**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as witnessed and told to me by a former client who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
“My mom and dad had a toxic relationship, and I think it affected me more than they ever realized,” she confessed during our first session. “Growing up, it felt like my parents were too busy with their own issues to be there for me.”
She went on to say that her childhood was damaging and impacted her adult relationships. “It’s hard for me to get close to people because I’m afraid of being let down or taken advantage of like I felt my parents did to me,” she said.
“Jessica” is one of several clients that I’ve witnessed struggle with the aftermath of their parent’s lack of emotional availability.
It takes courage and strength to recognize the hard truths from our past and work through them as adults, especially when the source of the pain is a loved one.
The Lasting Effects of Having an Emotionally Detached Parent/Caregiver
“Being emotionally available can help you show that you care about someone for who they are as an individual — that you’re invested and interested in what they’re experiencing.
When you can’t connect to someone emotionally, it can be challenging to connect with them in other ways, even if they’re your parent.” — Hope Gillette, PsychCentral
A parent’s lack of emotional availability can often lead to feelings of abandonment, insecurity, and worthlessness. These emotions can manifest in behaviors like poor self-esteem, difficulty forming relationships, and trouble with intimacy.
For many, like Jessica, this difficult upbringing can lead to a lack of trust and difficulty managing emotions.
Emotionally unavailable parents are not equipped to offer their children the support and guidance they need to grow into healthy, balanced adults. This can leave adults feeling confused and overwhelmed- like they are missing a vital piece of the puzzle necessary to develop healthy, lasting relationships.
The good news is that it’s possible to break free from the lingering effects of having an emotionally detached parent or guardian. With the proper support, understanding, and patience, we can learn to form meaningful connections with ourselves and others. It takes time, but it is possible to reclaim our power and take back our sense of peace and security.
How to Heal from an Unavailable Parent
“When a parent isn’t ready to acknowledge their emotional unavailability, they may continue to engage in behaviors that make you feel uncared for.
It’s OK to take a step back from relationships — even parental ones — that are negatively impacting your well-being. You can completely distance yourself or set boundaries.” — Hope Gillette, PsychCentral
Healing begins with understanding that the problem stems from your parent’s inability to be emotionally available, not from any fault of your own. Remind yourself that their lack of emotional availability does not reflect who you are as a person.
The next step is to seek a qualified therapist or counselor who can help you process your emotions and identify healthier ways of responding. Talking through your feelings openly and honestly can be extremely therapeutic.
When you’re ready, it’s important to practice self-care by taking time for yourself to relax and do things that make you feel good — whether it’s taking a walk, reading a book, or visiting with friends.
The journey of healing is a long and often difficult one, but it’s possible to build healthier relationships by understanding and accepting your parent’s limitations.
Have you been affected by an emotionally unavailable parent/caregiver? If so, what have been some of the strategies you’ve used to cope? Share your experiences in the comments.