Therapists reveal 6 heartbreaking signs you grew up with an emotionally immature parent - and share their most useful tips to help you heal

We talk a lot about teaching kids emotional intelligence, but not all adults possess it

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Family therapists have revealed the six signs that you grew up with an emotionally immature parent - and more importantly shared how parents can recover from the trauma and not pass it on to their own kids. 

When you become a parent, it's inevitable that your own upbringing will influence your parenting style. Whether it's incorporating things you enjoyed about your childhood into your newborn's life or, sadly, more likely ditching the things you wish your parents had done differently, the parenting we experienced in childhood is an important jumping off point when we're learning ourselves. 

But this can bring up a lot of unresolved issues for some parents. You might realise that you grew up with a 'critical mother' and that this has negatively impacted your parenting style or that your mother was, and still is, 'toxic'. Or, perhaps, you've realised that you grew up with an emotionally immature parent. 

According to Aparna Sagaram, a licensed marriage and family therapist who spoke to HuffPost, “An emotionally immature parent is a parent who is unable to meet your emotional needs, either as a kid or an adult child. They centre themselves regardless of what’s going on in your life.”

Jennifer Chaiken, another licensed marriage and family therapist, added that emotionally immature parents don't have high emotional intelligence, a trait that usually gives people the ability to emotionally engage with others and recognise,  understand, and affirm others' emotions without taking them personally. 

It might sound familiar to some and leave you wondering if you do in fact have an emotionally immature parent. If so, the experts broke down the six biggest signs that a parent is emotionally immature - and number five is heartbreaking. 

1. They emotionally dump on their children. Whether it's about marriage problems, financial difficulties, or any other detail of life, emotionally immature parents enjoy venting to their kids, and this can leave children feeling lost, confused, worried, and even cause them to shut down emotionally. 

"Parents who are not able to regulate themselves now turn to their kid because it feels safe, it feels comfortable, it feels like, ‘Oh, this is like a nonthreatening person that I can dump all my stuff on,’” Sagaram said.

“If you’re a kid, and you’re hearing all these adult problems, you can imagine how chaotic that must feel."

2. They rely on their kids for emotional support. Once an emotionally immature parent is done venting, they want their child to offer support, solutions, or promises that things will 'get better.' 

"They may turn to their children for a level of validation and comfort and companionship ... the flow of care is off,” Chaiken explained. 

“Another characteristic is that they get mad at you for not being there for them in the way that they want,” added Sagaram. “So, oftentimes, emotionally immature parents expect you to know what it is that they want and need ... if you’re not able to do that, or you’re not able to support them in the way that they want to be supported, they get emotionally explosive with you.”

3. They have little to no empathy. Chaiken says that as emotionally immature parents are so self-centred, they can't see, or don't want to see, how their explosive, chaotic emotions are affecting others. 

4. They can't respect boundaries. Many of us set boundaries. It's a healthy thing to do whether you're learning how to set boundaries with your kids to keep their behaviour in check or you're implementing boundaries in your relationships, romantic or platonic. But emotionally immature parents often can't, or refuse, to respect these. In addition, they can have a hard time with setting appropriate boundaries themselves. 

"That can go either way," Chaiken said of boundaries. "They may set overly rigid boundaries or may, on the other end of the spectrum, be extremely lenient and have a really hard time finding the balance." 

5. They turn to guilt and the silent treatment as punishment. Wether it's in response to a boundary you've set or it's a punishment that comes out of the blue for no understandable reason, emotionally immature parents can be quick to use guilt or silence to punish you. 

"This may sound like, 'Oh, you never let me see my grandkids anymore' or 'No one ever calls me back'," Sagaram says. "And you’re left thinking that you did something wrong, even though it’s been a power struggle this entire time."

6. They're unpredictable. It's a consequence of selfish, explosive emotions that leaves the behaviour of emotionally immature parents unpredictable. "They really don’t have the ability to regulate their emotions [and keep them] separate from their parenting,” Chaiken said. “So, they may have these unpredictable reactions to situations leading to a level of inconsistency in their parenting."

If the signs sound all too familiar, the best way to recover from growing up with emotionally immature parents, and make sure you don't parent your own children how you were, is to simply recognise your parent's faults and come to terms with the fact that you didn't get what you needed when you were younger.

Chaiken explained, “I think it’s hard because sometimes people have a hard time admitting that maybe their parents didn’t do what they needed when they were a child. But, I think both things can be true: Your parents did the best they could and, at the same time, they were also unable to give you what you needed as a child because they weren’t given what they needed as a child.”

She added, “We don’t choose our parents, and you get the choice as an adult to build a family in your life of people who are able to give you support and the support that you really need. 

“I think that that’s a really important thing, to find people in your life who you feel like can give you that support." 

In other family news, young children ‘lack the self-awareness’ to describe their feelings and could be more sad than you realise - here’s the top 3 early risk factors for childhood depression. Plus, Motherhood exhibition opens with over 100 artworks created by artists who were told being a mother isn’t an ‘appropriate subject for art’. And, intelligence is inherited from mum and fertility levels from your dad - here's 11 traits passed on by your parents and which one is responsible for each

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.