Emotional Dysregulation: Can You Recognize An Emotionally Immature Person?


Can you recognize an emotionally immature person? A person whose emotional age is far behind their chronological age.

Of course, this does not include children and adolescents. Children and adolescents are not expected to have a full grasp of their emotions. Part of their development process is learning how to regulate and control their emotional responses.

Yet once we reach adulthood, you will encounter two distinct types of people: the emotionally mature and the emotionally immature. You will be able to detect quite quickly the type you are dealing with.

Emotionally mature people master control of their emotions meaning they are emotionally regulated. Emotional regulation involves maintaining thoughts, behaviors and expressions within a socially acceptable range. Therefore, you are not going to break down in tears in public or in the middle of a tense work meeting. You are not going to start screaming at other people or make a scene in public. You are not going to hurl insults and name call your coworkers or clients. You are able to appropriately respond to life stressors. Emotionally immature people never develop this ability and tend to struggle with emotional dysregulation.

Emotional dysregulation is a term used in the mental health community to refer to an emotional response that is poorly modulated, and does not fall within the conventionally accepted range of emotive responses. Possible manifestations of emotional dysregulation include angry outbursts or behavior outbursts such as crying or melting down, high levels of anxiety, being inflexible, aggression towards self or others, inability to adapt, etc.

Emotion dysregulation is associated with many psychiatric disorders such as major depression, PTSD and C-PTSD, mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder/borderline personality disorder, and substance abuse.

Emotional maturity is defined by the ability to control your emotions and take full responsibility for your life.  A large part of being emotionally mature is having the ability to handle anger, disappointment, fear, jealousy, resentment, insecurity, and a myriad of other feelings appropriately. Emotional maturity is defined when you have the ability to experience these emotions and then let them go. People who are immature seem to remain stuck in these negative emotions, unable to get past them.

Emotional maturity is the ability to see life clearly and accurately, and to deal with it. Often we may not like how it is but we are mature enough to recognize that it is what it is. We are not in control of much in life–including circumstances and other people. For many of us, this is just a given.

Emotionally immature people cannot do this-they often expect life to be easy or comfortable all the time and if it isn’t—they look at who or what is to blame. They often try to control others and their environment since they struggle to control themselves. These are very childish people in terms of their emotional responses.

No matter who we are, we will all eventually meet, perhaps at work or our extended social circle, an impossibly immature person.  The person may look mature, and have many adult responsibilities, but emotionally, they are still a child. A person who can at times present themselves appropriately but can turn on a dime acting hurtful, rude, inappropriate, tactless,and dangerously childish whenever the need suits them.

Emotionally immature people can be extremely challenging to deal with, because their ability to interpret and react to the variety of life’s challenges is often impaired.

Emotional immature adults are known to throw “adult temper tantrums.”  Whereas adults tend to stay calm, emotionally immature adults are quick to anger and rage. They cannot control their emotions much like a toddler. They can cry uncontrollably and be unable to hold themselves together when confronted with the slightest inconvenience or the smallest amount of stress.

Now this is to not say we all do not have our moments. None of us are perfect and we all will have our off days. What I am talking about here is a pattern of behavior over time.

Emotionally immature people tend to struggle with emotional dysregulating i.e. the ability to regulate their emotion responses.

Whereas mature adults, respond not react, immature adults are impulsive and can blurt out hurtful, tactless words.  Mature adults recognize sometimes it is better to say nothing than to say something we will live to regret. We are not going to flip out on our boss because we got passed on for a promotion or tell our sister to screw off because we are upset with her. We are able to think before we speak as to not make things worse for ourselves (and others). This is because people who are psychologically mature have impulse control. Emotionally immature people never cultivated such an impulse control.

Often for one reason or another, the person never quite grew up.

