March 7, 2023

Do You Have Emotionally Immature Parents? with Dr. Lindsay Gibson

My conversation with Dr. Lindsay Gibson generated pure gold in this week’s episode about emotionally immature parents. It’s important to note that this is in no way parent-shaming but instead illuminates how many people with ADHD were likely raised by emotionally immature adults (and perhaps perpetuating this behavior).

We’re often led to believe that we ADHDers are always the problem. But maybe we were raised by adults that used manipulation and guilt to force us into people-pleasing and parentification to prioritize their needs and wants at all times above our own as children.

While ADHD is hereditary, emotional immaturity can sometimes be passed down through generations as well. A cycle of neurodivergence coupled with emotional immaturity is not an ideal combination, so I invite you to listen in as we discuss how to identify this type of parenting, common coping mechanisms to avoid, and the pathway toward peace and freedom.

Many of the participants in my group coaching program FOCUSED can relate to this and are in good company as we work towards being more emotionally mature adults. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to check out drlindsaygibson.com and read one of her many helpful books.



Featured Download


This totally free printable includes a psychologist-approved list of symptoms that adults with ADHD commonly experience. This could give you the answers you’ve been begging for your entire life.

Kristen Carder 0:05
Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B. Hey, what’s up?

This is Kristen Carter and you’re listening to the I have ADHD podcast episode number 202. I am medicated, I am caffeinated. And I’m ready to roll. This episode, y’all, it has some major potential to change your life for ever. I have an illuminating conversation with Dr. Lindsay Gibson, author of the books, adult children of emotionally immature parents and recovering from emotionally immature parents. And she’s here with us today to talk about the experience of being a grown adult in relationship with your own emotionally immature parents. Now, you might be wondering, Kristen Carter, what do emotionally immature parents have to do with ADHD? Well, my friend, I will tell you, I have a theory. And it’s a theory backed by four years of experience and 1000s of hours coaching ADHD, here’s my theory is that most, maybe even all people with ADHD were raised by emotionally immature parents, deep breaths here. And maybe even a content warning here, because this episode could be difficult for some of you. Now, the more I work with adults with ADHD, the more I hear the same things over and over from my clients. They were not seen in childhood for who they really were, they were not able to express their emotions authentically. They never truly felt understood. And they’ve always felt obligated to prioritize their parents needs and wants over their own needs at once. So, of course, we know that ADHD is hereditary, but I would like to go on record saying that I believe emotional immaturity is also passed down from generation to generation. And so what we get is a repeated cycle of neuro divergence coupled with emotional immaturity until someone decides to break the cycle of emotional immaturity. And maybe that’s you.

Now, hear me, this is not a parent shaming, or parent blaming podcast episode. Rather, it’s an opportunity for you to think objectively about how you were raised. It’s an opportunity for some clarity. It’s an opportunity for an honest assessment of reality of what you’re dealing with now, regarding the relationship that you have with your own parents. And if you’re starting to bristle, and you’re thinking, excuse me, my parents were amazing parents, and they provided everything that I needed. First. That’s lovely. That’s incredible. That’s good. But I do want to clarify that when someone is raised by emotionally immature parents, everything does usually look pretty good. From the outside looking in. Your physical needs are taken care of. Your parents appear to be present and active participants in your life. They are technically present, but they offer little help, protection or comfort.

They did not know how to provide you with empathy and space and emotional nurturing that you needed in order to develop a secure attachment. In her book, Dr. Gibson says children of emotionally immature parents have overwhelming evidence that their parents loved and sacrificed for them, but they feel a painful lack of emotional security or closeness with their parents. This is a really important episode, okay, because it’s more proof that maybe, just maybe you are not the problem. Lindsay Gibson is a clinical psychologist who has been a psychotherapist for over 35 years working in both public and private practice. Dr. Gibson is the author of four books, who you are meant to be adult children of emotionally immature parents, recovering from emotionally immature parents and self care for adult children of emotionally immature parents. She also wrote a monthly column on wellbeing for Tidewater women and Tidewater family man magazines for over 20 years. Her website is available at Dr. Lindsay gibson.com. Which of course, we will link in the show notes. Please, please enjoy this beautiful conversation with Dr. Lindsay Gibson, where I’m going to start is just welcoming you and saying thank you for being here.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 5:19
Oh, thank you so much for having me, Kristen.

