When we think about someone being “emotionally unavailable”, we usually think about romantic relationships.
However, did you know that this term can apply to your parents too? This concept has been eye opening for our clients.
Dealing with emotionally unavailable parents can be a challenging and complex experience.
Many of us grew up in “good” households where our emotional needs weren’t adequately met…leaving a lasting impact on how we show up at work and in relationships.
This YouTube episode with Nishi Bhopal MD and Andrew Davis LMFT explores the various aspects of this issue and offers valuable insights and strategies for healing from the effects of emotionally unavailable parents. (The transcript is included below).
✓ How to know if you had emotionally unavailable parents
✓ What impact it has on as adults
✓ Different ways that people might respond to having emotionally unavailable parents
✓ How the impact shows up in the workplace or in relationships
✓ When to consider working with a therapist
Wishing you well,
Dr. Bhopal & The Pacific Integrative Psychiatry Team
P.S. If you’re in California and looking for a therapist or psychiatrist, schedule a free call with our team to see if our services are a good fit.
TRANSCRIPT OF EMOTIONALLY UNAVAILABLE PARENTS VIDEO:
Nishi Bhopal MD: [00:00:00] In today’s episode, we’re talking to Andrew Davis. He’s a clinical psychotherapist with us at Pacific Integrative Psychiatry. And we’re talking about emotionally unavailable parents and how that impacts us as adults. And if you want to learn more about how to improve your mental health and nutrition for mental health, go ahead and subscribe to this channel.
Nishi Bhopal MD: I’m Dr. Nishi Bhopal. I’m a physician specializing in integrative psychiatry and sleep medicine. And I’m the founder of Pacific Integrative Psychiatry. We see adults across California. for help with anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. And we also provide nutritional services for mental health. And so today we’re talking with Andrew, who is our therapist at Pacific Integrative Psychiatry.
Nishi Bhopal MD: And we’re talking about emotionally unavailable parents. And, this might be something that, that if you’re listening, that you’ve heard of before, or if you’ve not heard of this before, this might be really eye opening. So I’m really looking forward to this conversation. So [00:01:00] Andrew, can you share what we’re talking about when we use this term emotionally unavailable parents?
Andrew Davis LMFT: Sure. Yeah, we’re talking about parents who maybe were unable to consistently attune to the child’s emotional needs, right? That can look like the absence of positive interactions, the absence of love, of connection, of validating a kid’s feelings, of allowing space for a kid’s feelings. It can also look like a pattern of, the presence of negative interaction.
Andrew Davis LMFT: So, you know, not, not receiving bids for connection. A kid walking in a room, sharing something that they’re excited about, and a parent not looking out for the TV, right? We’re not talking about one or single time incidents. We’re talking about a pattern, right? validating feelings, parents may be being too caught up in their own stuff or not aware of their own stuff.
Andrew Davis LMFT: And they’ve been taken out on other people, um, sometimes it looks like a parent oversharing kind of like making, making their kids a therapist, you know, pitting, one of the kids against another [00:02:00] parent, teaching either directly or indirectly through modeling that, you know, you know, boys don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about, you know, nothing accepting of a kid, whether that’s Then do their sexual identity, their preferences, or interests.
Andrew Davis LMFT: So there are a lot of different ways this looks. I think it’s important to recognize too, we’re not always talking about people who are bad people, or bad parents, or abusive people. That sometimes parents have the best intent and are doing the best they can, and it’s not enough, or and it’s lacking in certain areas that can, can impact a kid and their development into an adult, you know, person.
Nishi Bhopal MD: I think that’s it’s really helpful to to understand that it can show up in all of these different ways in these very subtle ways. And like you said, it’s not that the parent is is necessarily intending to neglect their child’s emotional needs. There’s just there’s a mismatch in many cases. Um, and it can be simple things like a kid comes home from school.
Nishi Bhopal MD: Like let’s [00:03:00] say you came home from school and you’re in, you know, third or fourth grade or something. You were teased or bullied that day and the parent might your parent might say like, ah, don’t worry about them. Just brush it off. And that’s not what that child needs. That’s not what you need in that moment.
Nishi Bhopal MD: You need, you know, some some validation and comfort and reassurance Whereas the parent might think well, no i’m gonna help them learn how to be resilient and strong And those types of things can really have an impact on us when we grow up, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: You know you mentioned, you know, sometimes it’s a mismatch.
