5 Signs Your Parents Are Emotionally Unavailable

Have you ever been in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable person?

These people are reluctant to let anyone get too close.

They dislike intimacy of any kind, and are reluctant to share their inner thoughts and feelings.

They may be friendly and helpful, but they always maintain a psychological distance.

You may hear them complain that relationships make them feel smothered or trapped.

You’ve probably heard about emotional unavailability in the context of dating, but it can be a problem in parent-child relationships too.

Growing up with a parent who wasn’t emotionally present can leave you psychological scars, together with an unhealthy set of ideas about people and relationships.

Here are five signs that you have an emotionally unavailable parent:

1. They want to talk about what you are doing rather than how you are feeling

Emotionally unavailable people do not like to talk about feelings, as the subject makes them uncomfortable.

They prefer to talk about events and facts.

If they are forced to discuss their emotions, they will switch to another topic of conversation as soon as possible.

This can leave you feeling uncared for or lonely.

2. They have different personas inside and outside the family

Because they often have problems relating to people in a deep and meaningful way, emotionally unavailable people wear a variety of masks that change depending on who they are with.

Of course, it’s normal to adapt your behavior slightly to fit in with those around you.

However, if someone takes this to extremes, it can be a sign that they are incapable of demonstrating authentic emotion.

3. They are in denial about their problems

If you’ve ever tried to talk to an emotionally unavailable person about their problem, you’ll know that it’s an exercise in futility.

They don’t want to admit that they have difficulties relating to other people and, even if they do, they won’t be willing or able to discuss the matter.

Your parent might become angry or upset if you so much as hint that they could handle their feelings in a healthier way.

This can leave you feeling frustrated.

In the worst case scenario, this kind of confrontation can drive a permanent wedge between you.

4. You don’t feel they really know you

Do you suspect that your parents don’t know – or care – about your values, dreams, hopes, and fears?

Do they seem slightly intimidated, or even afraid, of the real you?

Emotionally unavailable parents may take their parenting duties seriously and strive to meet all your material needs, but fail to appreciate that you are an individual as well as their child.

If you grew up with a mother or father who saw parenting as a checkbox exercise rather than a chance to build a loving relationship that lasts a lifetime, you might have been left feeling stranded.

As an adult, you probably feel that being friends with them will never be an option.

5. You have a habit of pursuing unhealthy relationships with distant individuals

The way people think and behave in relationships often reveals how their family of origin operated, and whether their parents were emotionally available.

If you tend to choose friends and partners who are slow to get close and quick to pull away, you might be re-enacting the relationship you have with your parents.

Perhaps you’ve also noticed that you feel desperate for recognition in your relationships, and that you will even expend considerable time and effort in earning validation from others.

This kind of behavior mirrors that seen in children who don’t receive adequate attention from their parents.

What should you do if your parents are emotionally unavailable?


You cannot force someone to become emotionally available.

Most people, particularly those who have been stuck in the same patterns of behavior for years, are reluctant to change.

If one or both of your parents are avoidant or distant, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to persuade them to act differently.

If they decide to try self-help measures or go to therapy, they will benefit from your support, but the best approach is to accept their limitations.

You may need to come to terms with the fact that they haven’t met your emotional needs, but as an adult your task is to accept the reality of the situation.

If this is an issue that causes you a lot of pain, it would be a good idea to talk to a therapist who specializes in family dynamics.

You can learn to build healthier, more enjoyable relationships.