4 Steps to Recover from Emotionally Unavailable Parents

4 Steps to Recover from Emotionally Unavailable Parents

emotionally unavailable parents

They are there with you but not there for you. Have you ever felt this way about anyone?

What if one or both of your parents are like this? 

Emotionally distant or unavailable parents can cause you harm and this can carry over into your adulthood as well. 

Parents are supposed to love us unconditionally and provide us with a safe and secure environment until we are old enough to take care of ourselves. They have a huge role to play in the mental and emotional development of their children. 

Even as they provide for our physical needs, they fail miserably in helping us in our emotional growth. The result can be devastating for their children. When the guidance and validation they were supposed to offer are absent, their children naturally feel lost and display emotionally immature behavior. 

Making decisions and setting boundaries is part of the emotional development missed out on by children of parents suffering from cold mother syndrome. 

Unfortunately, immature parents are not easy to identify as they meet the physical demands of their children. For children themselves, identifying their parents as emotionally unavailable is hard, as they never know what healthy parenting is. 

This article details some of the common signs you may use to confirm the emotional unavailability of your parents. You will also find here the steps you can take as a child or adult to recover from the trauma inflicted by emotionally absent parents.

10 signs your parents are emotionally unavailable

The harmful effects of such unhealthy parenting are evident even in a child. The neglect, abandonment, mother wound, and emotional absence of parents can make a child emotionally immature and underdeveloped. Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t end there.

As the child grows up, they tend to carry the aftereffects of insufficient parenting. This can create multiple issues for them including in their relationships. Often emotional unavailability of parents suffering from absent mother syndrome is overlooked as they are providing for the physical necessities of their children. It is high time the emotional aspect of parenting is given importance as it will lead to emotionally unstable and unhealthy adults. 

If you think you have an emotionally unavailable mother or father, here are some common indicators to confirm it. Even if you are an adult now, you can think back on your childhood and can make an identification.

  1. They don’t show affection or say “I love you”.
  2. They don’t appreciate your achievements or praise or give compliments.
  3. They are not interested in spending time with you.
  4. They are not interested in getting to know you or developing a close bond with you.
  5. They are always absent from your events and activities.
  6. They never ask you what you are doing or how you are feeling.
  7. They don’t make the effort to make you feel special.
  8. They aren’t interested in your happiness and mental wellbeing.
  9. They don’t want to have conversations with you. Your efforts are usually ignored.
  10. They are ready to pounce on you when you make a mistake.

Parents may occasionally behave this way because they are preoccupied with other matters. So, if you notice this behavior in them once in a while, it would be wrong to conclude that your parents are emotionally unavailable. 

Unless their behavior is consistent with the indications listed above for sustained periods, it would be unfair to label them as emotionally negligent. You need to use your judgment in this regard.

What to do when you have an emotionally unavailable parent?

This depends on whether you are still a child and under their care or you have grown up and are independent. If you are a child, you can take steps to lessen the impact of this trauma. 

Here are a few suggestions that you may find helpful.

  1. Become aware of your emotions and accept them.
  2. Don’t blame yourself. Just remember that you did nothing wrong.
  3. Don’t let your parents make you feel guilty. 
  4. Don’t take to heart all the things that your parents say or do to you.
  5. Become aware of the manipulation
  6. Realize that your belief is far removed from reality
  7. Try to take a step back and stay detached, if nothing else works.
  8. Build healthy connections.
  9. Focus on your life.
  10. Practicing self-care.
  11. Learn when to say “no”.
  12. Set boundaries with your parents.
  13. Know when to say enough.
  14. Don’t try to change your parents.
  15. Get help from someone in the family or a friend you can trust.
  16. Seek therapy.

In case you grew up to be an adult suffering emotional trauma, you may suffer from a range of mental health issues such as low self-esteem, lack of confidence, low emotional intelligence, inability to calm down and find comfort by yourself, and relationship troubles.