Below are the telltale signs of an emotionally immature person:

  • A person who is emotionally immature will: be reactive; see himself as a victim; act out his emotions (intense or gut reactions, like explosive anger, sudden crying, etc)
  • A person who, like a two-year old will throw temper tantrums because they are entitled to get their way even to the detriment of those closest to them (they feel they have the right to attack anyone who thwarts their wants, needs, goals)
  • A person who is be self-centered and concerned with self-protection; appear to always be justifying his actions to himself or others
  • A person will be manipulative; be motivated by fear or a feeling that he “has to” do something,” as well as a need to avoid failure, discomfort, and rejection
  • A person who whines & complains frequently or literally acts like a crybaby
  • A person who must be right and is incapable of hearing differing viewpoints
  • A person who escalates things emotionally
  • A person who loves to blame and name call
  • A person who has a low frustration tolerance. They are not able to deal with every day stress. As the result, they will become excessively emotional
  • A person who speaks recklessly without thinking about potential consequences (adults resist the urge to react in order to avoid shooting out hurtful words/action–they self-soothe). Such a person believes they can blurt out whatever they think or feel even if it hurts or alienates those around them
  • A person who bullies. Adults respect boundaries.  Emotionally immature adults do not
  • A person who has immature defense mechanisms. Children tend to regard the best defense as a strong offense.  Similarly an emotionally immature adult attacks anyone who expresses a viewpoint different from what they want
  • A person who is passive-aggressive. Subtle insults, sullen behavior, stubbornness, or a deliberate failure to accomplish required tasks.

As we grow up and mature, we learn that much of life we cannot control including other people and circumstances. We recognize life is constant change. The ability to adapt and evolve is a must.

We recognize much of life is unfair.

We do not get the job we deserve. We are passed over for the promotion. We have health problems. Financial problems. People we love pass away. Friendships fade, relationships end. People we love move away. We do not have perfect parents, the perfect partner. We are not perfect partners or parents either.

Yet there is a sense of humility in the emotionally mature. With emotionally maturity comes the recognition that many things in life are complicated. We develop the ability to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. We humble ourselves when necessary. We also recognize most things will pass and get better. If we let them. But emotionally immature people cannot get out of their own way.

Emotionally mature people recognize the complexities of life. We will not always get what we want. We will be disappointed. We cannot always get our way. Things will not always go according to our plans. Other people will let us down. We will let ourselves down.

As a counselor, often what brings people initially into treatment is an ongoing struggle with an important relationship in their lives: spouse, child, parent, etc. Our level of maturity will determine how we manage everything in life including our relationships.

Emotional mature people are able to acknowledge others are entitled to live their lives the way they see fit, to not like us; to leave us. We understand others have the right to speak badly about us, or even to hate us. This is not to say we do not try to discuss it with the person at hand or make things better but we know that this is not always possible. As I wrote on a previous post, this is where it is important to be psychologically flexible.

Emotionally mature people recognize we are only in control of ourselves. This is where our power is. We can be agents of positive change or negative change, the choice is ours. Mature people recognize they are not entitled to anything in life. A mature individual does not lose control and give into irrational thoughts simply because they haven’t gotten their way.

As a clinician, it surprises me how many people growing up, were never taught coping skills. I have seen many people were never taught to self soothe or regulate their emotions. They never learned how to effectively handle the problems in their life or deal with stressors. Some people will not be able to cope with the difficulties of life and do not have the ability to face and overcome obstacles. These people will continue to exhibit childish behaviors.We all have our bad days but if you generally function as a grown-up, the more clear you are about what qualifies grown-up behavior, the more you will be able to stay a grown-up even when you are interacting with someone who is acting like a child.

Emotion regulation is essential for healthy functioning (Grecucci, Theuninck, Frederickson, & Job, 2015). If you experience emotion dysregulation, you should consider seeking qualified professional help.

If you are interested in scheduling a session:


Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed., LPC, NCC

Theodorou Therapy, LLC

590 Franklin Ave.

Suite 2

Nutley, NJ 07110



Adverse Childhood Events: How a Rotten Childhood Can Linger On

Happiness, trust, love, self-worth, the ability to be open and vulnerable–all can be lost through the ordeal of a bad childhood.

Often in therapy sessions, many adult patients trace their current struggles back to their childhood. Some people really struggle with moving pass their formative years if they experienced pain and adversity. Freud famously posited that our lives are pretty much determined by events in our early childhood. We all know counseling gets a bad rap for its tendency to blame parents for all the problems a person has long into adulthood.  To state the obvious– the case can be made that blaming parents for adult problems in a cop-out. It is of course easier to blame your parents than take personal responsibility. At some point, it is fair to say, whoever we are and whatever we may have experienced, we do need to let it go. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done for those who experienced childhood as unstable and uncertain.  The wounds of a rotten childhood can be all but healed. The pain of the past haunts many who walk among us.

