Lilly’s husband was slumped on the couch talking to his mom on the phone. He was chuckling softly, his shoulders heaving before giving in to a burst of roaring laughter. Lilly felt a twinge of jealousy gnaw on her. “If only Mom and I had such a relationship!” she sighed.
Growing up, Lilly’s mom was always grumpy, running the home with an iron fist. It was always her way or the highway. Lilly and her two siblings only wore the outfits she picked out. They only forged friendships with the kids she approved. She controlled their lives like an eager puppeteer, leaving no wiggle room for their opinions.
She reprimanded them when they cried. None of her children were allowed to be “weak”. She would also not comfort them when their emotions got hurt. She would either gloss over the issue or ignore it entirely.
As an adult, Lilly feels detached from her mother. She relies on a reminder on her phone to ensure she calls her once each month. When they talk, their conversation is strained.
Growing up with an emotionally immature parent has far-reaching effects. But first things first, who is an emotionally immature parent?
Who Is an Emotionally Immature Parent?
Emotional Immaturity is the inability to express one’s emotions in an age-appropriate way. For example, it’s perfectly normal for a teenager to sulk for days on end after locking horns with their parents. But when a parent is the one pouting for a week or two, they are likely to be emotionally immature.
An emotionally immature parent may either express their flurry of emotions without restraint or react in a way that is not proportional to the issue at hand. They may also find it hard to process and communicate their emotions. Health experts observe that emotional immaturity can be triggered by trauma, insecure attachments during childhood, and lack of self-evaluation and introspection.
Signs You Were Raised by an Emotionally Immature Parent
They didn’t empathize with you. Perhaps you were bullied in school and told your parent about it. But what did they do? Nothing. Emotionally immature parents lack empathy. They lack the ability to recognize and validate other people’s emotional experiences.
They ignored your feelings. If they constantly asked you not to cry, forcing you to suppress your feelings, chances are they were emotionally immature.
They used defense mechanisms to dodge uncomfortable situations and feelings. Some may have slipped into denial or rationalized the issue at hand.
They didn’t take responsibility for their actions. They often made you feel guilty for their own mistakes.
They prioritized their feelings above yours.
They controlled you, demanding blind allegiance from you.
They sometimes used you as their confidant.
They didn’t celebrate your achievements.
They were averse to change and new ideas.
They held you responsible for their happiness.
They took everything personally.
They had trouble offering you guidance.
They didn’t apologize for their mistakes.
How to Heal From the Emotional Immaturity of Your Parents
Being raised by an emotionally immature parent can hurl you into depression and trigger internal turmoil. You may also suffer anxiety, trauma, and low self-esteem. Some people have even found themselves knee-deep in substance abuse and other dangerous vices as they tried to navigate the disorientation.
Here are five ways to help you heal from the emotional immaturity of your parents:
1. Recognize that Your Parent Was Ailing
Here’s the thing, your parent was not whole. Emotional immaturity is an ailment like any other. He/she did not have the ability to effectively process their emotions. They probably had a troubled childhood, which took a toll on their emotional maturity. They, too, were victims of some circumstances. No matter how aggrieved you feel, realize that they need your compassion, not condemnation.
“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). Avoid obsessing over what they did wrong and instead, empathize with them for their weakness.
2. Set Yourself Free
Perhaps your parent perpetually blamed you for all the unpleasant happenings in their life. They made hurtful remarks such as “We have no money to spare because we paid your school fees.” Or “I had an awful day at work because you made me awfully upset in the morning.”
Their happiness seemed to have been pegged on your good behavior. You, therefore, walked on eggshells, careful not to upset the apple cart. You have probably tagged the guilt and self-loathing for years. Realize that your parent was wrong.
You were, by no means, responsible for their troubles. Toss the guilt away and savor your freedom. Remember that Christ has already set you free.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)
3. Talk to a Therapist
What is the natural thing to do when you have a toothache? Rush to the dentist! Things are no different where mental health is concerned. A therapist will offer you professional help and equip you with the right tools to navigate your disorientation.
They will help you muddle through the challenge more healthily and productively. You will also get a chance to talk to someone about your turmoil, which may help you feel lighter and better. Don’t be ashamed to seek professional help. Remember that “two are better than one for they have a good reward for their labor.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
4. Forgive Your Parent – Even If You Don’t Feel Like
When Joe was an explorative two-year-old toddler, his dad left and went on to start another family. Joe has been enraged towards his dad for many years. “How could the very person who was meant to take care of me turn his back on me?” Joe laments.
Although forgiving your parent is paramount in your journey of healing, it is often not a walk in the park. “My parent was the adult, and I was only a child, they should have known better!” you may argue. However, God doesn’t offer us any substitute for forgiveness. It’s the only way out. In fact, Jesus taught that we should not resist an evil person but indulge them.
“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:39)
Furthermore, we are all flawed and we constantly need forgiveness. In Matthew 6:15, Jesus warned that if we do not forgive men their trespasses, the father will not forgive us our own. Forgiving your parent will ensure that your own sins are forgiven, setting you free to enjoy your life. Forgiveness is for you and not for your offender.
5. Ask God for Wisdom to Navigate the Future
What’s the next step after deciding to forgive your parent? Do you confront them and fill them in on the injustice they meted out to you? Will that improve your relationship with them or injure it further? Do you think they are ready for such a brittle conversation?
Consider asking God for wisdom on how to move forward after forgiving. Remember that forgiveness can occur without reconciliation. If you sense that the other party is not ready for reconciliation, then it’s better not to bring the matter up.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.” (Proverbs 15:1-2)
If you still feel an urge to spew your misgivings, you can write a letter to your parent which you will NEVER send. Or you could jot down your thoughts to God and get the pent-up emotions off your chest.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Romolo Tavani
Keren Kanyago is a freelance writer for hire and blogger at Parenting Spring. As a wife and mom, she uses her blog to weigh in on pertinent issues around parenting, marriage, the Christian Faith, and an assortment of other lifestyle topics. She holds a degree in mass communication with a specialty in print media. You can shoot her an email at [email protected]