ERP 413: How Does Emotional Immaturity Develop & The Difference Between Emotional Immaturity And Emotional Abuse? Part Three

By Posted in - Podcast February 27th, 2024 0 Comments

In the ongoing series on emotional immaturity, we continue our exploration by delving deeper into the intricate dynamics that underpin its development. Drawing from our previous discussions, we aim to build upon foundational knowledge and delve into the nuanced differences between emotional immaturity and emotional abuse. By shedding light on these subtleties, we provide listeners with invaluable insights that can help them navigate complex emotional landscapes with greater understanding and clarity.

Through a blend of insightful discussion and actionable advice, our goal is to equip our audience with the tools necessary to not only recognize but also address and ultimately overcome emotional immaturity. By fostering a deeper understanding of these concepts, listeners can cultivate healthier connections and embark on a journey of personal growth.

In this Episode

09:05 Understanding the interplay of childhood experiences, parental influence, and intergenerational impact.

13:11 Exploring the obstacles hindering parental emotional responsiveness, including mental health issues, physical illness, addiction, trauma, and bereavement.

15:39 Understanding the role of trauma in emotional immaturity: Impact, coping mechanisms, and caregiver dynamics.

19:26 The perpetuating cycle of abuse: Impact, coping strategies, and emotional stunting.

21:23 The impact of unhealthy examples and poor upbringing to emotional immaturity.

23:33 The fine line between emotional immaturity and emotional abuse.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Reflect on personal experiences and behaviors to identify patterns of emotional immaturity.
  • Seek therapy or counseling to address underlying trauma or emotional wounds.
  • Practice emotional regulation techniques such as mindfulness and deep breathing exercises.
  • Set healthy boundaries in relationships to protect emotional well-being.
  • Educate oneself on healthy communication skills and actively practice them in interactions.
  • Challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs that contribute to emotional immaturity.
  • Engage in self-care activities to nurture emotional resilience and well-being.
  • Seek support from trusted individuals or support groups to navigate the journey towards emotional maturity.


Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents (Lindsay Gibson link) (book)

Signs of Emotional Immaturity: How to Identify and Support People with Emotional Immaturity

4 Types Of Emotionally Immature Parents

Tronick’s Still Face Experiment (YouTube video link)

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins






Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 


Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Let’s get started in today’s episode. Again, as I mentioned, this is a several part series. If you missed episode 410 and 411, I want to encourage you to check that out first, as it lays more of an overview about what emotional immaturity is and what are the nine characteristics. 

Just a brief summary here. Emotional immaturity has to do with the lack of emotional development, and having difficulty effectively managing, responding to emotions in a mature and healthy way. This is on a continuum, as everyone exhibits emotionally immature behaviors at times, and more or less, we’re looking at what is the consistency and what is the pattern of behavior as it relates to these topics. 

The nine characteristics, and again, this was based on several articles that I read, and I did my best to organize the material. Again, you don’t have to have all of these characteristics. Again, we’re looking at what is the overall dynamic as it relates to one’s emotional world. The nine characteristics are, one: difficulty regulating emotions and handling stress. Two: emotional impulsivity and reactivity. Three: low frustration tolerance and rigidity in thinking. Four: lack self-awareness, emotional depth, and empathy. Five: make things all about them. Six: dependency, need for validation, and difficulty with boundaries. Seven: limited ability to engage emotionally and relationally. Number eight: trouble with hard or difficult conversations and conflicts. Number nine: struggle to communicate in healthy ways. To revisit the purpose of this series, is that we want to bring awareness to the topic. Not to blame or bring, of course, judgment against anyone who perhaps is exhibiting some of these emotionally immature behaviors. 

In today’s conversation, again, we’re looking at how does emotional immaturity develop, and what’s the difference between emotional immaturity and emotional abuse? Typically, emotional immaturity happens for a reason. 

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“While there is no one reason why someone might exhibit signs of emotional immaturity, typically, the person has come from emotionally immature and/or abusive environments themselves, where they had experiences that perhaps interfered with the ability of developing emotionally and/or did not receive good enough support in this area of development.”

There’s a book that if you’re resonating with this topic, or even perhaps questioning the type of environment that you grew up in, as it relates to emotional maturity – meaning emotional attunement, emotional support, responsiveness – there is a book by a clinical psychologist Lindsay C. Gibson, and it’s titled Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents. It talks about the intergenerational impact that emotionally immature parents can have on one’s mindset and personality. She observed that when one grows up in an environment where the parent lacks emotional maturity, that this can result in the child showing signs of emotional immaturity even as an adult. Now this makes sense, because we didn’t have the opportunity to develop these skills because our parent wasn’t practicing them or providing the environment to help the child engage with. Then we look at long standing patterns and how to cope with these environments and the best moves to really get by in these environments, and thus, we will likely replicate that in adulthood until we choose to perhaps engage in more emotional, personal, and/or relational growth. 

