Signs of Emotionally Unavailable Parents & How to Heal from the Trauma

It can be difficult for children to grow up with emotionally unavailable parents. An emotionally unavailable parent fails to provide emotional support and understanding, creating a feeling of disconnection that is hard for the child to express or understand. While some signs may be subtle, children can usually sense when their parents are not emotionally available to them.

This article identifies common signs of emotionally unavailable parents and explores the impacts of this behavior on children's mental health and wellbeing. It also provides advice on coping with an emotionally unavailable parent so that you can have healthier relationships in the future.

What Does an Emotionally Unavailable Parent Mean?

An emotionally unavailable parent can be described as someone who doesn't show emotions or provide emotional support to their child. This often creates a disconnection between the parent and the child, resulting in loneliness, confusion, and even resentment. It is important to note that these parents are not necessarily physically absent. They can be present but emotionally distant. The lack of emotional connection can leave the child feeling unheard and unimportant, leading to low self-esteem and long-term mental health issues.

In some cases, people can become emotionally detached parents because of their own mental health issues or trauma they experienced in the past. Some are emotionally immature parents due to their difficult upbringing, while others may have a passive parenting style. Many parents also struggle to recognize and respond to their child's emotional needs, creating a feeling of emotional neglect.

How Therapists Recognize Emotionally Cold Parents

Parents emotionally absent from their child's life can be difficult to recognize. But therapists are trained to look for signs indicating an emotionally unavailable parent.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dr. Zeynep Biringen developed a scale to measure parents' emotional availability. This scale is known as the Emotional Availability Scale (EAS).

The Emotional Availability Scales measure several aspects of parent-child interactions, such as:

  • Responsiveness: The parent's ability to recognize and respond appropriately to a child's emotional signals.
  • Engagement: The adult's level of engagement in interacting with the child.
  • Non-intrusiveness: The level of respect for the child's interests and wishes.
  • Non-hostility: The adult's ability to remain calm and non-judgmental in interactions with the child.

These four areas can be measured by observing a parent's verbal, emotional, and physical responses during interactions with their child. Therapists use these scores to determine whether or not a parent is emotionally unavailable.

For instance, an emotional parent instills feelings of instability in their child. This can manifest as a lack of trust, difficulty forming connections with others, and feeling disconnected or unimportant.

Signs of Emotionally Unavailable Parents

There are many signs that a parent is emotionally unavailable, some more obvious than others. Here are some common signs to look out for:

1. They Aren't Engaged in Your Activities

Emotionally unavailable parents often do not take an interest in their children's activities or hobbies. This can make the child feel like their interests are not essential and lead to feelings of inadequacy.

2. They Don't Validate Your Hard Work

Emotionally unavailable parents rarely recognize their child's successes or encourage them. This can make the child feel like they are not performing at their best, often leading to a lack of motivation.

3. They Don't Listen

Emotionally unavailable parents tend not to listen carefully to what their children have to say, often responding with minimal interest or invalidating the child's feelings. This causes frustration and makes the child feel like their opinion isn't valued.

4. They Don't Ask Questions About Your Life

Emotionally absent parents rarely show an interest in their child's life, failing to ask questions about their day or inquire about their feelings. This creates a lack of emotional connection and can make it difficult for the child to express themselves.

5. They Can't Maintain Emotional Bonds

Emotionally unavailable parents may struggle to form and maintain emotional bonds with their children, leaving the child feeling unsupported and isolated. Unfortunately, emotional neglect is a form of child abuse and can impact the child's development.

6. They Don't Say "I Love You"

Emotionally unavailable parents often fail to express love for their child, leading the child to doubt their parents' feelings or even whether they love them at all.

7. They Disregard Your Happiness

Emotionally unavailable parents seldom recognize when their child feels hurt, sad, or suffering. This can lead to a lack of empathy and understanding which can have long-lasting effects on the child's mental health. But when your parents are emotionally present, they will try to understand your feelings and respond with compassion.

8. They Don't Spend Time With You

Emotionally unavailable parents often limit their time with their children, rarely making plans to do things together. This can make the child feel like their parent doesn't care about them and create a sense of emotional distance.

When a child grows up in a positive emotional environment, it helps them develop a sense of self-worth and resilience. When this environment is absent, the child can struggle to trust themselves and their emotions, leading to insecurity and low self-confidence later in life.

