20+ Signs of Emotionally Immature Parents

The phrase “emotionally immature parent” is used to describe parents who are unable or unwilling to support their children emotionally.

These parents can be controlling, demanding, and unreliable. They may use guilt or shame to make their children feel bad about themselves in order for their behaviors to go unchecked.

According to experts, these are the signs that indicate emotionally immature parents:

Emotional immaturity can be the result of insecure attachments during early life experiences, trauma, and/or lack of deeper introspection or work on oneself.

When we work on ourselves through self-reflective practices such as psychotherapy or counseling, spiritual exploration, or self-help programs such as the one provided in my new book, we develop emotional maturity and emotional intelligence (EQ).

Emotional maturity and EQ involve self-awareness, empathy, emotional self-regulation, conscious communication, collaboration, creative problem solving, and effective conflict resolution.

Emotional maturity is a critical component of cultivating healthy relationships.

Having a parent who is emotionally immature can be deeply frustrating (enraging even) and cause you to question your own sense of self and perception of reality. It can lead to regressive behaviors (reverting to their less sophisticated way of functioning) and can trigger depression, anxiety, trauma symptoms, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions.

Here are signs of emotionally immature parents and tips to cope:

They are operating from a place of ego

We all have egos as part of the human experience. Our egos are our minds’ understanding of ourselves and are prone to defensiveness, self-absorption, and conflict in relationships.

When a parent operates from ego, they may fall into one of two categories:

  • Diva (dudes can be Divas too)
  • Doormat

The Diva is grandiose, entitled, aggressive, narcissistic, and not respectful of other people’s boundaries. The Doormat is passive or passive-aggressive, often stuck in a victim narrative, and repeatedly allows their boundaries to be compromised.

These are both forms of low self-worth and lack of healthy self-esteem that is often the result of trauma or inadequate healthy attachments to parents or other caretakers in early life.

Tips for coping:

  • Detach from your own ego to avoid getting your horns locked in conflict.
  • Practice mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, connecting with nature, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga to detach from your own ego and connect with your deeper self—your essence (your highest self, spirit, or inner light).
  • Practice healthy detachment (separation from harmful emotions of self and others) and zoom out for greater perspective. Imagine there’s an invisible shield between you and your parent, and their negativity bounces off you.
  • Set healthy boundaries for yourself with assertive communication that is direct, clear, and demonstrates respect for self and others.

They are not taking personal responsibility and blaming others

Again, this can manifest as Doormat tendencies (a victim narrative wherein their suffering is the fault of everyone else, not themselves) or a Diva response (they are never at fault and problems are the result of other people’s inadequacies and errors).

Not taking responsibility leads to lack of integrity, impairs trust, and impedes forgiveness.

Tips for coping:

  • Resist the urge to try and get them to take ownership of their part. Emotional maturity sadly means they are incapable at this point in time.
  • You might recommend therapy or counseling or twelve-step programs, but it is up to them to do the work—you can’t do it for them.
  • Learn how to develop emotional Teflon and not accept blame when you have done nothing wrong. You can do this by cultivating healthy detachment with love.
  • Understand that your parent not taking responsibility can be infuriating, and practice self-compassion by honoring and tending to your feelings and accessing the emotional support you deserve.
  • Consider support groups such as Al-Anon or Codependency Anonymous, which can provide tools for coping with parents with narcissistic tendencies, addiction, and other behavioral health problems.

They use unsophisticated defense mechanisms such as denial, projection, and projective identification

Defense mechanisms are the ego’s way of protecting itself from uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. We all use defense mechanisms at times, such as rationalization or intellectualization.

However, an emotionally immature parent will resort to more primitive defenses such as:

  • Denial – Not acknowledging a problem at all or even refusing to believe it exists
  • Projection – Taking their own undesirable characteristics such as poor Panger management and ascribing them to others
  • Projective identification – Actually tanking somebody else with their own negative emotions by way of gaslighting

Having a parent who behaves in this way can be maddening and cause you to question yourself and your perspective.

Tips for coping:

  • Use mindfulness practices to notice and observe their behaviors without getting hooked or becoming reactive. Through mindfulness practices such as body scans, learn to recognize your own emotional experience and to separate it from your parent’s so you can recognize whose feelings are whose.
  • Find healthy outlets for your emotions, such as exercise, art, or expressing yourself to people who understand.
  • Avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as self-medication with drugs, alcohol, or compulsive gaming, shopping, or sex.

The lack of empathy

This is when a parent doesn’t seem capable of putting themselves in your shoes. They lack the ability to recognize, understand or validate your emotional experience. They view life from their own perspective only.

