Have you ever seen the movie Mommie Dearest? Do you remember the scene where she awakened her adopted children by screaming, crying, and having a temper tantrum over iron vs. plastic hangers? The emotional intensity, the roller-coaster mood swings, and the self-centeredness of her anger frightened her children. Sadly, her emotional lability didn’t stop here:
This article will discuss the 4 types of emotionally immature parents that Dr. Gibson mentions in her book. You can find my review of her book on PsychCentral.com.
In today’s world, Joan Crawford would be defined as an “emotional parent.” An emotional parent is one who not only struggles with controlling emotions, but also struggles with remaining stable for long periods of time. Children being raised under emotional parents are often uncertain, fearful, and/or confused which ultimately leads to avoidance of emotional attachment to others. These children tend to struggle with building their own healthy relationships.
According to clinical psychologist, Lindsay Gibson, who wrote the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to heal from distant, rejecting, or self-involved parents, the emotional parent may struggle with borderline personality disorder, narcissistic traits, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse. While displaying emotions is a normal part of human development (and a necessary part of life that children should learn about), out of control emotions can frighten and even traumatize a normally developing child. Out of control emotions tend to be difficult for youngsters to predict or fully understand. An inability to predict a parent’s emotions can lead to the child struggling with fear of emotional attachment to others, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and a host of other challenges.
It wasn’t until I had worked a solid 3-4 years in counseling that I began to identify the different categories of parents. For the most part, these parents did not identify that they themselves had a problem. In fact, they identified that their child needed counseling for things such as: building social relationships, coping with depressive or anxiety related symptoms, improving grades, developing motivation for life, etc. While working with some of these youngsters I found myself looking more closely at the parents. I was shocked at what I had found. I recognized that while some of my young clients truly struggled with their own issues, it wasn’t all the fault of my clients. It just so happened that these kids had parents with patterns of neurotic (sometimes abusive) behaviors in their parents. It became clearer to me that most of the problems the kids experienced were created by the parents.
Lets take a look at the remaining 3 categories of emotionally immature parents:
- Rejecting parent: Nothing you have ever done is pleasing to the parent. The parent has high expectations that you simply cannot reach. It isn’t so much that the child is incapable, but rather that the rejecting parent isn’t able to accept anything less than stellar. This type of parent may also push love and affection from their children away. An adult child may experience this kind of parent as detached, disinterested, or even mean and unloving. These parents may come across as stubborn “loners” or be individuals who should have never had children. My experience with these kind of parents is that they often want children as a piece of their fantasy of adulthood but rarely become real parents or meet the emotional needs of their children. Adult children of these parents may feel completely ignored.
- Passive/permissive parent: This kind of parent is detached and uncaring to say the least. This kind of parent can seem very immature and possibly even inexperienced with parenting. Some people may define them as “not caring” about anything in life. My experience with such parents have included parents who: confuse roles such as the parent becoming the child and the child becoming the parent, become disinterested in their child’s life or activities, struggle with the responsibility of being a parent and adult, and push responsibilities off onto the child. Dr. Gibson states that the passive parent may come across as unmotivated, withdrawn, or playful and easygoing. These kind of parents may struggle to provide rules in the home for fear of “losing their child as a friend.” An adult child may experience their parent as distant, disinterested, or unmotivated with family affairs. Gibson states that these kind of parents “may love you, but they can’t help you.”
- Driven parent: These kind of parents may come across as doting, loving, and caring parents who truly want their child to succeed. Some parents truly are this way and that’s wonderful! Kudos to my mom as well. However, an immature parent’s inability to provide emotional support due to being in constant motion or always doing something, may eventually push the child away. Children of driven parents may become depressed or unmotivated with life because of a long-term fear of disappointing the parent. If a driven parent is ever confronted about how they make the child feel, they may become defensive and make statements such as “I just want the best for my child” or “if I don’t push him/her who will?” My experience with this kind of parent is that they can appear to others as loving and doting, but the child’s detached demeanor or lack of emotional expression toward the parent often tells a different story. These kids tend to have everything and are the children of successful parents but aren’t able to emotionally connect with their parent(s). The adult child may avoid this kind of parent or maintain a distant relationship.
- Emotional parent: Again, as stated above, an emotional parent struggles with controlling their own emotions which leads to an entire household being “weighed down” by the emotional parent’s emotional chaos.
What has your experience been with these kind of parents? Do you believe you have a parent who fits this description? If so, feel free to share below.
Stay tuned for my article next week which offers suggestions on how to cope with the above parents.
I wish you all the best