Kristen Carder 5:22
It is such a joy to be able to speak with you. And I’ve already gushed so much, I will try to tame it just a little bit. But I am just so thrilled because you’re two books, adult children of emotionally immature parents and recovering from emotionally immature parents have been so helpful to me to my clients. And as I work with more and more adults with ADHD, I see this as something that we are all struggling with. And your work has provided so much clarity for us. So thank you, thank you.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 5:57
Oh, well, I’m so glad that it’s been helpful to your listeners. Because when I wrote the book, I was writing it on the basis of my psychotherapy clients. And it really has been surprising how many groups resonate with us. So yeah, this is really exciting for me to to be in on this with your group. That’s so

Kristen Carder 6:18
neat. What I have found, I have a theory that most people with ADHD were raised by emotionally immature parents. And obviously, that is just a working theory that I’m kind of gathering evidence for anecdotally. But I do support hundreds and hundreds of people in my coaching program. And I did a seminar on your book, and it resonated with so many people. And it’s interesting, as I look at some of the characteristics that you lay out of emotionally immature people, it really is very similar to characteristics of people with ADHD. That’s very interesting. So I just wanted to read a couple of those, as we get started. So rigid and single minded. adults with ADHD can be really rigid and single minded, lots of black and white thinking, low stress tolerance, we really have trouble managing our emotions, especially stress, we do what feels best. Well, that’s so fascinating. There are a couple here that aren’t really like egocentric, maybe, really difficult time self reflecting. That’s a that is, you know, self reflection is impaired by our executive functions, and so are deficient executive functions. So it’s just fascinating to read some of these and say, you know, ADHD is hereditary. I wonder if that emotional immaturity is a hereditary component, as well. Have you had any experience with the ADHD community in that way?

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 8:04
No, I’ve not had direct experience with enough people enough grants with ADHD to make any guests about that. But maybe I could shed some light on how what you’ve just said, adds up to me, because the question about it being hereditary, I think is a good one. Of course, it’ll probably be decades before the answer to that question. But if you look at what happens to a child’s ability, to modulate stress, to deal with their emotions, to keep on track to feel calm enough to focus, if you look at that, in the light of the quality of their emotional attachment, and their sense of emotional safety in early childhood, there can I think this is strictly my theory. But what I’ve observed with my clients, and what I’ve read about suggests that when you don’t have a parent who can resonate with you, empathically, who sees you as psychologically real, who looks into your eyes and sees a person, they’re not a daughter, not a son, but a little unique individual in their wholeness and they love that individual child, not my child, not a child, but you when you get that from an emotionally mature enough parent, you feel combed, you feel present, a lot of the characteristics that you’re describing have to do with an impairment and feeling present. Okay, that Present Moment is totally safe and totally welcoming of your being not your activity, not what you do. But just being being here. So, you know, I wonder if you know how you would ever sort out the effects of heredity from that early effect of having a very egocentric or self absorbed parent, on board, when you’re forming your sense of self. And when your brain is building those executive functions, because it needs to be embodied in a relationship where you are seeing, and you feel completely safe to be yourself with that parent. Now, the parent may discipline you, the parent may get mad at you check all that, but the fundamental sense that they see you, and that you’re not a thing to them, or a bother or, you know, some abstract category to them. I think that’s what can lead to a lot of distractibility a lot of unsafety, because the kid is scanning, right? They’re constantly scanning for the thing that’s going to help them kind of consolidate and feel safe.

Kristen Carder 11:19
Yep, yep. Fascinating. So let’s start at the beginning. How do you define an emotionally immature parent? What is an emotionally immature parent? And how would someone even know that they had an emotionally immature parent?

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 11:37
Let’s start with the last one. First, I think the most reliable indicator of possible emotional maturity and a parent because you want a lot of additional data in order to make that that diagnosis that is, although it’s not a diagnosis, that’s a category that that that I’ve come up with, it seems to capture it. But the feeling of emotional loneliness is the number one characteristic of adults who have grown up with emotionally immature parents, in my experience. For instance, I had a woman who came in to therapy with only met a few times. And all of a sudden, she stopped talking and she leaned forward, and she looked at me and she said, You really see me as like, Yes, I do. And I really do. And I knew what she was talking about. Because I was listening attentively. I cared about what she was saying. And I’m sure that she felt connected with me. Yeah, because of not only the behavior, but my mindset. Yes, she was, as I said, psychologically real to me. To me, she had an inner subjective experience. That was real, and I was learning about it. And so yes, indeed, I did see her. Okay, but that feeling of not being seen for who you really are, and not feeling a connection between who you really are. And what that parent sees in you, leads to a sense of loneliness. It’s like, just think about adults in a in an unsatisfying marriage, where they, they’re with the person, maybe it’s okay, things are going pretty well. But there, there’s this intense dissatisfaction, when you feel emotionally lonely with someone that you know, you know, you’re supposed to be close with, yeah. And then your only conclusion can be, is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I feel what I’m supposed to be feeling towards this person who’s my husband or wife or mother or father? And that’s where kids go first is, of course, what did I do wrong? What’s the matter with me?