9. They're Uninterested in Your Achievements

Emotionally unavailable parents tend to show no interest in their children's accomplishments or success. This can lead to feelings of worthlessness and leave the child feeling like they are not worthy of praise or recognition.

10. They Let You Do Whatever You Want

Emotionally absent parents often fail to set boundaries, allowing their children to do whatever they want without consequences. This can create an unsteady foundation and lead to difficult behavior in the future.

11. They Won't Take Accountability

Emotionally unavailable parents often refuse to take responsibility for their actions, leaving the child feeling like their needs or feelings are not important. This can make it difficult for the child to form meaningful relationships in the future.

12. They Yell a Lot

An emotionally distant parent often resorts to shouting or verbal abuse to express emotional distress, leaving the child feeling scared and helpless.

13. They're Friendlier to Other People Than You

Emotionally unavailable parents tend to show affection towards other people more than their own children, creating an imbalance in the relationship.

14. They're Often Unpredictable

Emotionally unavailable parents tend to be inconsistent in their behavior, making it difficult for the child to trust them and creating feelings of uncertainty. Negative emotions such as guilt, disappointment, and confusion can arise from this instability.

Impacts of Having an Emotionally Unavailable Parent

Having an emotionally unavailable parent can have a long-lasting impact on a child's mental health and wellbeing.

Here are some of the potential impacts:

Low Self-Esteem

Emotionally unavailable parents can leave their children feeling like they don't matter or that their feelings and opinions aren't valid, leading to low self-esteem.

When parents are emotionally distant or unavailable, it can lead to feelings of neglect and worthlessness in their children. A primary caregiver's lack of emotional validation and support can create a deep-rooted belief that their emotions and needs are unimportant. As a result, these children often develop low self-esteem, struggling to recognize their own worth and value.

Poor Social Skills

Children with emotionally absent parents may struggle to form meaningful relationships in the future, as they have not had a positive role model to learn from.

Difficulty Expressing Emotions

Children of emotionally unavailable parents may find it difficult to express their feelings or understand how others are feeling, leading to further isolation and difficulty connecting with people.

Poor Coping Skills

The lack of emotional support can leave children feeling helpless in difficult situations, causing them to resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or self-harm.

Anxiety and Depression

The feelings of loneliness and confusion caused by having emotional unavailability of a parent can lead to long-term mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Overcoming the Effects of Emotionally Unavailable Parents

Although it may be difficult, overcoming the long-term effects of having an emotionally unavailable parent is possible.

Here are some tips for doing so:

  • Seek professional help: Seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can help address any underlying issues and develop new strategies for dealing with difficult emotions.
  • Find supportive people: Spending time with supportive family members and friends can help to fill the void left by an emotionally unavailable parent and provide a sense of security.
  • Practice self-care: Taking time for yourself and engaging in activities that make you feel happy and relaxed can be beneficial in improving your mental health.
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms: Learning healthy coping mechanisms such as mindfulness or meditation can help to manage difficult emotions and relieve stress.
  • Foster healthy relationships: Developing healthy relationships with friends and family members can help to create a sense of connection and support.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Challenging negative thoughts or beliefs about yourself can be powerful in improving your self-esteem and allowing you to move forward.
  • Set boundaries: Setting boundaries in relationships can help protect your emotional wellbeing and ensure you are not taken advantage of or disrespected.
  • Practice self-compassion: Learning to be kind to yourself and practicing self-compassion can be beneficial in managing difficult emotions and improving your mental health.

Final Thoughts

Having emotionally distant parents is never easy, but overcoming the challenging feelings and moving forward in life is possible. It is important to remember that you are not alone and that support is available to help you through this difficult time. With the right tools, resources, and support network, you can heal from past hurts and create a better future for yourself.

Reach out to people who understand what you are going through and talk to them about your feelings. Connecting with others in similar situations provides comfort, support, and a sense of belonging. Additionally, building healthy relationships with supportive family members and friends can be beneficial in improving your mental health and well-being. Ultimately, seek professional help if needed and focus on caring for yourself.

Call us now if you need someone to listen without judgment or give advice. We are here to help you through this journey and provide support every step of the way.

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