I want to reiterate the intergenerational effect at play here. This is where the grandparent perhaps has limited capacity or there’s some circumstance that interferes with the ability to be more emotionally present, responsive, attuned. Thus, the child in that case, we would say parent, and then the parent doesn’t perhaps have the environment to learn and develop more emotionally. Thus, when they have their child, that they’re also passing on, or this effect is still impacting the development in the lineage. It’s important to acknowledge this. Because the goal here, again, is not to place blame. It’s to bring awareness to the importance of this emotional maturity. 

I referenced an article by Angelica Bottaro, and it was medically reviewed by Stephanie Hartselle, MD. It’s titled How to Identify and Support People with Emotional Immaturity. It was stated: “Emotional immaturity has a lot to do with a child’s developmental phase. 

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“Research has found that a difficult childhood without adequate parental support, or childhood abuse, could cause a person to grow into an emotionally immature adult.”

In another article titled The Four Main Causes of Emotional Immaturity by Kristin Davin, who’s a clinical psychologist, discusses four prominent reasons for emotional immaturity. One, emotional neglect. Emotional neglect happens when our primary caretakers, parents, were unable, didn’t have the capacity or failed to respond to our emotional needs growing up. It’s a form of neglect that prevents healthy development in a child. Again, this is one of the leading causes of emotional immaturity in relationships. There are many circumstances that can interfere with a parent’s ability or caretaker’s ability to be supportive and emotionally responsive. This is not a comprehensive list, but it does mention a few. When a parent or caregiver has mental health concerns or real mental health disorder – this could be bipolar disorder, it could be depression, anxiety, it could be many different factors that, again, will inhibit the person’s ability to function and thus be able to parent in this emotionally responsive way. 

Physical illness is another reason that a caregiver or parent would have the inability to be available, responsive, attuned, and very present to their child. Again, we could look at perhaps a cancer diagnosis or even having a major fall or operation. It could be, you name it, a number of things that will take someone out of this functioning. Alcohol and addiction issues, financial hardship or crisis, or perhaps needing to work multiple jobs. Having experienced some collective trauma, perhaps war or some really horrific event. Again, there’s recognition around what toll that would take. Immigration: as a family, moving to a new country, perhaps circumstances that really required that and the hardship around that, and there might be many traumas related to having to immigrate. Also, loss of a family member, or perhaps death of a child or death of a spouse. This could be incredibly painful and debilitating. These are just to name a few. But again, we look at this, and it’s hard to blame someone that’s going through a circumstance like this. 

In the article, an example which falls under the mental health issue or concern is when a narcissistic parent fails to respond to their child’s needs at critical times in their life, which is primarily due to them being focused on themselves and having an unwillingness to do their emotional work and understand what it means and what it takes to be a parent who is available to their child. Again, this dynamic likely would cause emotional immaturity in their child and as they move through life. 

The second cause, as written by Dr. Kristin Davin in her article, The Four Main Causes of Emotional Immaturity, is trauma. Many emotionally immature people come from a history of trauma, whether that be physical, emotional, mental, or even sexual abuse. And when we look at the dynamics of this, typically when abuse is happening, it’s often chronic. Also, the child is dependent on their parents for their basic needs and survival, and thus, there’s an experience of not being able to escape the abuse. When we focus more on the parent or caregiver engaging in emotionally immature ways to respond to their child, such as a silent treatment, ignoring their child, perhaps stonewalling, this could be even having a cold, blank face. 

I believe I have referenced in the past, and you may have seen the video, it’s a short clip and you can find it on YouTube. I’ll put the link on today’s show notes. It’s called The Still Face Experiment. This is with a mother and her infant child, and just how quickly even the mother’s face going blank can have such a profound impact on the child. Again, this is looking at the lack of responsiveness, the lack of engagement, the lack of presence and attunement. This has such a formative impact on the child’s development, again, emotionally, relationally, and also this imprint of how people are going to respond, which is really about the attachment style. This impacts us on all levels. It’s what we expect. So our thinking around, is the world a safe place, will people be there for us, will they respond to us, our expectations. It also relates to how we feel emotionally. It also relates to what we feel physiologically, our nervous system. Again, this all relates to our learning and how we operate as it relates to our emotional relational engagement. 

Coming back, again, to trauma and listing some of the ways that parents or caregivers may behave in emotionally immature ways that cause harm. So in addition to the ignoring or silent treatment, or stonewalling, having a still cold blank face, there also could be, conversely, the lashing out. It could be the yelling. It could be forms of manipulation, guilt trip, or drama that they perhaps perpetuate, that they, again, learned in their family of origin.