Kristen Carder 14:01
Absolutely. What I loved at the beginning of your book is where you talk about the experience of emotional isolation. And how then we internalize that as kiddos. And we look and we say, well, my physical needs are met. And my parents are present. So I really should be grateful. But there’s just something missing.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 14:25
Yes. And we know what I mean. Physiologically, I think, I mean, there’s a psychological component, of course, but that kind of connection is physiological. We feel that with our whole body. And we can tell that something is off, because we’re all born I think, with this ability to read the emotional situation. And we all know when we feel healthy, right? I mean, when you’re feeling good, you know it when you’re feeling like something’s missing, like um, hungry or I’m too hot. Or you can tell that and it’s the same thing with this emotional connection with parents or people who are close to you, we detect that. And it won’t go away. You can’t rationalize your way out of it. Yeah, so it’s very, very primal, it goes back to not only bonding, which is kind of more of a familiarity and proximity phenomenon. But it goes to the heart of attachment, which is a psychological experience with the parent.

Kristen Carder 15:34
I want to read a quote from your book, because I think it it just encompasses all of this, you say, emotionally immature parents fear, genuine emotion, and pull back from emotional closeness. They use coping mechanisms that resist reality, rather than dealing with it, like poignant pause there, because that’s a big deal. They use coping mechanisms that resist reality, rather than dealing with it, they don’t welcome self reflection. So they rarely accept blame or apologize. Their immaturity makes them inconsistent, and emotionally unreliable. And they’re blind to their children’s needs, once their own agenda comes into play. I feel like that encompasses all of it.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 16:23
Well, it really does. And you just said everything that would be on my list. Yeah, the only thing I would would add to that four characteristics of emotionally immature parents or people is a couple things. One would be their poor empathy, which was implicit in what you just said. But they just don’t, that imaginative functioning is not great. They don’t understand imagination, unless it’s for the use of something like they could use imagination in their job. They could use imagination for, you know, putting on a show at school with their kid, they can use the imagination if there’s a use for it, okay, like a pragmatic use. But they don’t use imagination for empathy, which has the sole purpose of understanding and making connections with other people. That’s not something that occurs to them as as a primary orientation to the child. And the other thing is that they tend to use feelings as their guide to reality. Okay? They don’t, it’s not a combination of I get a sense of something. Now, I’m going to check it out with my rational brain, and then I’m going to quickly come to a conclusion about what the reality is, yes, they just go with the feeling. Okay. So if I feel like you don’t love me, it’s a fact that you don’t love me. And now I’m going to proceed from there to tell you how much you don’t love me and how much you mean, you aren’t. And you can’t reason with it. Because they’re convinced that they know what is going on, on the basis of their feeling. And that’s something that’s called aspect of realism. It’s a term that was devised by Baron Barr and article but yeah, so that plus the dismissal denial and distortion of reality, their ego centrism, they’re very poor self reflection, which, as you mentioned, you know, wreaks havoc on the ability to apologize or take responsibility for your actions, because, yeah, you don’t think about it. And that fear of emotional intimacy that all makes up, what I would say is like the five Cardinal characteristics of emotional immaturity, and there are lots of little, you know, some things that come with that. But those are the ones that you would you would want to say before you thought somebody was emotionally immature.

Kristen Carder 19:03
Can you speak to this part just a little bit, where you say they’re blind to their children’s needs, once their own agenda comes into play? What might that look like for a child, but say, like, a 10 year old? What does it look like for a parent to be blinded to their child’s needs, once their own agenda comes into play? What does that mean?