Tips to cope:

  • Recognize and accept that they are emotionally incapable of understanding how you feel.
  • Resist the urge to hit your head against the wall by exhaustively trying to get them to understand your perspective.
  • Grieve the loss of them not being able to understand your emotional experience through therapy, journaling, expressive arts, or movement.
  • Learn how to be your own loving parent by practicing self-compassion and honoring your own emotional experiences, and know your feelings are a normal response to your life experiences.
  • Seek empathy and compassion from the people in your support network who are capable of providing it.
  • Be the bigger person and practice empathy for your parent, recognizing that they clearly must have experienced deep wounds or traumas to not have basic human capacity for empathy.

Kara Hicks, LCSW

Kara Hicks

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale

These parents are run by their feelings, swinging from overinvolvement to completely disengaged

We don’t get to choose who our parents are and subsequently one of the most influential relationships in our lives. Have you ever asked yourself:

  • Why did I never feel listened to by my parents?
  • Why was/is it hard to be open and honest with my parents?
  • Why do I feel like I can never do enough to make my parents happy?
  • Why did or does it seem like my parent’s moods affect the whole family?

If you have ever asked yourself any of these questions about your parents, then you may have an emotionally immature parent. If any of these resonate with you, then you may want to examine this further.

Four common types of emotionally immature parents:

  • Emotional – These parents are run by their feelings, swinging from overinvolvement to completely disengaged. They may rely on others to stabilize them.
  • Driven – These parents are hyper-focused on goal-oriented activities, keeping themselves and their children super busy, rarely pausing for a break.
  • Passive – These parents are avoidant of anything upsetting or confrontational. They take a back seat to a dominant personality and cope by minimizing problems.
  • Rejecting – These are the parents that you might wonder why they even have a family or wanted children. They have little tolerance for others needs and focus solely on their own.

If you are concerned about the effects that one of these types of parents may have had on you or your relationships, I have a few suggestions.

I often recommend that my clients read the book, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD. This can help to evaluate the past and focus on having healthy relationships in the present.

We can’t change our parents, but we can change how we respond to them or how we engage in their emotional immaturity, and you don’t have to figure that out all on your own. I would encourage you to seek out mental health counseling to get support in the present.

Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD., LMHC

Jaclyn Gulotta

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Choosing Therapy | Qualified Parenting Coordinator, Qualified Clinical Supervisor

These parents will not validate their child’s emotions leaving them to feel ignored and misunderstood

How do you know if you have emotionally immature parents or if you are an emotionally immature parent? Those who are emotionally immature may struggle with dealing with their own feelings and may not be emotionally available for their children.

Here are some signs of an emotionally immature parent:

  • Having an impulsive reaction – Parents will not be self-aware of their own emotions and therefore react in an unstable manner. They may seem to have their own temper tantrum as they are unable to self-soothe.
  • Neglecting their child’s feelings and prioritizing their own – Parents who are emotionally immature will make their feelings more significant than their child’s and make them feel rejected when the child needs them the most.
  • Unable to admit they made mistakes – These parents will not take accountability for their actions and allow their children to feel they are to blame. This may leave the child to feel they are not enough for their parents.
  • Lacking empathy – The emotionally immature parent will not validate their child’s emotions leaving them to feel ignored and misunderstood.
  • They are controlling – Parents who are emotionally immature want to control their children in order to fulfill their own insecurities and emotional voids. They may manipulate situations in order for them to control the narrative.
  • Lack of healthy boundaries – These parents overstep and do not respect their child’s personal boundaries and space. The parents need to feel the attention and do not recognize when and if their child needs to take a break. They are persistent in getting their needs met.

Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries

Most parents would like to believe they are self-aware and are aware of their child’s emotions, yet this may not be the reality for some. Being the child of an emotionally immature parent can leave them feeling alone, dismissed, blamed, shameful, anxious, insecure, and have self-esteem issues.

Related: The 32 Best Books on Confidence and Self-Esteem

Hopefully, these signs can help identify what you may be experiencing and allow you to feel ready to take control of the situation.

Keischa Pruden, LCMHCS, LCA, CCS

Keischa Pruden

Owner and Therapist, Pruden Counseling Concepts

They make their children responsible for their happiness, or conversely, their unhappiness

Emotionally immature parents will often attach their emotional stability to their children’s emotional state or their children’s performance. For example, a parent with poor socioemotional skills will observe their children having a tantrum and may have a tantrum in response.

Another example is “withholding,” punishing a child for a perceived or actual misdeed by being emotionally unavailable.

Emotionally immature parents are often quoted as saying:

  • “You make me so mad when you…..”
  • “If you’re going to be mad, I’m going to be mad too.”
  • “You acted up in school today, so no hugs for you.”

These behaviors send both explicit and implicit messages that a child’s behavior can affect their parent’s mood. This can set that child up to seek and engage in relationships where the partner is emotionally unstable.

Kate Fraiser, M.Ed

Kate Fraiser

Parent Coach, Connect Point Moms | Director of Early Childhood Ministries, Grace Point Church

When parents are emotionally immature, they cannot help their children develop emotional intelligence. These children will need to have emotionally healthy adults in their lives to model, encourage, and lead them into developing emotional maturity.