As most of these are common signs of mental health issues, you need to go back in time and try to figure out whether the root cause of your issues is your upbringing by an emotionally absent parent. 

If this is the case, you can either choose to manage it by yourself or you can get help from a friend. If your emotional distress is too severe to be dealt with like this, you should not hesitate to approach a mental health care professional and undergo therapy.

If you want to try the self-care approach, here are some time-tested steps for you to try.

4 step recovery from the trauma inflicted by an immature parent

The first step toward recovery from emotional trauma is to acknowledge the existence of the trauma. Then comes finding ways to cope with the negative emotions. If you are an adult now, you need to factor in the effect of the trauma on your current relationships. Finally, you need to take steps to overcome the fallouts of having emotionally cold mothers and fathers.

Let’s take it step by step.

Step 1: Identify the issues

This is the hardest part because you have had them almost all your life and don’t know about a life better than this one. Look around you and watch others in your close circle. How do they react to situations? How are they handling adversities? How do they maintain good relationships with others? What about their romantic relationships?

Now, look inward and try to figure out the answers to the same questions. Make a comparative analysis. Do you think you are different from an average person? Do you experience extreme emotions or no emotions at all? Do you feel overwhelmed when faced with difficult situations? Do you have trouble making new friends? Are breakups way too common in your life? 

Would you blame the resultant trauma of living with emotionally distant parents for your present-day problems? This is a tricky question to answer. You need to be honest in your assessment and not try to shift all the blame on the parent. You need to look into the possibility of other contributing factors to your problems. 

After weighing all the factors, do you think your mental health issues are linked to your emotionally unavailable fathers and mothers? If so, recognize the issues you need to deal with and proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Take it slowly

The emotional trauma you are experiencing now happened over far too many years. So, don’t expect to get rid of its aftereffects overnight. You need to be patient as repairing the damage of emotional neglect requires time. 

Start by being kind to yourself. Treat yourself with all the love and compassion you can manage. This may not come naturally or easily as you are not used to it. Take baby steps towards recovery.

When you make a mistake, don’t be too harsh on yourself. Stop beating yourself up over the missteps and resultant damages. Just keep telling yourself that it is okay to make mistakes and that others do it all the time. 

Next, you can focus on your ability to trust others. Since you have never trusted anyone all your life, this won’t come easy for you. Again, take small steps and as you gain confidence, you can move ahead with more confidence.

Learn how to take care of yourself. This is a vital step in your recovery process. You may have to use a trial and error approach to understand what works and what is right. Once you get a hang of it, you would find it smooth-sailing.

Step 3: Acknowledge your needs and wants

All these years you learned to suppress your emotions and needs because that is what was expected from you. Every time you displayed negative emotions, you were reprimanded by your emotionally distant parents. Now that you are trying to shake off the bad effects, it is time you learned to recognize and accept your needs and emotions. 

Once you know what you want, you can work towards meeting them. You may feel apprehensive about expressing your wants openly. If you are feeling anxious or stressed about it, take a step back and relax. Come back and try again after a while. 

Step 4: Get help

Not everyone suffering from the aftereffects of emotional neglect from parents can manage to recover from the trauma all by themselves. If you are finding the going tough, rope in the services of a trusted friend or family member. If you find this ineffective as well, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health care professional.

Take care when choosing the therapist. Pick one with experience in dealing with similar patients. You will be pleasantly surprised to find that these one-on-one sessions can transform you into a happy and outgoing person in no time. 

Choose a therapist based on recommendations from your family and friends circle. Or you can ask your GP to recommend the right therapist.

Bottom line

The aftereffects of trauma can be really deep and long-lasting. If ignored and left unattended, it can ruin your entire life. As the trauma took place over a long period, it will take some time to undo its harmful effects. Take small steps patiently over time and this is the key to recovery.

When you are drowning in negative emotions, you may consider recovery inconceivable. Contrary to your belief and supposition, you would be pleasantly surprised that you can make a full recovery and lead as normal a life as anyone else. 

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