How to Manage Guilt From Relationships with Emotionally Immature Parents

Emotional immaturity is a subject that fascinates me.  The more I learn about it, the more I see it in others, but hands up, I've also seen it in myself.   The good news is, when you see it, you can learn from it. 

So strap in, and lets learn.  [Heads up, this topic was inspired by the Living Well Podcast and a conversation between Forest Hanson and Dr Lindsay Gibson]

One of the issues with having emotionally immature parents as an adult, is the guilt that can often be transferred to you.  It's their guilty, projected on to you and if you're not aware it's happening, you may assume it's YOUR guilt. 

In this blog we're going to explore ways of dealing with that guilt but first let's take a look at what emotional immaturity looks like in people so that you can understand it.  When you understand it, you're less likely to let the guilt penetrate your energy system because you'll know that IT'S NOT YOU.  

How Might Emotional Immaturity in Adults/Parents Present?

Emotionally immature people can have difficulty expressing emotions in a healthy and constructive ways.  They may often suppress their difficult feelings believing that the only legit feelings are happy/positive ones.  However, psychologically, we know that whatever you repress comes out eventually so these feelings might erupt in inappropriate ways causing harm to others.   

Emotionally immature parents often avoid taking responsibility for their actions, particularly when those actions have negative consequences.  They usually deflect by engaging in blaming and criticising behaviour, projecting and externalising feelings of inadequacy onto others, rather than taking responsibility for the emotion that they are feeling and learning to regulate in a healthy way. 

They find it difficult to delay gratification.  They may act on impulse without considering the consequences on others.  This can manifest as spontaneous decisions that negatively affect themselves and their family.  For example, like going on a drinking bender, going AWOL, having an secret affair or spending money that they don't have. 

They may show little or no empathy for the feelings of others, or they may show 'fake' empathy.  Emotionally immature people/parents find it hard to form deep, meaningful connections with others because they cannot operate authentically.  They are disconnected from their authentic selves.  This may lead to insensitive behaviour, projecting guilt onto others and strained relationships. 

Emotionally immature parents might overly rely on their children for emotional support, decision making or to fulfil their needs reversing the typical parent-child support dynamic.  This can present as enmeshment.  Children of enmeshed families have often been the victims of emotional incest where too much information is shared inappropriately, this may lead to sexual dysfunction in adult life.   It may also lead to an inability to form mature relationships as the adult child may remain overly attached to the parent(s) long into adulthood. 

Instead of addressing conflicts in a considered way, the emotionally immature parent may brush problems under the carpet and even deny that they exist.  If narcissism is present in their personality too, they may exert enormous energy controlling and manipulating others in order to keep up appearances.

When you were a child, their parenting style may have swung between being overly harsh and overly permissive leading to confusion and instability in your relationship with them causing a rupture in your own identity.  

Emotionally immature parents/people often have a fear of being alone or fear of being bored.  They often do not like their own company and can be restless.  This fear of being alone may mean that they have relied too heavily on you for companionship and support at the expense of your independence and personal growth.  Their restlessness may mean that they guilt you into doing things with them at the expense of your own need for space and recuperation.  

Emotionally immature parents/people may often have unrealistic goals for themselves, their children and others and then they may express disappointment or frustration when those expectations are not met.   You may find that they can present as being hyper critical of themselves and others too.

If you have people in your life like this, please do ask yourself how has their behaviour affected me?  What is the consequence of this on me?  You will often find that being an adult child of an emotionally immature parent(s) may lead to excessive 'holding' of the parents emotional state, especially guilt, hence why this article is about guilt.  

So to help you empower yourself, let's ask....

How can I untether myself from this guilt I feel to pander to their expectations, needs and manipulative dynamics?

Well nothing beats working with a good therapist, and if you're keen to explore that with me, let's have a conversation.  

In the meantime, I put these suggestions together for you. 

Check in with yourself to see if emancipation is something you want to do.  Also I should say here, that emancipation doesn't have to be no contact.  You don't have to fall off the face of the planet but you can emancipate gradually.  It also doesn't have to mean full physical emancipation, it can simply be emotional detachment to the degree that feels right moment to moment.  Changing relational dynamics is often met with resistance from family members, so it's important to feel safe, supported and ready to do this work in taking your power back.   

When you're spending time with others, see if you can spot signs of emotional immaturity and feel good about the fact that you've spotted it.  Breathe and know that it's not you.  If you have any emotional immaturity within you, you can work on that yourself, but at least now you'll know where it comes from.  

What boundaries do you need to set?  Boundaries can protect your emotional wellbeing and create a space where mutual respect can follow.  Put in a polite request either in person, voice clip or text.  State the observable facts using the phrases: 
"I notice" [the fact] eg: "that you share personal details with me about mum."
"That makes me feel" [your lived experienced that they cannot deny] eg: "uncomfortable"
"I would prefer it if" [add solution], eg: "you spoke with friends or a therapist about this instead."
"That would feel" [add better feeling] eg: "more appropriate and would free me from the burden of carrying your relationship when I have my own to tend to".  

Don't expect your parents to change, if they do, that's brilliant, if not, they may not be able to.   It comes down to us to break the trauma cycle here, but of course many adult children don't, because they are concerned about opening pandoras box and about how much pain they may experience as a result.   (Side note:  The first sign of healing can often be emotional pain and that's a good sign because it means you are reconnecting with your felt sense which is often denied as a result of being emotionally bypassed.)  
Ultimately, we need to check in with ourselves and decide if it's the right time for us to go there.  We have to choose the 'suffering' that we would prefer.  Do we choose the 'suffering' of betraying ourselves but maintaining the status quo with our emotionally immature parents, or do we choose the 'suffering' of optimal distance in exchange for living our lives authentically.  Maybe you don't even see it as suffering.  Maybe the choice is quite clear for you.  But for those of you reading this who feel that pit in their stomach at the thought of doing this inner work,  do consider a Rapid Transformational Therapy session with me.   

Who IS the authentic version of you?  If you had a weekend all to yourself, what would you do?  Exercise, spring cleaning, organising your paperwork, walking in nature, self pleasuring, shopping, cooking, writing, planning, listening to podcasts, reading, studying, working on your business?  What is it that makes you happy?  Your time as an adult is precious.  What is a priority for you?  What do you value?  How can you measure every decision you make against your values?  This is brilliant, exciting and insightful work that we can do with coaches, mentors and therapists.  It will help you to define yourself OUTSIDE of your parents expectations. The work is really about understanding who YOU are as a whole and complete entity, not just their child. 

In conclusion then, managing guilt from emotionally immature parents is a process that requires awareness, patience, understanding, and a self compassionate approach.   This is deep deep work and can be extremely paradigm shifting, but it can also be emotionally charged.  By setting healthy boundaries, seeking support, and focusing on your own values, you can navigate these challenges with incredible emotional maturity yourself, thereby breaking generations of ancestral trauma.  

Remember, your journey towards emotional well-being is valid, and you deserve to live a life free of guilt laden projection.  

So I hope you've enjoyed reading this.  I'd love to know what your reflections are.  Drop me a message here


RTT with me is accessible from Brighton, Shoreham, Hove, East Sussex AND online

RTT helps with anxiety, weight loss, depression, low confidence, social anxiety, exercise motivation, stuckness & blocks, public speaking, fears, phobias, auto immune issues, relationship disharmony, frequent urination, migraines, low libido, hot flushes, insomnia, brain fog, scattered focus, vaso vagal syncope, fears around ageing and anything that requires a change of perception or behaviour.  


50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.