Anger taken too far is often at the center of many therapy sessions. As a clinician I have seen people express deep-seated anger at their parents (and I am talking well into middle age). From my experience as an in home counselor for a mental health agency, which is often mandated counseling, I also got to see firsthand the impact traumatic events had on the development of children. Many children who experienced trauma during their formative years developed debilitating anger. How this anger presented varied but the impact being detrimental to a client’s mental health would always hold true. I often wondered how these experiences would impact these youngsters in their adulthood, long after I would be gone from their lives.

Growing up with unstable parents is inevitably hard. Living in an unpredictable home environment can be severely traumatizing. It is all to easy to blame one’s upbringing for the problems that follow us through life.

Parents are an easy target to dump blame on. I struggle as a clinician to pinpoint down an exact age where parents need to stop being so central to treatment–is it by college? One’s 20s? 30s? Never? There is no clear-cut answer. And while it is not beneficial to blame your parents for all your problems, there’s no doubt that parents and other caregivers are pivotal figures in a child’s development. We also can see for some people, the impact is still very much present in their adult lives. The effects of a difficult childhood can linger long after it is over.

Our early childhood experiences do shape us to a large extent. For many of us our earliest memories are positive–times filled with great love and affection from our parents or caregivers. Many of my earliest memories in life are of much affection from my parents and of me constantly asking my father, “UP” (up as in to carry me around because I loved being carried by “daddy”–probably a bit passed the age I should have been asking!) These are fond memories I hold dear and the feelings of love from that time I can still feel within me.

Children need to feel loved and valued. If they don’t, it will almost certainly impact their mental health and well-being.

Yet the sad reality is many people experience disruptive and harmful events that hinder their psychological and emotional development. Example of such events include parental divorce, death of a parent, frequently moving and switching schools, abuse (physical, mental or emotional), parental mental illness, and poverty.  Many times childhood adversities are interrelated. For instance, a parental divorce can lead to a change in socioeconomic status for many families. Research has found that people who experienced “ACEs” are at a much greater risk to develop mental health issues in adulthood include being a greater risk for suicide.

ACEs are “adverse childhood experiences” that can bring on struggles for a person in their adulthood. ACE is well-studied part of developmental psychology. Sadly people with a history of ACEs often pass on the dysfunction to the next generation. These are events beyond a young person’s control. Many times in transgenerational family therapy the counselor examines the interactions of clients across generations as a method to understand and explain current problems within the family system, as well as predicting future difficulties. A genogram can map out family relationships across the generations.

I copied and pasted below a Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire for you to take to see how many you may have experienced.

While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:

1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often …
Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?
Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often …
Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?
Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever…
Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way?
Try to or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with you? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

4.Did you often feel that …
No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?
Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
5. Did you often feel that …
You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you?
Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
7. Was your mother or stepmother:
Often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?
Sometimes or often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard?
Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
10. Did a household member go to prison?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
Now add up your “Yes” answers: _______ This is your ACE Score

Many people may take this questionnaire and answer one or none. Other people, regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or gender, may find themselves checking off yes to quite a few adverse childhood events.

So why does this matter?  For one, such adverse events impact the development of one’s identity which takes place across the lifespan. If you experienced the aforementioned events in childhood, most likely basic survival took over for you, which impedes the normal development of self.  Worse as a child we have no frame of reference. Thus one experiences this dysfunction as normal because the behavior of their caregivers is all they know. Often people get stunted at the age of said trauma. That is why as a therapist we may diagnose someone at being at the emotional development of a 12-year-old yet their chronological age is 45.

The task of identity development is challenging enough in and of itself when one comes from a safe, secure, upbringing. If one is struggling with the after effects of development trauma, the process will be especially difficult to master. The adult consequences of trauma are vast–often resulting in substance abuse issues, depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, difficulty in personal relationships, and difficulties with maintaining employment. Often our childhood trauma impacts the way we are effectively able to parent out own children.

Furthermore, we see broken adults come from homes where abuse-physical, emotional, mental was present and are more likely to develop complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD).

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD) is characterized by difficulties with emotional regulation, consciousness and memory, self-perception, difficulties in relationships with other people, distorted perceptions, and negative effects on one’s  life.

Even if you find you have not experienced the adverse childhood events of the questionnaire, none of us grow up unscathed from pain and hardship, in whatever form it presents in your life. Learning how to deal with negative emotions and experiences are a part of growing up. You grow up every day, no matter what your age.

