Have you noticed any correlations between adult children of emotionally immature parents (ACEIPs) and leaving their mental health professional(s) stumped and/or unable to help them? If so, what suggestions would you provide for the individuals?
Internalizer ACEIPs appear to be handling things better than they really are. They typically don’t show the debilitating symptoms or dramatic acting out of some psychotherapy clients. Their distress comes more from a disconnection from the self, chronic self-criticism, and difficulties in expressing boundaries. They feel emotionally lonely yet find it hard to reach out for help or let people know what they need.
When starting therapy, ACEIPs should alert their therapists that they minimize their distress and need help taking their feelings completely seriously. It helps to let the therapist know that they have already have good insight, can put things in perspective, and think rationally about their feelings. But what they need help with is exploring who they really are, untangling guilt and self-doubt, and getting to the bottom of their true feelings, no matter how confusing these may be. Otherwise, the therapist is likely to see them as much more capable than they really feel.
Different therapies are helpful for different issues. Therapies that focus on evidence-based techniques for specific symptoms may not be the best for addressing the broader emotional injuries which can arise from a childhood with emotionally immature parents. Instead, the ACEIP may feel better served by more emotionally-oriented and existential therapies.
Many people benefit from therapies that emphasize symptom-relief and life skills. Indeed, much of our popular psychological training emphasizes these therapeutic approaches. But ACEIPs need to find a therapist who understands the particular issues of growing up with emotionally immature parents. Therapists help most who understand the underlying distress of chronic invalidation in high-functioning ACEIPs and are not distracted by their surface competence. ACEIPs benefit most from an attachment-informed therapy that can work through deeper emotional issues to develop self-acceptance and self-connection. In addition to working with therapists familiar with ACEIP issues, my favorite therapy approaches that get at the deeper emotional complexities of the whole person are Internal Family Systems (IFS), Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP), and Bruce Ecker’s Coherence Therapy.