.

Even when your children are young and still dependent on you, you should work to encourage (and respect) their likes and dislikes. So eventually, when they become adults, that transition is smoother, Sagaram said.

When you respect your children’s individuality, you see them as someone who has their own values, beliefs and boundaries, she added. But, an emotionally immature parent is not able to do that.

Here’s how to take care of yourself if you have emotionally immature parents:

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If you recognize any of the above behaviors in your parents or caregivers, take a deep breath. According to Sagaram, the most important thing is to acknowledge this fact, which will help you feel less alone.

There’s a name for this kind of parent, which means you’re clearly not alone in this, and I think that in itself can feel really validating, Sagaram said.

You should also recognize yourself simply to be able to notice this: it is not easy to admit that your parents are wrong.

I think it’s hard because sometimes people have a hard time admitting that maybe their parents didn’t do what they needed to when they were growing up, Chaiken said. But, I think both things can be true: your parents did the best they could, and at the same time, they also couldn’t give you what you needed as a child because they didn’t give them what they needed as a child.

Chaiken said re-educating parents is an important part of healing; to do this, consider the things you needed in your childhood but didn’t get. This could be emotional support, an opportunity to express your opinions, or unconditional love. When you breed again, you can give these things to yourself.

Also, social support is important, Chaiken said. We don’t choose our parents, and as an adult you have the choice to build a family in your life of people who can give you the support and encouragement you really need, she added.

I think that’s really important, finding people in your life that you feel can give you that support, she said.

When it comes to your parents, Chaiken noted that it’s important to set clear and healthy boundaries around what you will and won’t accept from them.

if you believe you you are an emotionally immature parent, there are things you can do to break the cycle.

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Emotional immaturity is a learned behavior that is probably something that has been in your bloodline for generations.

The fact that you want to do something different in itself is breaking a cycle, so that’s always a really great first step, Sagaram said. Your ability to recognize your own behavior is emotional maturity in itself, Chaiken added.

To combat this behavior, Sagaram said it’s important to be self-aware and consider your triggers—what makes you fall into emotional immaturity?

I definitely recommend professional help here because this is not an easy thing to do, Sagaram noted.

A therapist can help you learn to calm down, create a community of emotional support so you don’t feel like you have to confide in your child, and heal wounds that likely stem from your own childhood.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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