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  • Writer's pictureEmily Piette

Types of Emotionally Immature Parents

A topic that comes to my office often is clients who struggle with emotionally immature parents, and dysfunctional family systems. It is heartbreaking to hear these stories of neglect, anxiety and fear in my clients. The lack of healthy parental support impacts them as children, teens and adults.

These are the type of emotionally immature parents that have been researched and the impact it has on us as adults:

1. Driven and controlling: Driven and controlling parents are often referred to as “helicopter” parents who demand excellence and perfection, and set high (often unrealistic) demands on themselves and their children. These parents may parent with excessive anger or from a punitive approach. They are highly intrusive and critical, and often violate a child’s personal space. In adulthood: Kids often become perfectionists, overachievers, and highly critical of themselves, and may struggle with compulsive behaviors such as workaholism or shopaholism as ways of self-numbing and to feel worthy. In their romantic relationships, they may demand perfection in their partner or may minimize relational problems by staying overly busy and intellectualizing instead of allowing themselves to feel their emotions.

2. Emotional (or non-emotional): Emotionally dysregulated parents may vacillate from one extreme to the other such that they can appear overly dramatic, may overreact to situations, or may appear helpless and “needy.” On the other end of the spectrum, emotionally dysregulated parents can appear distant, cynical, dismissive, or cold toward their children. Many times, parents with dysregulated emotions may be experiencing their own unhealed attachment trauma, which can include parenting from a disorganized attachment style. In adulthood: Children raised in chaos and an unpredictable environment may become highly anxious, depressed, or emotionally dysregulated adults. They may battle anger problems or may feel disconnected from their emotions—especially vulnerable emotions. This can negatively impact the emotional maturity of their relationships and increases the risk of developing traumatic bonds with romantic partners.

3. Rejecting: Parents who are rejecting are typically dismissive and avoidant. They may push away, may prefer to spend their time alone, or may not want to be bothered with parenting or emotions. Rejecting parents were often children who were rejected themselves and grew up “fending for themselves.” If they do have to interact with their children, they may become demanding or verbally abusive. In adulthood: If a child was raised with this type of emotionally immature parent, they may become adults who have limited empathy for other people’s needs, may vacillate between wanting connection and pushing it away, may appear selfish or self-centered, or may become an emotionally rejecting parent themselves. This type of parenting dynamic may also resonate with a more dismissive or avoidantly attached person, which can make it challenging to sustain emotional intimacy and connection with romantic partners.

4. Negligent or passive: Parents who are emotionally or physically negligent or passive avoid confrontation and may appear easy to get along with. Many negligent or passive parents lack healthy and consistent boundaries and may come off as the “cool” parent or the child’s friend. Parenting is reduced to what the parent wants, with less consideration of what their child needs. Emotionally or physically negligent parents often come across to other adults as childlike, or unable to care for themselves in an adult manner. They may minimize, invalidate, or dismiss their child’s emotional needs as too overwhelming for them to deal with. In adulthood: Being raised by a parent who is emotionally or physically negligent can include higher risks of anxiety, depression, or other mental health diagnoses, as well as intense feelings of anger and shame toward themselves and feelings of contempt for their parent. Adults who grew up with emotionally negligent parents may have difficulty expressing vulnerable emotions and may become detached, cold, distant, or “distracted” around their romantic partners to avoid feeling vulnerable.

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