Andrew Davis LMFT: I think that’s true also sometimes, you know, if, you know, growing up on this planet, we all have stuff, right? We all have stuff that impacts us trauma experiences, right? If someone isn’t aware of their stuff, whether that’s, you know, through therapy and doing some work on it, right? It’s going to come out in other ways, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: Even with best intent. So oftentimes, right? These things can be, mitigated or positively impacted by a parent going to therapy, right? Or recognizing that maybe I do have [00:04:00] some stuff because we all have stuff, right? So I do think there might be a mismatch sometimes, but also can be attributed to someone not being aware of how their past has impacted them and their interactions with others.
Andrew Davis LMFT: Which can have an impact on the kid, who.
Nishi Bhopal MD: Who needs that because, you know, again, for anyone who’s listening, if, you’re recognizing that, huh, maybe I had an emotionally misattuned or unavailable parent growing up or. Maybe I’m a parent now and I want to make sure that, you know, I’m, emotionally attuned and available to my Children. It’s a great idea to talk to a therapist about it, to explore it a little bit more and seeing how it might impact you.
Nishi Bhopal MD: Um, and so what are some ways that emotionally unavailable parents can help you? Parenting styles can impact a child.
Andrew Davis LMFT: Sure. Yeah, it can impact a kid, you know, into an adult, their ability to emotionally regulate in a healthy way, to give space for their emotions, you know, to not [00:05:00] use, unhelpful, ways of coping, you know, with drugs, alcohol, avoidance, can lead to internalizing some maybe negative self views, of yourself or others, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: People can’t be trusted, I’m a bad person, I sh I shouldn’t feel that way, I shouldn’t do this. Trouble forming and maintaining meaningful relationships, whether that’s friendships or romantic relationships. The big ones that I see are, you know, learning to care, take for other people or put other people first, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: Prioritizing other people’s emotions over yours, minimizing your own needs and wants, all things that kind of fall into the codependency category. That’s a big one, right? If it’s not okay to be you growing up, whether that’s feel certain things or be a certain way, you know, it would make sense to learn to kind of pull back and withdraw and to focus on taking care of others, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: I’m not going to, you know, have this need because when I do, my mom tells me this, I’m going to keep it to the side and I’m going to focus on. Taking care of mom, right? And that doesn’t necessarily mean taking care of in [00:06:00] the way of like, a caretaker role, like physically taking care of. It could be, I don’t want to upset mom, so I’m not going to share this thing.
Andrew Davis LMFT: I’m going to act in a way that keeps mom okay. I’m going to act in a way that keeps dad from raging, right? That, that’s a way someone can maybe learn to minimize their own stuff and take care of others, which can be an ongoing , pattern that can really make it hard, to thrive, to connect with others.
Andrew Davis LMFT: So that’s, that’s one of the bigger things that I see in people who, grew up with emotionally unavailable parents. Yeah,
Nishi Bhopal MD: yeah, no, that, and that’s really helpful because those things do show up in, in other areas of, of our lives as we, emerge into
Andrew Davis LMFT: adulthood. They do, and they have some consequences, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: If, if someone is always putting other people first and minimizing their own needs, right? There’s going to be an increase in stress, right? Whether that’s on, I’m saying, yes, there’s too many people. I’m taking on too much at work, right? It’s not sustainable and it can become really difficult. So the, it’s not only that [00:07:00] the impact of growing up with emotionally unavailable parents can lead to some, some, you know, troubling symptoms and ways of coping.
Andrew Davis LMFT: Those ways of coping can also reinforce some things that really, can be difficult. To work with can be difficult to live in a way that they’re not getting in the way. Right? And that’s where therapy comes in and kind of learning to to reshape some of these patterns, learning to take care of yourself and set boundaries, all these things that are super hard to do, but also super possible, super important when wanting to start to be a little less controlled by these patterns.
Andrew Davis LMFT: Right?
Nishi Bhopal MD: Yeah, absolutely. And, and, you know, I think another thing that’s really interesting is that You know, we’ll see this with with clients and patients in our practice that, um, they’ll say, Well, my sibling and I grew up in the same family, but we have totally different patterns are totally different family.
Nishi Bhopal MD: And just because you grew up with the same parents, it [00:08:00] doesn’t mean that you’re going to come out the same way. We’re going to deal with the same kinds of issues. So could you speak to that a little bit? Sure.
Andrew Davis LMFT: I think what you said is true, but also doesn’t mean parents are going to interact with each of the kids in the same way.
