“Emotionally immature parents fear genuine emotion and pull back from emotional closeness,” Lindsay Gibson writes. “They use coping mechanisms that resist reality rather than dealing with it. They don’t welcome self-reflection, so they rarely accept blame or apologize. Their immaturity makes them inconsistent and emotionally unreliable, and they’re blind to their children’s needs once their own agenda comes into play.”
If that sounds a little too familiar, you may be interested in Gibson’s new book, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents. Though some do not encounter these issues, many people with immature or detached parents grow into adults who are emotionally and psychologically needy and affected by their parent’s (or parents’) lack of affection. As a child and adolescent therapist who frequently works with biological, adoptive, and foster families, I see this often in family sessions. Through emotional pain or anger, the child or adolescent usually verbally or nonverbally expresses their disapproval of a parent’s detached demeanor.
Again, quite often a detached parent affects their offspring well into adulthood. Gibson explains that a lack of appropriate emotional attachment with one’s parent can lead to long-term emotional voids, anger management problems, emotional lability, depression, anxiety, adult relationship problems, lack of interpersonal boundaries, failed marriages, and a host of mental and emotional symptoms.
But, as Gibson writes, the emotionally immature parents who helped foster these issues in their now-grown children are sometimes victims themselves. These parents often struggle with proper expression of emotions and poor attachment to their own parental figure.
It can be hard to identify an emotionally immature parent, even though there are many of them. To help, Gibson provides examples of various types of immature and emotionally detached parents. Traits include rigidity and single-mindedness, low stress tolerance, actions based on what feels best in the moment, subjectivity, little respect for differences, egocentricity, self-preoccupation or self-involvement, the need to be the center of attention, role reversal (parentifying a child and making the child the parent), emotional insensitivity, lack of empathy, inconsistency and contradictory ways, strong defenses, shallow emotions, and an inability to share in their child’s happiness.
Children who are raised under parents with these characteristics often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. They might, for instance, grow up too fast, become a surrogate parent to a sibling, use drugs and other substances, gamble or engage in illegal activities, seek multiple sex partners, or struggle with emotional loneliness or a lack of boundaries in their own relationships. Gibson includes short quizzes throughout the book to help you identify your emotionally immature parent and assess your own challenges.
Gibson also breaks down the different types of people who can all be emotionally immature parents. She describes the passive parent, the emotional parent, the driven parent, and the rejecting parent.
Unfortunately, Gibson focuses so much on the negative affects these types of parents have on their adult children that one might not see the fact that some children do not in fact struggle in adulthood. Although most children tend to struggle with rejecting and immature parents, some adult children are able to rise above the challenges and grow into healthy adults with appropriate boundaries. Not every child with a rejecting and immature parent is predestined to struggle as an adult. I found myself wanting a more balanced portrayal of the offspring of these parent types.
On the other hand, Gibson also leaves out that many adult children of immature and rejecting parents struggle with mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and even personality disorders. These issues, too, should have been addressed more in the book.
Still, despite these minor critiques, I found that Gibson gave an excellent, in-depth overview of the subject. She offers prompts to kick-start new thinking on ways to be within relationships, and she encourages adult children of problematic parents to stand up for themselves, heal themselves, and find appropriate ways to communicate with their parents.
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents
New Harbinger Publications , June 2015
Paperback, 216 pages