Have YOU been raised by emotionally immature parents?

Were YOU raised by emotionally immature parents? Psychologist reveals the 5 signs – and how you can learn to manage the fallout

  • Chartered clinical psychologist reveals signs of emotionally immature parents
  • A parent telling grown children to ‘stop being a baby’ is a tell-tale sign 
  • Read More: Psychologist shares tips on how to set boundaries and stick to them

Shutting down in the face of someone else’s emotions. Refusing to take responsibility for their actions. Telling their grown-up children to ‘stop being a baby’.

These are just a few signs that your parent has yet to reach emotional maturity, a clinical psychologist has revealed. 

Dr Liam Gilligan, who is a member of The British Psychological Society and works with children, young people and their families in the NHS, explained that parents with emotional immaturity often view the world in black and white.

An emotionally immature parent is one who, for a variety of reasons, is not able to meet the emotional needs of their children growing up, because they themselves struggle to understand, control and express their emotions effectively. 

This means that they may not be able to provide some of the more important responsibilities that come with parenting a child, such as providing care that is felt to be loving, nurturing and caring. 

Clinical Psychologist Dr Liam Gilligan revealed the signs you were raised by emotionally immature parents (stock image) 

As a consequence, this can lead to a lot of challenging difficulties for these young people, impacting on their own psychological and emotional wellbeing, and how they manage their own relationships later on in life.

Here are some of the key signs that you were raised by emotionally immature parents. 

Tips to help your relationship with emotionally immature parents 

The first is realising that:  

1. Your parents’ emotions are not your responsibility to manage, and you ultimately cannot control the emotions and actions of other people.

This is something that is often really challenging for people who have been raised by emotionally immature parents, as they often spend a lot of time being told that things are their fault, or that their own emotions are wrong.

This often means they will work harder to try and make things different in that relationship, believing that if they just do the right thing, that they will finally find the way of getting the nurturance and acceptance they want.

Unless they have the insight and willingness to change, and want to do the work required, things will stay the same. We need to find a way to stop getting caught in the same old patterns, so:

2. Work on understanding, managing and express your own emotions in a different way.

Growing up in an environment with an emotionally immature parent means that children often struggle to understand their emotions, how they feel, and how to respond to them appropriately. 

This means as adults, we can get pushed into patterns where we learn to push our emotions down and ignore them or escalate our emotions to get our needs met by acting in a way that can’t be ignored. It is important for us to firstly decide that we want things to be different.

Learning to understand, manage and express our emotions in a more helpful way, either by developing relationships that nurture us and validate our emotions, or sometimes through professional therapy, is key to beginning to make effective change. 

You can make a start by learning about techniques such as mindfulness, which can help us become more aware of our emotional state and breathing exercises to try and slow down those fast, impulsive reactions. This can also include learning to step away when those feelings are too much and beyond your control.

3. Work on developing healthy boundaries in your relationships.

It is important for you to learn what is important and acceptable in your relationships, communicate this clearly to others in your life, and then stick to these boundaries! Boundaries are not selfish, and is it likely that those who push on them may say this, or make you feel like this. 

If someone continues to push your boundaries, there has to be a consequence for breaking them, which may include withdrawing from them or changing your relationship with them. 

This also means learning about assertiveness and building confidence, and practicing staying emotionally calm in situations which are likely to push your emotional buttons, and hook you back into older, unhelpful ways of responding to others. It is also important to seek out and develop positive relationships with others, who can provide a better sense of emotional stability.

4. Rebuild your sense of self and change things for the better.

Growing up with emotionally immature parents impacts on how we come to understand ourselves, and can lead to feeling that we are not important and don’t matter. 

It is crucial you try and challenge this, and learn about who you are – what are the things in life you value and think are important, and how can you live your life in line with these values? This can also be about identifying the unhelpful coping strategies that we have often developed and, if they are having a destructive influence on the life we want to live, working to change them (sometimes this will require professional support). 

This is a longer-term step and will take time, but it is important to focus on the future and what you can do to make things better for you now, instead of getting caught up overthinking a past that you cannot change.

5. Try to be understanding towards your parents, even though this can difficult.

This is one of the most difficult steps, it can often be one which takes a long time to reach, and one which many people never feel they can do, which is OK.

It can be helpful to try and be curious about why they were the way they were, to help understand that this may be part of transgenerational patterns of parenting, that they themselves did not learn the skills required, or they may have been too busy surviving their own lives to be a nurturing and caring parent. 

This doesn’t make their behaviours acceptable, or any less impactful or harmful. Understanding is not the same as forgiveness, but it can help someone to begin to understand that it wasn’t their fault that their parents parented them in the way they did.


1. They reject any emotions

Parents like this tend to be unable to manage stress, difference or conflict well, and when strong emotions are expressed by others, they can be dismissive towards them, often in a blaming way which puts the responsibility on others. 

This can often be seen in examples such as telling someone that they are always overreacting, that they are overly sensitive and emotional or what they are upset about isn’t a big deal.

2. They struggle to regulate their emotions 

Emotionally immature parents often become easily overwhelmed in the face of others’ emotions, often becoming angry and confrontational in response. 

This can be triggered particularly if they feel that they are being blamed, becoming easily defensive in response. 

What can be a particularly toxic combination in these situations, is when parents are inconsistent in their response to emotions from their children, swinging between the different responses seen in sign one and sign two. 

This might be seen as ignoring a hurt child who is crying, before snapping at them to ‘grow up and stop being a baby’.

These invalidating ways of responding to children’s emotions mean that children learn to distrust and doubt their own feelings, and become confused about how to respond and relate to others. 

This may also mean that they become anxious about their emotions, judging them as wrong or unacceptable.

3. They struggle to take responsibilities for their actions

Responsibility and accountability are really challenging for emotionally immature parents, and they will struggle with self-reflection and accepting any sort of blame.

They will often blame others for their own lack of emotional control and say things such as: ‘It’s your fault I snapped at you’. 

This is often driven by a lack of insight into their own behaviour, because this would be too psychologically painful for them to really grapple with. 

One way of defending against this, is always seeing themselves as right, and refusing to consider any opinion which is different.

4. They have emotions that swing up and down 

Emotionally immature parents manage any emotional aspect of relationships through pushing those emotions down and denying them, so: 

You have a parent who may focus on solving something practically, or by giving money, as a way of showing that they are there for you, rather than being nurturing, caring and supportive emotionally.

This is a type of ‘avoidant’ strategy – a way of trying to connect with others in a way which feels less threatening for them. 

Whilst this is obviously important, it isn’t sufficient on its own to be a good enough parent, and can leave children feeling a sense of emptiness and distance from their parents. 

This may be because they feel uncomfortable being close to others, and are unable or unwilling to share thoughts and feelings with others, as this can make them feel vulnerable. 

It may also be that because of their own experiences of being parented by similarly emotionally immature parents, they do not have the language to understand and express their own emotions (and so can’t do it for others).

5. They are very black and white in how they see the world

Black and white thinking is a thinking bias that involves dividing things in the world into extreme categories, often around what is right and what is wrong, or good or bad. 

We know that being emotionally overwhelmed often leads to very rigid thinking, and the intense outbursts will often mean quick, impulsive decisions are made.

This simplistic view of the world reduces any nuance, and so any chance that their view of things isn’t correct – another defence.

It can feel very emotionally frustrating in these relationships that you are always putting out emotional olive branches which are never reciprocated, leaving you with an overwhelming sense of loneliness. With this in mind, there are some ways that you can start to try and overcome the impact of emotionally immature parents.

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