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 19:30
Yeah, so what it means is that the child has a need to be understood or has a need to be comforted, and has a need to feel connected at all times as need to feel unconditionally love. And that’s not some pie in the sky thing. By the way. Unconditional Love means that I feel like my parent continues to see me and my goodness, and who I am Regardless of what I’ve just done, they continue to hold a little image of me inside that they continue to be in love with. Even if I’m doing some things they don’t like. That’s, that’s what I mean by unconditional love. So let’s say the child has one of those needs. And let’s say that maybe the child is distressed or not in a good place. And they’re looking for comfort. That’s their agenda. They’re looking for comfort from that parent. But let’s say that the parents agenda is that when somebody is upset, and maybe pushing them away, or maybe acting angrily toward them, they don’t think any deeper than that. Yeah. And it activates, in what I mean is they don’t say, Gee, is my is my child hungry? Is my child tired? Is or is my child unhappy about something? Now that all involves empathy, right? We don’t go there. Instead, what they do is they will have their own agenda, which is, oh, I’m not feeling like a good parent right now. I’m feeling criticized by this little kid who seems to be very unhappy with me. And so they need to stop it. Because this is distressing to me. So they might tell the child stop crying, you know, stop doing that. Stop making me feel like I’m not a good effective parent. Just quit it. Yeah. And that child, then, of course, has to choose between emotional safety, which would be staying in good with mom. Right? Or staying true to themselves? Because I’m upset, right? Yeah. Yeah. So that’s a terrible choice to have to make between love, and self awareness. But they make that choice over and over again.

Kristen Carder 22:05
It’s interesting to me, because it sounds like that’s how people pleasers are born.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 22:10
Absolutely. Yeah. And you know, it’s so tragic first and that people get down on themselves for being people pleasers. I mean, it’s such a derogatory term. I think, you know, people will say, Well, I’m a people pleaser, and I, you know, let people get away with murder. And it would stand up for myself and they feel bad about themselves for being people pleasers, right. But when you think about that choice that I just described, between, I can have my parents love and approval, by acting a certain way or by, you know, stopping my tears or stopping my my upset and being true to yourself, even knowing yourself even staying connected to your experience of yourself not not cutting that off or dissociating from it in order to fit with a parent. Yeah. And so that is a terrible choice. And people who become, quote, people pleasers have had, the way I look at it is they have had to make that choice, which is a tragedy. Nobody should have to choose between the love of the person they depend upon. And being themselves there ought to be a way to work that out. Yeah. Okay. And you can if you have an emotionally mature enough person on the other end of that interaction,

Kristen Carder 23:37
yeah. And now, a word from our sponsor. Hey, Kristen here, I’m the host of this podcast, an ADHD expert and a certified life coach, who’s helped hundreds of adults with ADHD understand their unique brains and make real changes in their lives. If you’re not sure what a life coaches let me tell you, a life coach is someone who helps you achieve your goals like a personal trainer for your life. A life coach is a guide who holds your hand along the way as you take baby step after baby step to accomplish the things that you want to accomplish. A good life coach is a trained expert who knows how to look at situations or situations with non judgmental neutrality, and offer you solutions that you’ve probably never even considered before. If you’re being treated for your ADHD, and maybe even you’ve done some work in therapy, and you want to add to your scaffolding of support, you’ve got to join my group coaching program focused. Focused is where functional adults with ADHD surround each other with encouragement and support. And I lead the way with innovative and creative solutions to help you fully accept yourself, understand your ADHD and create the life that you’ve always wanted to create. Even with ADHD caught up I have adhd.com/focused to join. And I hope to see you in our community today.

Kristen Carder 25:13
I want to read this excerpt from your book, you say, these children may learn to put other people’s needs first as the price of admission to a relationship. But I thought that phrase price of admission was so spot on. Instead of expecting others to provide support, or show interest in them, they take on the role of helping others convincing everyone that they have few emotional needs of their own. And I think that’s exactly what you just described,

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 25:45
when you think of what a person what a child has to do, in order to please that parent, when maybe they’re feeling 180 degrees differently from that. You can imagine the amount of inner strength, dress tolerance, ability to delay gratification, self control, you can imagine how much of that a person has to have, in order to adopt a people pleasing defense, wow. Right, that’s a very high order thing, to be able to turn yourself when you’re upset when you have a need, in spite of that, turn yourself into what the other person wants to see in you. That is tremendously energy draining. And it it also is a really high order of functioning. Now children who don’t have the ability to show that kind of inner complexity and strength. Maybe they start acting out, yeah, maybe they can’t contain it, right, maybe they, they begin to burn off that distress by racing around and distracting themselves, maybe that’s what happens. So you get these two very different responses to that kind of situation where the parent is, in effect, making the child choose between the relationship with the parent or their relationship with themselves.

