7 Signs You Were Raised by Emotionally Immature Parents, According to a Psychologist

Theoretically—and ideally—age brings maturity, wisdom and growth. That's not always the case in practice. Some people are emotionally immature. Those people may have been your parents.

"Overall, emotional immaturity can be defined as challenges with expressing and controlling emotions," explains DrErnesto Lira de la Rosa, Ph.D., a psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation media advisor.

If emotionally immature parents raised you, you may have felt like you were the adult in the room. It likely hurt when you were little, which Dr. Lira de la Rosa says is a critical time for development. It may also remain painful years later. However, long-term doesn't have to mean "permanent."

"If you can increase your awareness and understanding of the impact of your childhood, you may be better equipped to make changes that will help you heal these childhood wounds," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.

Step one: Realizing signs you were raised by emotionally immature parents. Dr. Lira de la Rosa shared them, plus BandAid-free ways to heal. 

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7 Signs You Were Raised by Emotionally Immature Parents, According to a Psychologist

1. You were punished or criticized for displaying emotions

A famous reindeer (Sven in Frozen II) once said, "You feel what you feel, and your feelings are real." Your parents never got the memo and got on you in a toxic fashion for letting down your guard. And, yes, Frozen II came out in 2019, but emotions have always made us human.

"As human beings, we all have the capacity to feel various emotions, and it is healthy for us to express them," Dr. Lira de La Rosa says. "However, it is not uncommon for emotionally immature parents to feel threatened by their child when the child is expressing their emotions. This is partially because they—the parents—never learned how to express their emotions and may view any expression of emotion as something bad or wrong."

Unfortunately, the cycle can be challenging to break, and parents can pass it on to their children.

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2. They relied on you for emotional support

Even today, the role reversal (and hypocrisy, if they were big offenders of No. 1) can be exhausting.

"Sometimes, emotionally immature parents rely on their children for love, support and validation," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. "They see their children as emotional containers that they can use to receive love and affection that they are not receiving from other people in their lives."

The general desire to receive love from a child is not problematic, but it can veer sharply into that territory. 

"Emotionally immature parents may overly rely on their children for this type of support, and this can lead a child to learn to neglect their own needs in order to always be there for their parent," Dr. Lira de la Rosa explains.

3. You walked on eggshells, waiting for the next angry outburst

You may have lived with so much anxiety about the next angry outburst, which often came at unpredictable times and after minor inconveniences.

"Emotionally immature parents have a hard time tolerating and regulating their emotions, which can lead to emotional outbursts that are unpredictable," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. "It can be scary for a child to witness this level of emotional reactivity, especially if their parent [or parents] do not take time to explain their emotional responses and reactions. A child may also feel responsible for their parent’s emotions."

4. Rare displays of affection

Dr. Lira de la Rosa says emotionally immature people find showing affection challenging. They can also struggle to care for a child or express their love. They may have been repeating their parents' style.

"If your parents never received love and affection, they may struggle to show these emotions," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. "Love and affection are quite vulnerable emotions to express, and some emotionally immature parents may also feel scared to show these emotions to their children." 

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5. You felt little comfort

Think back to your childhood: What happened when you were sad or angry? It's natural to seek help from a parent.

"Children look to their parents and caregivers for guidance regulating their emotions, especially when they need comfort and care," Dr. Lira de la Rosa explains. "However, some emotionally immature parents may not have the emotional awareness to recognize these emotions in their children, which can lead to emotional neglect."

6. You lived in black and white

We're not talking about old movies.

Emotionally immature parents may have had little flexibility regarding what was "right" and "wrong."

"Emotionally immature parents may not see the nuance in emotions or the complexity of emotions, which leads them to adopt extreme ways of thinking," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. This means that they may adhere to rigid ways of behaving and thinking that lead them to view things as either good or bad."

These parents may have also felt they were always right, which totally and frequently invalidated your emotional experience. Dr. Lira de la Rosa says you may have internalized this thinking and started viewing yourself as "bad." 

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7. Unhealthy coping mechanisms

One risk of an inability to regulate emotions and stressors? Coping in unhealthy ways, including in front of kids.

"Typically, people find ways to either internalize or externalize their emotions, and this can lead to abusing substances, physical violence and emotional abuse," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. 

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3 Steps for Healing From Emotionally Immature Parents

1. Take inventory of your childhood experiences

Dr. Lira de la Rosa says journaling may help you uncover and grasp the hold your childhood experiences have on you. Let the emotions flow—you're safe now.

"It is OK if you experience sadness, anger, frustration or any other emotion when you begin to reflect on your childhood experiences," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. "This can be a painful process, and you may be processing a lot of emotions as an adult that you were not able to access during childhood."

Related: 16 Things People With High Emotional Intelligence Often Say, According to Psychologists

2. Learn ways to regulate and tolerate your emotions

This step can be tricky, especially if you had a caregiver who role-modeled the precise opposite of emotional regulation.

"We can tell ourselves that emotions are part of the human experience, and we cannot control them," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. "We simply have to listen to them and let them run their course. Additionally, we can practice observing our emotions and the thoughts that come along with them as a way to tolerate them."

Other tips he shared including letting yourself process emotions through crying, talking to someone you trust or breathing exercises.

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3. Reconnect with your body

Being raised by an emotionally immature parent or parents can take a physical toll years later.

"It is not uncommon for our bodies to store a lot of trauma or pain, especially if we experienced challenges during our childhood," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. "This means that our bodies may have been always in fight-flight-freeze mode and found ways to survive these difficult childhood experiences."

However, it doesn't have to be this way anymore.

"Our bodies may need to learn that they are safe, especially when we experience intense emotions," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. "I would recommend finding ways to reconnect with your body, such as practicing mindfulness, breathing exercises and yoga."

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