I’m reading Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson. It’s the follow-up to Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents which helped me understand why my parents could never give me what I needed.
Emotionally immature people are sometimes hard to spot at first. They can appear successful and have all the trappings of a healthy adult life.
But when you get into relationship with them, something feels off. You come away feeling empty because your emotional needs are not being met.
When you try to increase intimacy by sharing your struggles or secrets, they shame you in overt or covert ways. These come in the form of eyerolls, silence, sighs, topic changes, or an unwillingness to reciprocate and express empathy for your problem.
Relationships grow as we become more vulnerable with one another. We each open up little by little, with one person’s sharing inviting the other to share something about themselves, too.
With emotionally immature people, you may feel like you never get out of the acquaintance phase. They stick doggedly to the surface and discuss only material matters like what you did or saw, but never the contents of their emotional life.
Or they may only accept a one-sided version of things. You are expected to listen to them and their issues while remaining silent about your own.
I’ve encountered two types of emotionally immature people: the emotionally avoidant and the emotionally charged (I’ve made up these terms).
The former shares traits with the avoidant attachment style. This means they keep themselves safe by rejecting emotional intimacy.
Unmet needs and emotionally immature people
That’s often because their emotional needs went unmet in childhood. They learned that emotions didn’t create intimacy but pushed people away (their parents, for example).
It’s a subconscious coping mechanism that couples with high self-esteem and lower esteem of others. That’s why they can seem like they have it all together and make you feel bad for expressing emotions or having problems.
The latter, whom I’ve called emotionally charged, aligns more with the anxious attachment style. That means you are constantly assaulted with their emotions and needs, and feel like you can never give enough.
This also results from unmet childhood emotional needs. The parent may have been inconsistent in meeting those needs. Or used the child to prop up their own image as an ideal parent.
Of the two, I believe emotional avoidance to be the most insidious. That’s because our world still rewards people who err on the side of reason and logic and reject emotions.
As a result, this type of emotionally immature person sees themselves as superior. They aren’t likely to change because someone else points out their deficiencies.
They believe they are handling life better than you. So, they probably won’t respect you enough to take your views into consideration.
The emotionally charged person, however, is often in a tremendous amount of pain. They feel constant rejection and fear of abandonment, and have a lower sense of self-worth.
The pain of living this way is often motivation for them to seek help. They are willing to listen to others because they hold them in higher regard and value relationships so much.
But they’re so nice!
The confusing thing about emotionally immature people, especially the avoidant kind, is that they can seem so nice. Therefore, you might buy into their insistence on staying above the surface of things.
You begin to question yourself and wonder if there’s something wrong with you because you think so deeply. There’s not!
Emotional intelligence requires us to enter the world of feelings and take note of what they’re telling us. Our emotions have information to impart to us that improve our lives immensely.
And there is no intimacy without emotional connection. No relationship can grow without sharing each other’s emotional lives. It can continue to limp along, even for years, but without that necessary intimacy it will never thrive.
So, if you’re a growth-oriented person who wants to be seen and known, the emotionally immature person will only disappoint you. They may dangle the carrot with their charm and social prowess, but in the end it’s an empty meal with no substance.