Kristen Carder 27:18
And so many of the clients that I speak to talk about this phenomenon where you know, when they had a need, instead of having their needs being met, they actually had to show up in the role of caretaker. So they come with a need, and the parent says that needs offensive, that need makes me feel scared that I’m I can’t, you know, obviously, the parents not expressing that explicitly. But you know, you have a need for connection, but I can’t connect and stop making me feel like a bad mother. And then the child becomes the role of the caretaker, you’re not a bad mom, I love you so much. You’re a good mom. And all of the sudden, instead of the child having their needs met, they are. It’s a role reversal, which you also talked about in your book, the role reversal of the child’s being the caretaker of the parents emotional needs.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 28:12
Yes, there’s their personification that happens with the child where they end up really functioning as the comforting parent to that parents inner child, so to speak.

Kristen Carder 28:24
Yes. Wow, that is so fascinating. So if someone is really resonating with what you’re saying, and describing and beginning to contemplate, like, Wow, I did experience massive amounts of loneliness, I do think that I was unseen. In my childhood, I do feel like maybe I was the caretaker for my parents, and that there was very little empathy. And now they’re kind of transitioning to, and I’m still in a relationship with my parents now. And it’s very much the same. Can you talk about what that relationship might look like now between an adult parent and an adult child? What What are kind of some of the pillars of those relationships? Yeah,

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 29:13
it’s very similar, although in an adult version, first of all, the parent is the most important person in the relationship. That’s, that’s pillar number one of that that adult relationship, the parent is number one is the most important person in the relationship. And that’s something that everybody buys into in the family. It’s just agreed that you know, we keep mom happy we keep dad calm, you know, whatever it is, because that’s what leads to safety and less stress within the family unit is keeping that person stabilized. Because a relationship with an emotionally immature person demands that that you contribute to that person’s emotional stability. And you shore up their self esteem. Because without adequate emotional maturity, your self esteem has always got one foot on a banana peel you, you can lose it very quickly. And so the the adult child is expected to continue in this role throughout their adulthood as well. Okay. Now one of the interesting things that happens though is that when the adult child becomes a parent, sometimes there is conflict over how that grandparent now is handling the child the grand child’s needs, and how they’re relating to them. The child, the adult child begins to look at the interaction between their parent and their child. And oh, my goodness, they see all this stuff going on, and how that child is being responded to that. Yeah, talk about triggering. There it is right in front of you what happened to you? Yes. And so they really can begin at that point, to say, look, nothing is as important to me as my child’s well being, I have a life to run, I have responsibilities. Now, as a parent, I can’t let this person’s needs overshadow everything in our little new family. I’ve got to protect myself and my child, not from what we ordinarily would call abuse. Right, right. But it’s the stress, it’s the stress of having little children, and then a parent comes in acting like another little child, except this little child, you can’t come for it. Because emotionally immature people are practically immune to you trying to give them love and comfort. And what it was is never enough. Yes, you never did it right enough.

Kristen Carder 32:09
Nevertheless, a bottomless pit,

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 32:11
bottomless pit, yes, you’d never, you’d never quite hit the mark with them. So yeah, but it’s interesting how the adult child begins to make the transition from the parent being the most important person to their own duties as a parent their own life begins to take on its own importance to them, which is just amazingly wonderful. Okay. And then yes, you’re clapping Yeah. And then, you know, they begin to set some boundaries and limits, because that’s what’s needed for the good functioning of their family. Like, I’ll give an example of a father who wanted to come visit. And as emotionally immature people often do it. He just gave the weekend that he was coming, didn’t ask if that was good, or not just, uh, you know, we’re going to be there, you know, on this weekend. And that was the weekend of my clients, child’s birthday. Okay, and this is like a little five or six year old. So birthdays are a huge deal, right? And so, the client asked his father, what time will you be here so we can plan the birthday party? And the father says, Well, I don’t like to be tied down like that. Well, we’ll get there when we get there. I hate to be rushed around traveling. Set. So now, that adult child is space between do we sit around all day waiting for dad to show up before we go on the birthday thing? Or do we plan the birthday thing and then tell dad that, you know he can show up when he shows up? So out of love for his child? He decided on the second one. Yes. Thumbs up, thumbs up. Thumbs up? Yes. Set that boundary asked for an accommodation from the dad. Well, the dad hits the roof. He says, Well, if you don’t love us, enough to let us come when we can get there. And this This trip is a sacrifice for us and all that. We’re not coming. And so my client says Well, sorry, you feel that way. Dad, I but I understand your position totally. We’ll leave the door unlocked if you change your mind. And you all can come in whenever you come and we’ll be at the bouncy house at three o’clock or Wow. Applause Yes.

