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4 Signs That a Parent Is Emotionally Immature

2. They never take responsibility.

Key points

  • Emotional immaturity can be the result of insecure attachments during early life experiences, trauma, and/or lack of deeper introspection.
  • Emotional immaturity can manifest as self-centeredness, narcissism, and poor ability to manage conflict.
  • Having an emotionally immature parent can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, and interpersonal conflict.
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Emotional maturity and emotional intelligence involve self-awareness, empathy, and emotional self-regulation as well as conscious communication, collaboration, creative problem solving, and effective conflict resolution. When we work on ourselves through self-reflective practices such as psychotherapy or counseling, spiritual exploration, or self-help programs, we develop emotional maturity and emotional intelligence. Emotional maturity is a critical component of cultivating healthy relationships. Emotional immaturity can be the result of insecure attachments during early life experiences, trauma, untreated addiction or mental health problems, and/or lack of deeper introspection or work on oneself. It can manifest as self-centeredness, narcissism, and poor management of conflict.

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. It can also lead to parent–child conflict and ongoing relationship challenges.

It is important to identify the signs and symptoms of emotional immaturity so you can recognize them and honor their impact on you. It is also important to develop coping strategies so you can maintain mental well-being and equanimity and effectively manage conflict in the relationship.

Signs Your Parent May Be Emotionally Immature and Tips to Cope

1. They operate from a place of ego. We all have egos as part of the human experience. Our egos are our minds' understanding of ourselves, and they are prone to defensiveness, self-absorption, and conflict in relationships. When a parent operates from ego, they may fall in one of two categories: (1) Diva (dudes can be Divas too) or (2) 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 to cope: 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 and clear and demonstrates respect for yourself and others.

2. They don't take personal responsibility and often blame 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 to cope: Resist the urge to try and get them to take ownership of their part. Emotional immaturity sadly means they are incapable at this point in time. You might recommend therapy or counseling or 12-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.

3. 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 anger management and ascribing them to others), and 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 to cope: 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.

4. They have a 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 honor 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.

Working on our mental wellness and emotional intelligence is a lifetime process that requires time and attention. Consider accessing support through therapy or counseling to honor your feelings of loss, hurt, and anger and learn skills to move forward with patience, kindness, and compassion for both your parent and yourself.

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