No matter what your past, it is NEVER too late to better your life with positive experiences and overcome the long shadow of childhood adversity. Don’t get stuck in the past which hinders your ability to live the life you want in the present. It is important to remember even in adulthood such events can be remedied. Counseling can help you to process and overcome the trauma of one’s childhood. Often we need to work through the pain in order to release it. Repressing it, denying it, or suppressing our feelings will not remedy the situation. If you are willing to put in the work, you can tap into your inner resiliency and lead a happier, healthier life.


Who Are You? The fallout of being raised in a Dysfunctional Family

We all think we know who we are…right? But do we really? I can guarantee whoever you may consider yourself to be, you are MORE than that.  As people, we have a way of defining ourselves by our stations in life, the way others view us, our circumstances, and so on and so forth. Think about it. Do you allow yourself to be defined by others? By your spouse? Your family? Your friends? Your profession? Do you define yourself by the different “roles” you play: wife, mother, husband, father, son, daughter, friend, teacher, nurse? By your religious beliefs? Political party? If someone asks you who you are, what would you say?

Many people come to therapy in the midst of an identity crisis. Newly single. In a state of crisis because they forgot what it is like to “be on their own.” No longer able to identify as someone’s husband. Or wife. Recent college grad. No idea what direction to move in without the safety net of school and the identity of being a “student.” Empty nester. Kids have flown the coop and without the identity of “full-time mom” left to wonder, “Who am I now?” And the list goes on and on. As people, we tend to become so identified with our roles that we feel at a lost if we are to lose them. It is often during these times of change that we begin to question, “Who am I really?”

Many people have a shaky sense of self.  Even in the BEST of times or in the best of circumstances. Some people live their whole life without truly defining who their authentic self is. It is easy to get caught up in letting ourselves be defined by others or by the stage of life we are in. It is the path of least resistance to let our roles or circumstances in life define us. Yet we all have heard a common regret of the dying is that they didn’t live a life true to who they really are.  Be that as it may many of us do not even know who THAT is. Being asked to define who we ARE is a tremendous question…seems simple, but hard to grasp.

Developing a true sense of self is a pivotal part of becoming a mature, healthy functioning adult. It can take time and be challenging. Without a healthy sense of self, a person can develop anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems in addition to  physical health problems.

Defining oneself can be a challenge growing up in a functional family. Yet many of us grow up in DYSfunctional families which can make it especially hard to separate who we are from who our family is. Many people who come from dysfunctional families or have been abused struggle with this question. There is fallout from being raised in a dysfunctional environment because we often face emotional and psychological trauma during our upbringing. When you grow up in a dysfunctional household, parents can be substance abusers, emotional abusers, physical abusers, sexual abusers, or just plain TOXIC, with the scars remaining long after childhood is over.  While a person may have long moved away from their family of origin or developed some strong boundaries to deal with their interactions with toxic family members, the legacy of their upbringing follows them.  Especially since people who are raised in a dysfunctional environment may currently be dealing with some real mental health or emotional challenges due to their upbringing.

Don’t get me wrong. Not ALL adult children of dysfunctional families have emotional or mental health problems. We are all the best judge of our own experiences and many people overcome a difficult childhood with no bumps in their proverbial road. Yet oftentimes when people come into therapy, regardless of their presenting problem, the challenges they are facing can be traced back to the psychological fallout from their childhood.

When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, your family’s words, actions, and attitudes HURT you.  Because of this trauma, you grow up different from other children, often being asked to hide who you are to meet and service your parents’ needs. Dysfunctional means it doesn’t work, even if it appears like it does. The question may be for you not if your family of origin was dysfunctional but to what degree was the dysfunction apparent.

A dysfunctional family LACKS boundaries. Boundaries are what separate you from me and me from you. Boundaries are an important part of existing as a separate entity. Thus if you grow up in a family who lacks clear boundaries, this is going to impact your ability to develop a healthy identity separate from your family of origin.