Kristen Carder 34:47
So it’s really interesting when we talk about setting boundaries or limits with emotionally immature parents because as you just described in that story, The parent went immediately to guilt. Right immediately to the guilt and shame you don’t love us, we’re not important. And I think that it seems that that tactic is so effective on children especially. And then there comes a time maybe, hopefully, where the adult child can recognize it. Right? So the actual child when you are a child, and and you might hear that the response is like, no, no, no, I do love you. You’re amazing. Let me change everything. Let me deny my own needs. Let me deny myself my wants. But I love how you described the responsibility now of having a family. And it doesn’t always have to be that right? It might just be like, you’re evolving, and you’re going to therapy, or you’re in relationship with people who have really healthy parent child relationships. And you look at that, and you say, Oh, that’s so different from what I experienced, right? But to be able to not give in to the guilts is so difficult for most people, I believe, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 36:11
Yes, no, it’s very difficult. Because if you’re at all self reflective, which they internalize or type understands things by internalizing them, processing them, and self reflecting, okay. Which, by the way, is a huge coping advantage over the emotionally immature person who just reacts off the top of their head. Yeah. Okay. So if you can take stuff in and process it, you have an immediate advantage in a situation, because you’re going to be dealing with more data, basically. Yeah. So people feel guilt when they feel like they’ve done something wrong. And it’s very important to develop your objective thinking to the point where you can ask yourself, Have I done something wrong? Was that unreasonable to want you to be here? By three o’clock so that we can plan on on our son’s birthday party was, was that a crazy selfish thing to do? Right? So you can think that as as an objective adult, but you may not be able to think that and certainly aren’t able to think that as a child? Sure.

Kristen Carder 37:34
Yeah, one of the things that I’ve been working with my clients on regarding guilt is sometimes guilt is very valuable, because it can show us when we’ve crossed one of our own boundaries, when we are out of alignment with our own values. When we are, you know, when we’ve done something that deserves an apology, like guilt can be really useful. But that objective thinking is so critical to ask yourself, Am I out of alignment with my own values? Have I crossed someone’s boundary, you know, that they’ve already explicitly laid out for me? Have I broken the law? Have I broken a rule? And if you can just add, like, take 30 seconds to kind of file through and decide, is this guilt here to teach me something? Or is this guilt here to hold me in line? With somebody else’s expectation?

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 38:29
Yes. And hold you back? Yeah, hold you in line and hold you back. what actually was happening with my client, she was getting ready to individuate even further from her father as a true individual in her own right. And this thing with the birthday party was one step on that road. Yeah. Okay. So the emotionally immature parent, in a way, doesn’t want you to individually. They want you to stay in their little orbit of the way it’s always been. And so they do things to bring you back into that kind of entangled relationship with them. Yes. And so it’s very important when you make these steps, you’ll probably feel some reactive guilt, or they probably will succeed and shaming you for a moment. But thank goodness, we have our adult brains. Now, that has objectivity that can say, Well, really, was that something that I should have felt ashamed about or guilty about? That I was trying to preserve my five year old son’s birthday? Like is that a bad thing? No, it’s not that’s ridiculous. And so we reached the point in our own individuation in our own construction of our of our true selfhood, our true individuality, where we can look at something like that. and say That’s absurd. That makes no sense at all. Except if you realize that that parent at that moment in their defensiveness is functioning as a five year old themselves. Okay, once you get the key of emotional immaturity and acting like a toddler or preschooler, it all makes sense, because that’s what a little kid would do. They would say you don’t love me, because you won’t let me have dessert before dinner. Yeah. It’s that kind of extreme. Goodness, completely emotionally mediated response.

Kristen Carder 40:42
My son yesterday, I told him know about something. And he, he’s eight, he went into our mudroom closet laid on the floor covered himself in all of the coats that were in there and just started screaming. And like, that’s very appropriate eight year old behavior, right. But when you’re dealing with your 75 year old parent, it’s a little bit of a different story.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 41:07
Yes. And plus, they’re in a grown up body, right? So we don’t read that as a tantrum. We read it as Oh, my gosh, I have totally been mean to this nice old lady. We read it as you know, they’re entitled to respect they’re entitled to honor. And here we are, we’ve we’ve done something awful to make them upset. Yeah.