Unfortunately, if parents aren’t emotionally mature, they probably have extended family who also aren’t emotionally mature and/or lack an emotionally healthy community. This creates a cycle that is difficult to break.

Three signs that parents are emotionally immature:

They think it’s all about them

People who lack emotional intelligence/maturity are easily offended by what others say and do. They often take it personally, thinking it’s all about them.

For example, when young children express desires by saying, “No! I don’t want to!” emotionally immature parents will say or feel:

  • “Why don’t you love me?”
  • “What’s wrong with me that you won’t do what I want you to do?”

One of the strategies to help combat this is “Q.T.I.P. – Quit Taking It Personally.”

They cannot admit when they mess up

Parents have multiple chances to see mistakes and conflicts as an opportunity to teach new, needed skills. But if they lack emotional maturity, admitting their own mistakes becomes too much to bear.

Therefore, the learning opportunity for growth is missed—by the parents and their children. After all, trial and error is how we all learn, and admitting mistakes and failures helps build stronger relational connections.

They don’t encourage new things

Parents who are emotionally immature spend time fearing and avoiding new adventures or activities. They might worry about their kids getting hurt, or it won’t be fun, or no one will like them.

While many parents have these fears, those who aren’t emotionally intelligent allow these fears to prevent them from moving forward. Trying new things and learning new skills can help parents and children feel capable and confident in handling whatever comes their way.

Mo Mulla

Mo Mulla

Founder, Parental Questions

Problems in resolving fights

The emotionally immature parent finds it difficult to resolve fights or disagreements with their child and will avoid, change the topic, “zone out,” storm away, etc., if a fight arises.

They often need someone else to mediate for them when it comes to serious matters with the child.

Difficulty taking responsibility

The emotionally immature parent struggles to take responsibility for their actions and often points fingers, makes excuses, etc. When confronted about something they’ve said or done that has hurt the child, they will act defensively or not apologize at all.

Avoiding serious talks

The emotionally immature parent avoids talking with their child about life/death matters; they did what they did because…, etc. They will often avoid the subject entirely or change it quickly.

The parent doesn’t want to hear about how serious it is for the child. If the matter is forced upon them, they will get upset with the child or “zone out.”

Not comforting in tough times

When bad things happen to the child, the emotionally immature parent will often ignore it or not be there for them. The child is expected to move on without help if they need support. When the child gets older, they are seen as weak if they show emotion.

Difficulty providing guidance

The emotionally immature parent makes excuses when asked for guidance or help in certain matters. They will avoid the subject or act like they don’t know what to do. This makes the child frustrated because they want to support, even if it’s tough love, and can’t get it from their parent.

Taking advantage

The emotionally immature parent knows how to take advantage of a situation and tease or manipulate their child into doing something that they normally wouldn’t do. They know what buttons to press and how far to take things when it comes to getting their way.

Difficulty providing emotional support

The emotionally immature parent has difficulty connecting with their child emotionally, which can cause the child pain or resentment. They may cut off contact with the parent if they’ve been hurt too many times.

Not comforting

The emotionally immature parent has a hard time comforting their child when they’re upset about something and will often avoid the subject or do something else that makes it obvious they don’t care.

Ray Sadoun

Ray Sadoun

Medical Reviewer & Addiction Advocate, OK Rehab

When we are raised by emotionally immature parents, we often inadvertently learn how to take responsibility for other people’s emotions (also known as people-pleasing). This is because emotionally immature parents cannot control their emotions, which often leads to emotional outbursts.

Here are some other signs of emotionally immature parents:

They ban certain emotions

Many of us grew up in households where sadness was frowned upon; instead of crying to let our emotions out in a healthy way, we were encouraged to “suck it up” and repress our feelings of sadness.

Parents who encourage this are emotionally immature. They do not realize that it is healthy to experience a full range of emotions and that shutting out certain emotions only makes them emerge later on in a more intense way.

They hide their emotions from their children

Understandably, some parents are fearful of showing their emotions to their children as they don’t want to burden them. However, it’s important for your children to see your emotions in a healthy way as this teaches them how to process their own feelings.

Being an emotionally mature parent involves displaying your true emotions in an appropriate way and showing your child how you work through them.

For example, when you get some bad news, it’s ok to cry in front of your children and explain to them why you feel sad. Afterward, discuss what you did to make yourself feel better (or perhaps explain how you need more time to sit with your sadness).

They blame their children for their emotions

I have had many clients come to me with severe people-pleasing issues that stem directly from their emotionally immature parents. Whenever their parents were angry, they would blame the children as they couldn’t handle the responsibility of their own emotions.

Unfortunately, this causes children to become anxious about changes in moods and to try to control other people’s happiness.

They never apologize

A parent who never apologizes is a parent who cannot accept that they are flawed, and this is fundamentally emotionally immature.

When parents apologize to their children, it shows the children that they respect them. It’s also a great lesson as it encourages children to check their behavior and apologize if they have treated someone unfairly.

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