Andrew Davis LMFT: Right. Whether that’s their own, you know, biases or things are unaware of, whether it’s due to gender, age, temperament, right? There are a lot of reasons why one kid in a family might have one experience, another kid might not. That doesn’t make, you know, that each experiences are valid, right? But they also gonna have a different impact on the kid.
Andrew Davis LMFT: So, you know, that can absolutely happen. Yeah, that’s
Nishi Bhopal MD: exactly right. And, and even, you know, uh, your parents, if you have a sibling, your parents, excuse me, were a certain age when you were born. And then there were a different age when, you know, the siblings born and they are maybe in a different financial situation.
Nishi Bhopal MD: So you can really have very unique experiences individually within a family unit. Yeah. And so what are some [00:09:00] ways that, these experiences might show up in, let’s say in a relationship, let’s say you’re, in a romantic relationship, or you’re married, how might these things show up with, with your partner?
Andrew Davis LMFT: Sure. Yeah. Some things that I mentioned earlier, you know, kind of shutting down, isolating, withdrawing, learning to accommodate others at the cost of your own wellbeing, putting other people first, right? Developing coping practices that are, you know, getting in the way of, of, of you thriving, you know, as, as a person that you want to be and who you are at your core, resentment, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: You know, all of those ways of coping might lead to resentment , things that are relating to connecting with others and yourself, you know, trouble opening up, being vulnerable. Advocating for yourself, right? It’s tricky in a family, too, when you grow up and have a family, because as a parent, right, in some ways, you do, your kids needs are important, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: So, I think, too, people have a hard time sometimes hearing, like, putting yourself first. Well, I’m married, I have kids, I have to, and that’s true, right? So, it’s not that [00:10:00] we’re asking people to learn to do that in a selfish way, but in a way that’s going to allow them to show up to those relationships as an even more present, caring, and loving partner and parent.
Andrew Davis LMFT: Because if you’re not okay, it’s hard to help others be okay, right? So it is a balance, and it’s tricky, right? But that’s what we’re here for. That’s what therapy is here for. That the work that you do is going to positively impact the other people around you. That’s a good one to use, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: Obviously, we want everyone to be able to do the work for themselves. But especially people who have codependent tendencies, sometimes that’s a helpful one to hear, right? Like, I’m not just doing this for me, it’s, it’s going to positively impact the people I love. And I don’t want to, I don’t want them to have an experience or negative impact of, of the ways I’ve learned to cope.
Andrew Davis LMFT: And, you know, it is important to You know, learn to, take care of yourself and learn to, develop healthier, more sustainable ways of coping that are more aligned with who you are and who you [00:11:00] want to be.
Nishi Bhopal MD: Absolutely. Well, well, thank you for, for sharing that and, for the work that you do with people and in, in really helping them unpack some of these things.
Nishi Bhopal MD: And yeah. And, learn how to, improve coping skills and set boundaries and improve their communication and break out of patterns of codependency. Because as you said, like when you’re able to do those things, it has far reaching impacts on just how you move through life. Like you can just move through life with more ease, relationships are easier.
Nishi Bhopal MD: Boundaries at work are easier. Like it’s almost like you’re, like lubricating the wheels of life to go through things a little bit more smoothly.
Andrew Davis LMFT: Yeah, it gets to being easier, right? I think it’s so important to accept that initially, it’s really hard. It’s really hard to make these changes and that’s, I really, emphasize normally, normalizing that part of the process, right?
Andrew Davis LMFT: Because it is a choice to do something that might be more uncomfortable for a concentrated period of time with the goal of getting to a point where Things feel easier on a more ongoing, sustainable way. [00:12:00]
Nishi Bhopal MD: Yeah, I’m really glad you said that because at first it’s really hard and it’s really uncomfortable and it can be uncomfortable for yourself and even the people around you.
Nishi Bhopal MD: Like change is hard and change is uncomfortable, but the only way to get to the other side is to go through it. Great. So, Andrea, so people want to, work with you. You see patients all across California by Telemedicine by video. , how can we get in touch with
Andrew Davis LMFT: yep. You can reach out at the link here.
Andrew Davis LMFT: You can schedule a free consultation and we’re here. We’re ready to help.
Nishi Bhopal MD: Great. Yep. So, pacificintegrativepsych.com we’ll put the, links in the video description and on the screen and you can schedule a free 20 minute call with our team to see if we’re a good fit and we’ll go from there. So thanks so much for joining me today, Andrew.
Andrew Davis LMFT: Thank you.