Kristen Carder 41:31
So I think that’s really an important thing that you just pointed out, because as adults with ADHD, I believe that in a neurotypical society, we’ve been groomed to believe that we are always the problem. Our behaviors are the problem, our emotional explosions are the problem, our inability to sit still is the problem, our reactivity is the we are the problem, we are always the problem. And as my clients begin to grow and mature, it can be very difficult for them to look outside of themselves and say, maybe I’m not the problem here. Like, sure, there are things that I need to take responsibility for. And there are things that I need to, you know, we all need to be working on. But in this relationship with my parents, is it possible that I’m not the problem? And I think that that can be so hard, especially for adults with ADHD, because we are convinced that we are the problem. We’ve been told that we’re the problem. It’s been very convenient for parents to tell us that we are the problem. And it’s really fit the narrative. And it’s made us into, you know, caretakers and people pleasers, and then when you begin to interact and reflect and look objectively at behavior and think, Is it possible that I’m not the problem here, that can be a complete turnaround, a complete 180 from what we’re used to, and actually really unstabilized thing. So when you look, and you identify, like, Oh, I think my parent is going a temper tantrum, it actually can make you feel really, really unsafe, because you’re used to being the problem. That’s

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 43:19
right. And you know, What’s the scariest thing in the world for a kid? Is Watching the parent unravel? Yeah, I mean, that is horrifying. For a kid. You know, here’s my parent who is coming apart. They’re, they’re losing their stuff right in front of me. And this is the person that I count on to mediate reality to protect me to provide structure for me to know everything because I don’t know anything is a little a, my fate is in their hands. The whole family’s fate is in their hands. And here they are coming apart, emotionally unstable. And that is a horrifying thing for a child. So no wonder they jump in to try to repair that. And they also find out that when they do jump in to repair it, actually things do get better. Because they’re parenting their parent and that’s what the parent is asking for with that unstabilized behavior.

Kristen Carder 44:27
And as they begin to individuate in adulthood, that’s when the parent throws a temper tantrum and the child just allows it to happen. Yes, yes. You say here in your book, that guilt is a small price to pay for your freedom. Yeah, can you can you speak a little bit to that?

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 44:48
Yes, because if your guilt stays in a reactive, unconscious mode, that is it doesn’t even pass through the higher centers of your brain to be analyzed or to be thought about. It just goes, you know, input guilt output. We use it to guide ourselves without thinking too much about the situation. But when you are able to say to yourself, yep, there’s that reaction, there’s that conditioned reaction is like, you know, Pavlov’s dog experiments, right? Got them to salivate at the sound of a bell before we even gave them food, right? Well, we can feel guilty at the sound of a parent’s displeasure. And we haven’t done anything wrong yet. We’re just conditioned to have that guilt response. So once you learn that the guilt response is in a sense, not true. It’s not true in 2023, okay, it may have felt true, you know, 3040 50 years ago, when your parent pulled out on you. So but it isn’t kind of like an artifact. It’s like an archaic kind of a response that’s kicking in because your brain got conditioned to do that. And if you can just live through the guilt label it correctly. This is this an old reaction of mine, I can’t get rid of it yet. It’s going to be there for a while until I override it enough. Because Fortunately, you can undo conditioning by overriding it. And so if you have that take on it, then you can put guilt in its proper place, which is it’s a signal that I’ve been emotionally coerced.

Kristen Carder 46:48
Ooh, say that, again, that was so good.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 46:51
Guilt is a signal in these situations that I have been emotionally coerced. In other words, somebody was trying to get me to feel something that was going to be to their advantage that they would get their way. And when guilt is hijacked, for that purpose. You can, you can learn to spot it, that this person is trying to emotionally coerce me or force me into a certain kind of response. Once you get that idea that maybe guilt is not a conscience thing, really, or it’s not a morality thing. It is a sign that someone has tried to emotionally coerce me, then you can decide do I want to be coerced? Do I want to make dad the most important thing and say to my son, well, sorry, honey, dad didn’t come today until six o’clock. So we missed our reservation at the bouncy house. Right? Is that what you wanted? The difference here is that you have to reach the point where taking care of your child and their birthday, is it’s important. And something that affects you emotionally is just as important as that child’s birthday party. See, my my client was able to do that, because, you know, weighing the alternatives disappointing my son disappointing my father, he decided, you know, correctly, that he was not going to disappoint his son. But if it’s something having to do with yourself, and your needs are something that’s important to you, you have to reach the point where it’s just as important to stand your ground and ignore that guilt signal, when it’s for yourself as it is when it’s for somebody else that you love. Yeah, that’s a very important transition there.

Kristen Carder 48:50
That’s, I think, really hard. That’s really hard.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 48:54
Yeah, it is. But you can do it, by being aware of what’s going on and then practicing it. It’s not easy. It’s not automatic. But gosh, I don’t know if anybody’s ever, you know, started a new habit or stopped an old habit. You know, yeah, it’s not easy, because our brains are made to be habitual, and they’re very routine oriented. Yeah, but you can change it, you just have to keep being aware of what it is that you want to change.

