What exactly is emotional immaturity? The phrase might bring to mind a visual like the photo above. But it is actually much, much more.
The word immaturity is defined as the state of being not fully grown; exhibiting behavior that is appropriate to someone younger.
How, then, does the word immaturity apply to emotions? What does it mean to label a person emotionally immature?
If I were to boil emotional immaturity down to one primary ingredient, it would be this: an inability or refusal to take responsibility for your own feelings.
When you think about it, maturity is mostly about responsibility. Children are not capable of being responsible for much, and that makes sense. Their brains are not fully developed, after all. Research on the human brain has shown that it does not fully develop until age 25.
Children must be taught how to be responsible. And we teach them in myriad ways; by making sure they do their homework, by requiring them to stick with their decisions, and by holding them accountable for their choices.
We monitor their grades, their friends, and their interests, we give them consequences and punishments and rewards. We put tremendous amounts of work into helping our children grow into responsible adults.
So how do all these efforts apply to emotions? Some may think that an emotionally immature parent is necessarily a narcissist, but this is not true at all. There are, in fact, more than one type of emotionally immature parents.
As you read the list of examples below, think about whether your parents fit any of them.
8 Examples of Emotionally Immature Parenting
- Seeming to have no feelings most of the time, but acting in extremely emotional ways at unpredictable times.
- Responding to their child’s feelings in ways that do not match what the child is feeling.
- Acting with a complete lack of awareness of their child’s feelings.
- Denying or not expressing anger and then having outbursts about something unrelated (this is passive-aggression).
- Putting their own feelings and needs ahead of their child’s in a self-focused way.
- Misrepresenting the truth by exaggerating, twisting, or outright lying in order to get desired reactions from their children.
- Being willing to hurt their child as a way to make themselves feel better.
- Making decisions that hurt or damage their children and then failing or refusing to take responsibility for them.
Some of these ways might be described as selfish, but others are based more on a lack of awareness. The two can look quite similar and can be difficult to distinguish from each other. Yet they are very, very different. The former type arises from narcissism, and the latter — the unaware type — is a product of Emotional Neglect.
The Unaware Type: A Product of Childhood Emotional Neglect
Most folks do not realize the power that our emotions have when it comes to our relationships. In friendships, marriages, and especially parenting, feelings can run the show if we let them.
Yet legions of people grow up in families that are simply unaware of emotions. These families pretend feelings do not exist, do not use emotion words or discuss difficult, painful or meaningful things. They are literally teaching their children to ignore feelings. And they are not teaching their children how to recognize, express, share, or cope with their own feelings, as well as the feelings of others.
These are the families of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), and this type of emotional immaturity is based on a lack of knowledge about emotions. These parents may, for example, not admit what they feel because they are unaware that they have feelings. They mislabel their feelings because they do not have the right words. They may act passive-aggressively because they lack any other skills to deal with their anger and hurt.
There is good news for these types of emotionally immature parents and their children. Since this kind of emotional immaturity is based on a lack of emotional awareness and knowledge, they can increase their emotional maturity by learning how emotions work, beginning to pay attention to emotions in general, and learning the emotion skills.
This is the process of recovery from Childhood Emotional Neglect. It is powerful, and it changes lives and families in a deep and meaningful way.
The Narcissistic Type of Emotionally Immature Parents
Narcissistic emotionally immature parents not only overlook and misperceive their children’s feelings. Depending on the severity of their narcissism they can also manipulate and directly harm their children in the process.
These parents will make decisions and engage in actions that do damage to their kids not because they are unaware, but because they do not care. This is what sets the narcissistic parent apart.
While narcissistic personality disorder can be treated, it is a very different process than that involved in CEN recovery. And the effects on the children are very different.
If You Were Raised By Emotionally Immature Parents
- Please know that if your parents were emotionally immature, it did affect you. And you are likely living with some of those effects still today.
- Being raised by emotionally immature parents is not a lifetime sentence. You can pull yourself out from under the cloud of confusion and neglect and make your own life better, brighter, and more rewarding.
- If you start paying more regard to your own feelings and the feelings of others, you will begin to develop more awareness, more understanding, and more ability to connect and respond to emotions.
- As you consider more what you are feeling you will become better able to take responsibility for your feelings, express them when needed, and manage them.
- The specific steps to learning the emotion skills, becoming accountable, and increasing your own emotional maturity are the steps of recovery from Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. You can find lots of information and guidance for how to take the steps on emotionalneglect.com and the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships (find links to all below).