You may be asking yourself, well how do I know if I grew up in a dysfunctional family? Below are some signs you are still being adversely impacted by your childhood:

  1. You take yourself very seriously and have difficulty having fun. People from dysfunctional families are hypervigilant to possible “threats” and are often scanning their environment. Oftentimes a dysfunctional home environment is unpredictable and unstable. Adult children of dysfunctional families struggle to relax and let loose.
  2. You constantly seek approval. I am talking to you people pleasers. Our early relationships impact our adult relationships. Often in dysfunctional families, children get parentified. Parentification is a role reversal where the child acts as the parent due to the emotional immaturity or psychological limitations of the parent.  Parentified children are inappropriately given the role of filling their PARENTS’ needs, instead of the other way around. And thus in many cases a people pleaser is born.
  3. You are either super responsible or super irresponsible. Dysfunctional environments are usually chaotic. Thus a child may overcompensate by becoming super responsible which carries into adulthood. Or the reverse may take place where the child “gives up”  because they feel nothing they do will make a difference (this can often lead to substance abuse in later years).
  4. You don’t know what normal is.  You may know your family is NOT normal but you don’t know what a healthy, functioning family really looks like.  You may even wonder if there are families out there who resemble the families you see of tv (such as my personal favorite family—Full House–90s tv family reference right there for you).
  5. You feel like a victim. Perhaps this is how you got your needs met as a child.  It is a powerful and manipulative way to get what you want. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, it may feel threatening  to you to directly ask others for what you want and need because as a child you may have been shamed for expressing yourself.
  6. You are extremely judgemental. Of yourself–and others.  You were not shown unconditional love growing up, and instead became judgemental.  Your parents may have put their judgements on you and others. In many ways you grew up feeling like you never quite measured up. Perhaps you were subject to criticism or verbal abuse and have internalized those messages.
  7. You lack self-control–binge eating, substance abuse, job hopping, bed hopping. You may have lacked structure in your family of origin–making it hard to develop discipline and self-regulate your emotions. You are impulsive and find it hard to manage long-term goals. You may be someone who sacrifices what you want most for what you want in the moment.
  8. You worry a lot about the future. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, you never know when the other shoe was going to drop. You may struggle with a chronic, low-grade anxiety. It is almost impossible for you to be at peace.
  9. You feel lonely. You never developed as an individual, always having to cater to the needs of the family system at large. Even when in the presence of others, you cannot shake a sense of loneliness within you. You may be hyperaware of the feelings of others but struggle to really identify and express what you feel.  It is common for adult children of dysfunctional families to be codependent.
  10. You fear being abandoned.  You couldn’t rely on your mom or dad–maybe mom or dad left when you were young or maybe they didn’t physically leave you–but left you emotionally. You may constantly be scanning your adult relationships for any sign someone, whether a friend or romantic partner, is going to jump ship on the relationship. You may even have a self-destructive side to your personality– creating situations that ensure people leave by being overbearing, controlling, overly critical. You struggle with self sabotage in life and in your relationships.
  11. You are reactive. This comes back to boundaries. You can’t tell where you end and someone else begins. Someone says something that triggers you and you react. (note I say you react, not respond. Reacting is impulsive whereas responding is thought out). You struggle with being tolerant of those who do not think what you think or feel what you feel. You grew up so enmeshed in your family of origin that you struggle with being differentiated as an adult in your relationships.

These are just some of a multitude of ways you can begin to see the effects of being raised in a dysfunctional family. To overcome our dysfunctional upbringing we need to first be able to recognize how it is still effecting us. All of these behaviors act as distractions to developing one’s true sense of self.

Once we understand how our upbringing is still present in our adult lives, we need to stop identifying with the roles we played in childhood. We coped using maladaptive behaviors when we were children because we needed to cope in a situation where we were largely powerless. Children NEED their parents to survive. If your parents are unhealthy or abusive, you most likely will develop maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with the pain and toxicity in your environment. Adaptive coping mechanisms improve functioning whereas maladaptive measures do not. Unfortunately as children, these maladaptive coping strategies can be quite effective in mitigating our pain and anxiety, at lease in the short-term. The problem is we often continue these maladaptive behaviors into adulthood. Once we recognize how the roles we played as children are still present in our adult lives, we then need to stop clinging to them. There is comfort in holding on to a familiar identity even a negative one.  Yet just like we outgrow pants and shoes, we can outgrow our families of origins. For many of us who get therapy or embark on a journey of self-discovery, you may realize you already have.  But to open yourself up to finding and becoming your true self–you need to recognize the grip your childhood still has on you. By loosening the grip on the past, it will open you up to many possibilities–including discovering who you REALLY are!

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in seeking counseling with me: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/erin-doyle-theodorou-nutley-nj/243617 Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC


590 Franklin Ave. Suite 2 Nutley, NJ 07110 973-963-7485 etheodorou@theodoroutherapy.com