Kristen Carder 49:26
So you say that emotionally disengaging from toxic parents is the way to restore peace and self sufficiency. And I think that’s what you’re speaking to a little bit when you are talking about practicing. Just feeling guilty and prioritizing yourself anyway. Right? Can you say a little bit more about what it means to emotionally disengage from immature parents? What does it mean? Yes,

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 49:57
it’s really it’s really an important point. In fact, the name of my next book is disentangling from emotionally immature people. So yeah, so we get we get emotionally entangled with them in the sense that, you know, we, we accept the idea that they are the number one important person in the relationship. We accommodate ourselves to that by dissociating from our true feelings, thoughts needs in order to serve the other person. And I use that word serve advisedly, because it is like sort of the master servant kind of relationship that you can get into, you start acting like an appendage of that person. So that your reactions are not cleanly separate from what they’re doing. Instead, your reaction is based on their reaction, and it just gets into a ball of confusion. The cure for that is to be able to stand back and see what’s going on with your higher adult mind. Okay, the disengagement is that you stop reacting blindly and automatically to having your buttons pressed, okay. And instead, you start thinking about the outcome that you want, which is I want to be an individual who can make up her own mind or his own mind, in this situation, and has the right to be me. That’s what I want. And that’s what I’m heading for in this interaction with my parent. And that is the best way to begin to disentangle and emotionally disengage from the really unfair influence of the parent, now emotionally immature parents, because they are so self preoccupied, and they’re so egocentric. They want you to mirror them, they want you to be like them. And then there’s peace in the kingdom, okay. But your job is, in order to become a full fledged adult person, your job is to think about whether or not that call for mirroring is really what you want to do, or what you really feel at the moment, right, that inner separation between Yeah, I can feel the pull to please them or take care of them, or reassure them, whatever, right. And yet, I know that that’s not me. Because that’s not how I feel about. That’s not the outcome I want from this interaction. Right. So yeah, it’s very important to do that. Emotional disentangling, not only in that moment, but because it’s a step on your road to becoming an individual who knows herself or himself very well, and can keep up the boundaries that preserves a space for you to be yourself, you’ve got to have, you’ve got to have space.

Kristen Carder 53:22
You say that like it, like everyone should just know that, but when you say it to me, I’m like, Oh, really? I should have space for me. You know, it’s like, it’s a, I think that for most of my listeners, that is actually a novel concept.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 53:40
No, I know. Yeah, it really is. Because that’s not something that an emotionally immature parent can grant to a child. Right? That, because that would mean that they could see that child as separate from them. Yeah, they could see that child is psychologically real. They could view the inner world of that child as actually. Yeah, it’s actually real and important, have valid and valid Thank you. Yeah, and they can’t do that. Yeah,

Kristen Carder 54:12
yeah. Fascinating. I just appreciate you being here so much. And I really highly recommend that everyone read both of your books, adult children of emotionally immature parents and recovering from emotionally immature parents. And when do you suspect that your new book disentangling will be coming out?

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 54:34
Yes, that should be out in July just finished doing the final galley proofs on that. So it should be out in July.

Kristen Carder 54:40
That is so exciting. Do you have a website that people can go and more information, maybe preorder your book?

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 54:48
Yes. My website is Dr. Lindsay with N A li N D SAY gibson.com. And that’ll take you to my website which has the book Books and also blog and some articles in there. And as far as pre ordering the book it’s always best to do that. Not through the third party of me, but to go directly to the whatever bookstore or bookseller you want to use.

Kristen Carder 55:16
Amazing. Okay, well, I’ll definitely link your website in the show notes so people can find you really easily. Dr. Gibson, thank you for being here. I appreciate you so much.

Dr. Lindsay Gibson 55:26
Thank you. It’s been a wonderful conversation. Just loved it. Thank you.

Kristen Carder 55:30
A few years ago, I went looking for help. I wanted to find someone to teach me how to feel better about myself and to help me improve my organization productivity, time management, emotional regulation. You know, all the things that we adults with ADHD struggle with, I couldn’t find anything. So I researched and I studied and I hired coaches and I figured it out. And then I created focused for you. Focus is my monthly coaching membership where I teach educated professional adults how to accept their ADHD brain and hijack their ability to get stuff done. Hundreds of people from all over the world are already benefiting from this program and I’m confident that you will to go to I have adhd.com/focus for all details

Are you sure? Take a deep breath and ground yourself in your body.
Yes, I want to cancel

I'd rather pause my membership.