Regardless of the severity, or frequency, or even the type of abuse, the child had to learn how to cope in these environments and situations where they couldn’t escape, where the events were overwhelming, traumatizing, and causing great harm, and had to be on the receiving end of these behaviors. As we look at this, it starts to make more sense that a child in an environment where abuse is happening or emotional neglect is happening, that it wouldn’t be a smart move to turn to their caregiver or parent who’s engaging in these neglectful abusive harmful ways with their more vulnerable emotional self. Thus, learning how to suppress, deny, block their emotional world. 

The third main cause of emotional immaturity – again, this is referencing Dr. Kristin Davin’s article – is abuse. Now I know we talked a lot about abuse in number two: trauma. But likely, what we can do here is reference some of the examples that I gave around circumstances that are impacting a parent or caregiver’s ability to be emotionally responsive and emotionally safe with their child. Again, that is the mental health concerns, physical illness, alcohol and addiction issues, financial hardship, working all the time, a collective trauma, war, immigration, loss of a family member, a death of a spouse or child. Again, these can be extremely traumatic. 

So when we talk about abuse, we talked a lot about abuse in the last category. The thing I’ll add here. 

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“There’s a sense of hopelessness that often that when one is experiencing the abuse, and they can’t escape, and they feel helpless to change anything, because the person that they’re supposed to rely on to keep them safe is the one that is causing the abuse and causing the harm.”

And when there’s nowhere to go, they’re in this survival place, which puts their emotional system into a dysfunctional place, perhaps an overdrive, or perhaps they have confusion or have to compartmentalize or suppress or cut off. There’s all types of strategies to learn how to cope, but they can’t process the abuse. Again, because it’s happening, and there’s no space to feel safe to do that emotional work, and thus they may be underdeveloped or stunted in their emotional growth. It makes a lot of sense when we look at this all and the dynamics of it. 

The fourth main cause of emotional immaturity – again, referencing the article by Dr. Kristin Davin – is unhealthy examples and a poor upbringing. Again, this is all interrelated here. She states: “Often, emotional immaturity comes from poor or even horrible examples set by their parents, where they weren’t setting healthy boundaries, engaging in productive, emotionally healthy conversations, emotional regulation.” Conversely, as we’ve been talking, they were exposed to unhealthy behaviors, or even abuse and trauma. Cumulatively, the child starts to have an experience of what is normal and what’s familiar and what’s supposed to be. So they actually perhaps won’t confront the unhealthy behaviors or even see it until adulthood where they have other experiences that are healthier. And when this happens, they will have an opportunity to change their behaviors and their ways of operating, even their beliefs. But this does require some insight and willingness to do the work and to put the effort in. 

When we look at this – again, referencing Dr. Kristin Davin’s article, and it’s titled The Four Main Causes of Emotional Immaturity – she, again, in summary says the four main causes are, one: emotional neglect, two: trauma, three: abuse, four: unhealthy examples. We can recognize the intergenerational effect here. Or even said differently, the hurt people hurt people. While we can understand this, it doesn’t make it okay. Again, the goal here is to bring awareness, because there is significant harm and damage that’s done to both the individual, and also consequences to the relationship when we stay in this underdeveloped, stunted, or even behaving in abusive or emotionally immature ways. 

Let’s shift our topic here to what is the difference between emotional immaturity and emotional abuse. Now, emotional abuse is known as more psychological or even mental abuse. It’s a pattern of behavior aimed at controlling, manipulating, or undermining the emotional well-being of another person.

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“Emotional abuse is often characterized by non-physical tactics that are intended to exert power and control over the person or victim.”

If we look at the quality of emotional immaturity and some of what we’ve already discussed, it seems as though someone who’s exhibiting behaviors that are emotionally immature are likely trying to control their environment, so that they can protect themselves and not confront emotions that they feel overwhelmed by or really challenged by. Whereas, someone who’s engaging in emotionally abusive behaviors are more focused on controlling the other person to have power-over and keep that person small or less than. 

I found these five criteria to be extremely helpful as we differentiate between emotional immaturity and emotional abuse. Now, again, I do not think that this is exact, or that we can distill this perfectly. Because with most areas in psychology, there’s a lot of overlap. There’s a continuum. It’s gray, it depends. It’s not an exact science. But I do want to offer this to you, as you perhaps are trying to discern between what is emotionally abusive and what is more emotionally immature behavior. 

One is to consider the nature of the behavior. For more emotionally immature behavior, there’s a lack of emotional development or the ability to handle the emotions in a mature and healthy way, which, again, as we’ve talked about involves behaviors that are more typical of someone younger or less experienced in managing their emotions. So again, they appear younger when they’re processing emotions, again, due to this lack of development. Whereas, if someone is engaging in emotionally abusive behavior, this often involves a pattern of behaviors which are intended to control, manipulate, or undermine another person’s emotional well-being. Again, this is characterized by intentional actions to exert power or control over another. So again, this is the nature of the behavior, a little bit what I just mentioned around what the origin or what the motivation is here. 

