6 Things Only People Raised By Emotionally Immature Parents Will Understand

The category “emotionally immature parents” can include a variety of different types of parents. It can include parents who had children at a very young age and were thus wildly unprepared for parenting, parents who dealt with untreated mental health or substance abuse issues, unempathic, egocentric parents who have problems managing their emotions and establishing closeness with their children or even narcissistic parents. Here are six traits and behaviors you may exhibit as an adult if you were raised by an emotionally immature parent.

You had to “parent” your parents, so your sense of childhood and adulthood are skewed. Childhood, what’s that? You grew up very quickly learning how to manage the emotions of others and taking care of the adults in your life, so you barely had one. This is known as parentification. You may have felt like you “grew up” alongside your parents rather than being raised by them. Now as an adult you may either pursue fun, decadence, and pleasure excessively to make up for your lost childhood (which, to an extent, is perfectly valid) or may veer toward the other direction, becoming stringently self-disciplined, perfectionistic, and controlling in many facets of your life and relationships. You may have either rushed into becoming a parent at a young age or stayed away from being a parent at all because of what you went through as a child. The strict markers of adulthood and childhood were never demarcated in your life, and you could have been exposed to inappropriate situations at a young age no child should ever have to endure.

You may suffer from self-abandonment. When you were a child, your boundaries were continually eroded and you were asked to make countless sacrifices for other people – the sacrifice of your own mental health, physical health, and innocence, just to ensure the adults in your life stayed afloat. You essentially were forced to abandon yourself and your own needs just to survive and prioritize others while risking your own welfare. As a result, you may struggle with self-abandonment in adulthood. This can present itself in many ways. Perhaps you’re a perfectionistic overachiever who strives to meet their goals even if it means not sleeping or eating, because you’re so accustomed to self-sacrifice. Or maybe you abandon yourself in romantic relationships and friendships, going overboard trying to please a partner while betraying your own basic needs. This can lead you to become entangled in toxic relationships and friendships. If you’re suffering from self-abandonment, it’s time to start returning to yourself and prioritizing yourself.

You have natural leadership abilities, resilience, and resourcefulness. Not all the effects of emotionally immature parenting are completely destructive — some can be very useful, especially after you’ve undergone some healing. As a child you had to take initiative if you wanted to survive, so you learned key strategies and developed an acute internal sense of resourcefulness and resilience that drove you to become a leader as an adult. You may take on leadership roles that pivot you into professional and personal success or be a natural leader in your social groups and the “planner” of every event, initiative, and gathering. With healthy boundaries, this sense of resourcefulness and resilience can be used to pave a victorious life.

You are hyper-independent and love to have control, sometimes to a fault, because you grew up having little to no control over your circumstances as a child. Your parents may have subjected you to adult responsibilities before you were ever an adult, and you may have been forced to cater to the vulnerabilities and triggers of those who were meant to be authority figures in your life. Life “happened” to you and forced you to grow up very quickly, and you were forced to use your intuition and quick thinking skills to overcome even the most unbearable of circumstances. As a result, you may have become hyper-independent as an adult, always solving your own problems without asking for help, and attempting to micromanage and control your circumstances now to have the level of control you did not get to have as a child. You also have a hard time asking for help from others because you grew up learning you could only rely on yourself.

You have a difficult time managing your own emotions. As a child, your emotionally immature parents likely did not model the healthiest forms of communication or emotional validation. You may have grown up witnessing emotional outbursts, rage attacks, or emotional instability in some form or fashion, or brought into the arguments and conflicts of others. Chaos was “normal” for you, and you may have been expected to be the problem-solver or the peacemaker or the one who settled disputes. You were likely made to prioritize the emotional well-being of your parents while foregoing your own. You may feel habitually overwhelmed by anger or despair or feel emotionally numb as a coping mechanism. As a result, you have difficulty in recognizing, identifying, and validating your own emotions because you spent so much time absorbed in the emotional states of others and becoming easily enmeshed in the problems of others.

You have trouble establishing boundaries. For you, boundaries may exist in extremes. You could have porous boundaries where you have become passive, allowing people to trample over your boundaries, or attempt to take care of others excessively and fix their mistakes, because that’s what you did for your emotionally immature parents. Or you may go to the other extreme: you are hypervigilant and distrusting, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, so you avoid relationships altogether. You are overprotective of your boundaries, and honestly, no one can blame you considering what you’ve been through. But as a result, you may self-isolate and become detached from intimate relationships because you have a fear they will consume you like the way the issues of your emotionally immature parents did. This social “hibernation” can act as kryptonite for toxic people and may serve your healing during your journey, but healthy social connections can also be a vital part of the healing journey, so a balance between self-protection and safe connections is often needed. 

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.

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