Number two is: intent and control. 

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“Emotional immaturity often is unintentional, where they don’t intend to cause harm. It may be a result of the lack of skills, again, experienced by not dealing with their emotions, and it is not a deliberate effort to cause harm or control over another person.”

Where, emotional abuse, again involves this intentional action, with the purpose of asserting control over another, where the person is attempting to manipulate and impact the other’s self-esteem. 

The third criteria here is duration and pattern for emotional immaturity. It can be occasional, situational, and intermittent. So that the individual isn’t consistently engaging in them. Whereas, someone who is engaging in more emotional abuse, it involves repeated patterns of harmful behaviors over time. It’s more systematic, and it can be part of a broader pattern of controlling and manipulation.

The fourth criteria is: the impact on the other, or even the impact on the victim. As we look at emotional immaturity, while the immature behavior may cause challenges in the relationship, it may not necessarily result in severe emotional harm to the other person. Whereas, with emotional abuse, it has a significant and harmful impact on the other person’s mental and emotional well-being. So again, victims or people who are experiencing emotional abuse may experience long-lasting psychological effects, including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and trauma. 

The fifth criteria is: responsibility. With emotional immaturity, the person’s behavior reflects a lack of emotional skill or awareness that can be developed with time, experience, and self-reflection. With emotional abuse, the behavior often involves deliberate choice by the person to engage in harmful behaviors. Thus, the responsibility lies with the person intentionally inflicting emotional harm on another. In summary, these five criteria are: the nature of the behavior. Number two: intent and control. Three: duration and pattern. Number four: impact on another or the victim. Number five: responsibility. 

As I mentioned in Episode 410 and 411, some of the characteristics do enter into the territory of emotional abuse. But again, I want us to consider these criteria. Because again, there’s a lot of variables to consider. Some of the emotionally immature behaviors that perhaps enter into the territory of emotional abuse are: gaslighting, neglect, guilt trips, manipulation. When we look at manipulation, again, with this intent to control the other’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which again might involve this guilt tripping, gaslighting, playing mind games, which essentially sets up a dynamic where the person on the receiving end or the victim can doubt their own reality and their own perceptions, which is incredibly harmful. Other areas that are emotionally immature but also could be emotional abuse is real anger outburst; the yelling, the screaming, the throwing things. It could be in a form of intimidation and this intent to power-over, again, would definitely fall in emotional abuse. And also, significant blame, where there’s a consistency to this behavior. When there’s an upset, something went wrong, or if there was an accident or a conflict, that the partner is always to blame. This would enter into that territory of emotional abuse. 

Perhaps a less gray of this emotional abuse is verbal abuse. This would involve using words to belittle, demean, degrade. Another: name-calling, insult, yelling, constant criticism. Also, reckless behavior, such as cheating on a partner or misusing drugs and alcohol because of a fight, and using this behavior as a form of punishment. Bullying to get the other person to give in to demands and tolerate unwanted behaviors, or even deny that things really happened, as I mentioned before, this gaslighting. 

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“Finally, when we look at the differences between emotional immaturity and emotional abuse, would be the ability to change. One that is engaging in emotionally immature ways may benefit from the personal growth, self-awareness, and learning from emotional regulation skills.”

Whereas, someone who engages in more emotionally abusive ways often requires intervention support, and in some cases, legal or professional assistance, to ensure the safety and the well-being of their partner. If you are experiencing relational dynamics that have escalated to a consistent degree of emotional abuse, I really want to encourage to seek out support, professional support. Also, I’ll put the link to the domestic violence hotline. I’ll also state it here, which is: 1-800-799-SAFE, which is also 7233. Again, 1-800-799-7233. You could also visit I’ll put that on today’s show notes. Again, if you’re in immediate danger, call 911. 

Thank you for listening to today’s episode on how does emotional immaturity get developed, and what’s the difference between emotional immaturity and emotional abuse? It’s not an easy topic to discuss and look at. My hope in this series is to bring awareness and to give you support in how to overcome emotional immaturity, and really develop more emotionally mature behaviors in relationship, and even just in one’s own being. Again, stay tuned for the next two episodes, where I’m going to be talking about what a partner can do to help a relationship where emotional immaturity exists, and also, how to build emotional maturity. Feel free to reach out to me. Again, my email is [email protected]. If you want to share or add to the conversation as it relates to emotional immaturity, please put that in the subject line. I’ll do my best to incorporate your input, your feedback. Also, I just honor you in your journey in relational growth. Thank you for being with me here on today’s episode, and I am honored and privileged to be supporting you in the process. Thank you again. Until next time, I hope you take great care!

Signing Off

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication.

Stop the criticism loop, learn new ways to communicate
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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching