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How Do You Know You Had Emotionally Immature Parents?

How Do You Know You Had Emotionally Immature Parents?

Dr. Lindsay C. Gibson’s book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents offers a guide to recognizing, processing, and healing from the effects of emotionally immature parenting. But, how do you know that your parent (or parents) may be emotionally immature? And, what does that mean for you?


The first step on this journey is to listen to your gut. Do you remember a childhood where you felt anxious, unsure, or alone often? Or, do you have memories of your parent acting in a withdrawn, dismissive way? Or maybe, your parent pushed you towards perfecting in every way, leaving you feeling as if you could never meet their standards. These are just a few of the wide range of signs that you may have grown up with an emotionally immature parent. Even though you are an adult, these feelings and memories take deep roots and can affect the way that you approach relationships with others and, most importantly, with yourself.


There are generally four types of emotionally immature parents that Dr. Gibson describes in her book:

  1. Emotional ParentsThese parents are unpredictable and confusing, often varying suddenly between deep involvement with their child to dismissal and silence. These parents are driven by anxiety and often make others rescue them or, if others are not complacent, treat others like they have abandoned them entirely.
  2. Driven ParentsThese parents are incredibly busy and focused on progress and perfection. They often have such a tight schedule that their children may feel distant from them, often only interacting when the parent wants to have control over an aspect of their childrens’ lives. They may be seen as “egocentric” by others, but likely are unaware of this in themselves.
  3. Passive ParentsThese parents have a ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to parenting that often results in minimizing issues and relying on others to make decisions. These parents are often available to a certain point, but eventually become overwhelmed and leave their children to figure things out for themselves. Sometimes, these parents become enabling with an abusive or neglectful partner, choosing not to step in and protect their child when needed.
  4. Rejecting ParentsThis type of parent appears to be disinterested in having children or a family at all. They often seem bothered by the presence of their children, treating them more like burdens than valued and loved members of their family. They can be angry, mocking, and hostile towards others, and generally appear to want to be their own person rather than a parent.


Parents, like all people, are complex and will not fit into these categories perfectly. Some parents may exhibit multiple types of parenting styles, while others may even have some healthy behaviors mixed in. Each type is on a spectrum as well, with a range of mild to severe forms of each category existing. Regardless, if your parent aligns with one or many of these categories, it is likely they were emotionally immature to some degree when you were a child in their care.


Reading this kind of content can feel uncomfortable for people who are exploring this topic for the first time. You may feel like you didn’t have a “bad enough” childhood, or know that others “had it worse”. You may have feelings of guilt for labeling your parent, or have a sense that you are “betraying” them by considering their flaws. You may also have an instinctual feeling that something feels wrong about your childhood, but may be struggling to perfectly fit your memories into the parameters described here. All of these feelings are valid and common, and often come up for people who have some form of emotionally immature parents.


The reality is, many parents are doing as well as they can with the resources they have, but may have caused harm or pain despite their efforts. Doing the work to understand how their parenting affected you is a courageous step towards healing. Many people who engage in this journey come away with a deeper understanding of who they are, what they want/need, and how they can apply this knowledge to build secure, healthy relationships with their parents and other important people in their life.


You are not alone in this journey! Star Meadow is offering a low-cost counseling group centered around this book, where you have an opportunity to read and process with others who have similar experiences to you. This group is led by Hannah Williams, a intern therapist with lived experience as an adult with emotionally immature parents. Their goal is to help people to feel empowered and supported by a group of people who truly understand them. If this sounds like something you are interested in, reach out to [email protected] to set up a pre-group session or seek individual counseling services with them.


If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Gibson’s book is available at most major bookstores, as well as your local library in physical, e-book, or audiobook form.





The Young Adult’s Guide To Navigating Family Boundaries

The Young Adult’s Guide To Navigating Family Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are the building blocks of healthy, successful relationships, but they can be a challenge to navigate, especially as relationship dynamics change and evolve. In many families, children grow up with a clear sense of the family hierarchy and an understanding that the parents set the expectations and family “rules”. It can be a struggle then, when that child grows into an adult, to know how to navigate a new relationship dynamic. Even in loving and healthy families, many young adults struggle with feeling pressure to conform to their family’s expectations from earlier years, but stifling their own needs and wants for the sake of keeping the status quo can quickly lead to resentment and relationship issues. 


Let’s explore a few scenarios. You’ll notice in each one of these that the example of a boundary that could be set is more focused on what you will do in response to their choices. We cannot force other people to change their behaviors to be in alignment with our needs, but we can express our needs, and inform them what we will do if those are not respected.  


1.  Your family dresses modestly and chooses to not express themselves through clothing, hair, etc.  You have recently found joy expressing yourself in this way, but find yourself dyeing your hair back to your natural color, covering tattoos with makeup, and dressing in clothing that you don’t like when you visit them because they make harsh comments or quietly shake their head when they see you.

The intention: “I tone my self expression down so I don’t make anyone uncomfortable and I don’t draw negative attention to myself. 

What you’re reinforcing: “I can’t be myself with these people, they won’t understand me”

A boundary that might need to be set: “This is how I have chosen to express myself, and as long as my appearance is appropriate for the event and the weather, this is how I will look. 

The outcome of that boundary: Powerful authenticity, showing up as yourself regardless of what others think. 


2. Your family is very extroverted and enjoys large gatherings that go late into the evening. You are an introvert and find that after a few hours, you are wanting to leave, but tell yourself you have to stay. 

The intention:  “This is what our family does, I need to stay so I don’t offend anyone”

What you’re reinforcing: “Everyone else’s needs are more important than my own.”

A boundary that might need to be set: “I love you all and have had fun, just letting you know I’ll be heading out at 10”. 

The outcome of that boundary: Signaling that your needs are important and that you do not need to explain yourself. 


3.  You are parenting your children in a different way than you were parented. When your child refuses to eat dinner or has a meltdown after a conflict with a cousin, other family members jump in and attempt to discipline them. You are uncomfortable, but don’t want to speak up. 

The intention: “If I jump in, I’ll offend them because they’re disciplining exactly how I was raised. I’ll seem ungrateful or like I think I’m better than them”. 

What you’re reinforcing: “They don’t see me as a capable parent. My child is seeing me not step up even though I”m teaching them something different at home.” 

A boundary that might need to be set: “I am their parent, so any discipline or behavior management is my job, even if it looks different than how you would do it. If you continue to try to discipline him, we will need to head home early. ”

The outcome of that boundary: Confirmation that you get to make the parenting choices with your own children, and your child sees a healthy boundary being modeled. 


4.  When you spend time with your extended family, they routinely make rude comments about your weight and eating habits. In the past, if you ask them not to, you’re met with comments like “learn to take a compliment!” or  “we’re just worried about your health”. You eventually fake a smile or laugh and go along with it. 

The intention: “They don’t mean any harm, so I’ll just be quiet when they do it.” 

What you’re reinforcing: “I’m forcing myself to be ok with these comments so I don’t upset anyone else.”

A boundary that might need to be set: “Regardless of your intention, I’m not comfortable with you commenting on my weight or eating habits. If you continue to make those comments, I’ll have to excuse myself from the event”. 

The outcome of that boundary: An act of self-love, creating an environment for yourself that does not include shaming from family members. 



Boundaries, especially those that are disrupting long-standing patterns, are almost always met with some level of shock or surprise, some level of pushback, as well as some awkwardness. Managing the discomfort that comes with setting the boundary and staying firm in what you need, is usually worth what’s on the other side; authenticity, confidence, peace, and healthier relationships.  So, if no one has offered you this before, here is your official permission to redefine your boundaries, to say no, and to value your own needs and wants. 





How to Practice Self-Compassion

How to Practice Self-Compassion

From a young age, most of us are taught how to be kind, considerate, and compassionate toward others. But rarely are we told to show the same consideration to ourselves. This becomes even more true for individuals brought up in hyper-critical or neglectful homes....

Pride Month: How to Support Someone Coming Out

Pride Month: How to Support Someone Coming Out

June is Pride Month, so let’s take this opportunity to go over some ways you can support the LGBTQ+ folks in your life if they choose to share their experience with you. Your response should vary based on your relationship dynamic, but in general, these are some rules to follow: 


Listen and don’t assume: Every person’s experience is different, so be careful not to assume anything about their experience, needs, or preferences based on what you’ve seen other people do or examples in media. If you don’t know what questions to ask, a simple “tell me more about this” or “what has that been like for you” is a good way to signal you are open to more information and that you want to know their experience. 


Ask questions, but don’t expect to be educated: Ask questions about their experience, but if you are not familiar with the LGBTQ+ issues or terminology, be prepared to do some research instead of asking satisfying your curiosity at the expense of your loved one. Have questions related to the specifics of laws, family planning, brain chemistry, etc.? There are so many resources online that you can use instead of placing that burden on a singular person.


Don’t center the conversation on yourself: Many people respond with a well-meaning, “you could have told me” or “why didn’t you tell me sooner?”, usually intending to confirm to the person that they would have been open and supportive. Unfortunately, this changes the focus of the conversation to the person needing to apologize or manage your relationship instead of sharing their experience. They are telling you now, and that’s all that matters. 


Manage your fears and expectations on your own: Many people, especially parents, immediately start to think about the future when someone comes out to them, and this often focuses on safety and future expectations. Well-meaning people will often say that they are “just worried about how the world will treat you”, or that they “hate that this will make your life harder. LGBTQ+ folks are acutely aware of the discrimination they will face and do not need to be reminded of that. Respond to them the way you wish the world would. 


Resist the urge to make a “big deal”: While some folks love the idea of a celebration when they come out, most are just looking to know that your feelings toward them are no different than they were before you knew this part of their identity and that you will support them. While some outward demonstrations of support can be appropriate (things like putting up a pride flag, making requested changes to displayed pictures or items personalized with names, or sending care packages), make sure you also engage in the same things, conversations, and activities you used to do before they came out, remember they are still the same person! 


Acknowledge your gratitude: Trusting someone with this information is a huge deal, so be sure to communicate your gratitude that they told you, even if was later than you would have wanted or expected. 


Respect their privacy: This information is not yours to share unless you have explicit permission from your loved one. It is theirs to tell on their own, how they want to. So if you’re chatting with extended family members or friends, don’t bring it up (even in a positive light!) unless that person has given their consent. There may be reasons they are not wanting to share this information with certain people, and it undermines their trust in you. 


Commit to using correct terminology: If you haven’t had much exposure to LGBTQ+ folks or the community, it might feel like you are overwhelmed with new terminology and “rules”. No one will expect you to get it right all the time at first, but they will expect you to be actively learning and trying. Commit to asking what identifiers your loved one uses, and be willing to correct yourself when you make a mistake. If you do mess up, simply correct yourself and move on. Long, belabored apologies are unnecessary and again put the focus on you and your loved one having to manage your emotions. Here is a resource of common terms to get familiar with: https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms 






How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

Most people start the counseling process with a readiness for change. Some may not know the specifics yet for how they’d like that change to look (maybe that’s why they’re in therapy), but in some way, they are not 100% satisfied with the status quo. When you step...

6 Ways Counseling Helps You Get Unstuck

6 Ways Counseling Helps You Get Unstuck

Do you ever feel like a hamster on a wheel—as if you are going through the motions of life, but not actually moving forward? People often come to counseling when they are in this state of stuck-ness. Here’s how we’ve heard clients describe their personal brand of...

After School Connection: Let’s Find A Better Option Than “How Was Your Day”

After School Connection: Let’s Find A Better Option Than “How Was Your Day”

You’re with your kids at the end of the day and you want to connect with them, hear about their day, and be a resource for anything they’re struggling with. For most people, the question that slips out almost automatically is “how was your day?”. What comes next is usually some mixture of “fine” or a general shoulder shrug, then silence. Your kid is feeling unsure of how to proceed or what to say, and you’re left feeling frustrated that your connection attempt hasn’t worked. Here are some options to replace that age-old question. See which ones your kid responds to, and get ready for some authentic, connective conversation!


What made you laugh today?


Did you feel (nervous, angry, sad, etc.) at any point today?


Did you help anyone today? Did anyone help you?


How did you feel loved today?


What interesting questions did you ask today?


What does your body need for the rest of the day?


What do you wish people at school knew about you?


Can you tell me about an adult at school you like (or don’t like)? 


Is there anyone at school you want to get to know better?


What do you hope happens tomorrow?


While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the question “how was your day?” it can be overwhelming and some kids struggle to know where to start because of how general it is. More specific questions give them a starting place, and if you can tailor them to something specific you know about their day (ex: an assignment they were worried about, a lunch item they were excited to try, a friend they hoped to play with), those small details signal to your child how important you think their experiences are. 


Pick one or a few questions each day, but try not to make it feel like a pop quiz. Some kids respond well to knowing exactly what questions are coming, and others like the novelty of new ones, so experiment with switching between these two options. Timing and delivery can also be important here; imagine you came home from work and the second you opened the door, someone was requiring you to recount the details of your day. Sound stressful or overwhelming? We often do that to kids when they get off the bus or slide into the car. Try a warm greeting to let them know you’re excited to see them, but pause until they’re settled before you ask anything. Try the phrasing “I was thinking about you today and I wondered….” It’s a gentle lead-in but also clues them in that you thought their day was important enough that you thought of it while they were gone. 


If you’re still not getting much engagement, don’t be discouraged. You can always flip the roles and model for them by telling them about your day instead. Remember, the goal here is not to get your child to talk to you, it’s to connect with them in a way that’s engaging and comfortable for them, and some days or for some kids, that can be as simple as silence while they decompress from the day or listening to their choice of music. 





6 Ways to Improve Your Self Awareness

6 Ways to Improve Your Self Awareness

SPECIAL THANKS TO EMILY DE LA TORRE FROM PAX FAMILY COUNSELING FOR THIS GUEST BLOG POST! A few weeks ago I was providing a training for a business in Vancouver, WA on  “Exercising Emotional Intelligence in Sales.” During the presentation we went over the importance of...

5 Apologies That Don’t Work

5 Apologies That Don’t Work

Have you ever wondered why your apology might not be working? It has surely happened to all of us. Sometimes we end up asking for forgiveness and somehow it still isn’t good enough. Has it ever occurred to you that it may be in your best interest to reevaluate how you...

6 Red Flags of a Toxic Relationship

6 Red Flags of a Toxic Relationship

What is the Foundation of Your Relationship?: If your relationship is built on lies, control, manipulation, ego, or competition and not on trust, shared interests, love, kindness or respect, know that you have a problem. The foundation of your relationship determines...

Do We Have To Be Fighting to Be in Couples Therapy?

Do We Have To Be Fighting to Be in Couples Therapy?

When you think of couples therapy, most people conjure images of two people on a couch, angry and distant, trying to find a way to reconnect and “save” their marriage.  Sometimes that’s exactly what it looks like, but there are so many other situations where couples therapy can be beneficial. 

Below are some common reasons people seek (or should seek!) relational therapy:


  • Grief
    • Many people seek individual counseling when experiencing grief, but often this can be supplemented by couples therapy, especially if the grief is shared. The loss of a child, close family friend, or parent/in-law can all take a toll on the couple’s relational dynamic. 


  • Parenting differences
    • No two people have the exact same parenting style, and while hopefully you are generally on the same page as your co-parent, this doesn’t always happen. Even the smallest of parenting differences can cause friction and lead to disconnection or communication challenges. Some co-parents come to therapy together when they aren’t in a romantic relationship and have no plans to be. A healthy co-parenting relationship is so beneficial for the children involved, and therapy can help people seeking to repair communication, set boundaries, and heal wounds so they can be present for their children. 


  • Extended Family
    • Successfully navigating relationships with both sides of extended family is a common goal of couples therapy. Tension between a spouse and a family of origin can wreak havoc on a relationship, and can lead to challenging conversations with loyalties feeling pulled in all directions. 


  • Infertility
    • Often a grief process of its own, infertility can put a strain on a couple’s dynamic. The rollercoaster of emotions, changed expectations, and physical and financial hardships are incredibly challenging and many couples find it difficult to reconnect to one another through it all. 


  • Discernment 
    • Some couples come to therapy to decide if they want to put time and effort into repairing their relationship or separate, weighing all options. For those who decide they do want to remain together, more traditional couples therapy is then recommended. 


  • Intimacy
    • Intimacy changes for most couples as they navigate different seasons of their relationship, as well as outside influences/stressors. Identifying and expressing needs and reconnecting in this way is often a challenge, and this opportunity for connection can suffer when other communication challenges are present. 


  • Finances
    • When the stakes are high, tensions can be too. People approach finances in many different ways, but when there is a perceived threat to either your security (if your partner is more of a spender) or quality of life (if your partner is more of a saver), conflict and communication errors ensue. 


  • Acute and Chronic Illness
    • Many couples come in when navigating an acute or chronic illness. Acute illness often leads to shock, grief, and an immediate change in daily life. Chronic illnesses can bring a need for increased understanding and patience, and a change in labor division or a potential caretaking dynamic. 


  • Division of Labor
    • A major tenant of relationship well-being for many couples boils down to the basics of living in harmony, without either partner feeling they are taking on an unfair share of the domestic labor– things like laundry, dishes, keeping track of family events, even keeping toilet paper stocked in the house. These might seem inconsequential, but we all take cues about how we’re viewed and valued through these day-to-day experiences. 


While plenty of couples do come into therapy at a time of intense conflict and anger, there are many other reasons for seeking therapy with a partner (past or current). If you find yourself feeling disconnected, unsure of how to proceed or communicate successfully with your partner, now is the time to seek couples counseling! A skilled clinician can help you and your partner navigate the situations listed above (and so many others!) in a way that helps both people feel heard and secure as you work toward your goals.




Be a Better Mental Health Ally: 7 Stigmatizing Phrases and What To Say Instead

Be a Better Mental Health Ally: 7 Stigmatizing Phrases and What To Say Instead

Chances are, you’ve either said or heard each of these phrases. While not typically used with ill-intent, imagine for a moment being someone who experiences the mental health challenges described, and how you might interpret these statements. Small, intentional changes to the words we use can have a huge impact on others, so let’s go through some common phrases, why they might be harmful or contribute to stigma, and an easy alternative for each. 


  1. I’m so OCD about _____.


We all have things we like a particular way, or feel some level of discomfort with if they are not done “properly”. However, OCD is a debilitating disorder that goes way beyond preferences or a bit of discomfort. While some people with OCD have obsessions and compulsions related to cleanliness and organization, there are many different themes, and reducing OCD to fixations on cleanliness dismisses these. 


Instead try: It’s really important to me that the kitchen be clean, I feel uncomfortable when it’s messy!


  1. Everyone is a little ADD/ADHD.


Everyone is forgetful sometimes, struggles to focus on tasks sometimes, and struggles to find motivation sometimes. However, people with ADHD experience symptoms like these (along with many others) every single day, to a level that interferes with their functioning. Again, saying that “we all” have some level of this downplays the challenges people with ADHD face.  


Instead try: Wow, I am so forgetful today!


  1. They’re so crazy/psycho!


People often use these terms to refer to someone displaying erratic or concerning behavior, whether or not it is related to a mental health diagnosis. It’s even used to refer to behavior we just don’t like, or to discredit someone. It is rarely, if ever, used with compassion, and if we are referring to people who are experiencing psychosis, delusions, mania, etc. it’s dismissive of the very real and terrifying experiences these people are going through. 

Instead try: They seem to be struggling to stay connected to reality, I wonder if we can connect them to support?


  1. I also experienced ______ and I’m fine!

Trauma affects everyone differently, and we do not get to decide what is traumatic to someone. Research has shown that two people experiencing the same event (car crash, natural disaster, etc.) can have wildly different responses. Your brain’s response does not negate another brain’s different response.


Instead try: That sounds like it was terrifying for you, how can I support you?


  1. It’s been _____ months/years, you’re not over that yet?


Trauma also has no timeline, and isn’t something we “get over”.  With help from tools like therapy, medication, and peer support many people can make incredible strides in healing from what happened to them, but trauma has lasting effects on the brain and nervous system. 


This also applies to knowing someone has been managing a mental health diagnosis (OCD, Depression, Anxiety, etc.) long-term. Many people do experience significant improvements to a level where they no longer meet diagnostic criteria or identify previous challenges as a concern, but many people experience chronic mental health challenges that require lifelong management. 


Instead try: I know this has been hard, let’s talk about how we continue supporting you. 


  1. That person/the weather here is so bipolar!


While there are scientific uses for the term bipolar, most people more commonly use this term to casually refer to something/someone that changes rapidly and without warning. Again, speaking this way is dismissive of the intense and terrifying experience of shifting between manic and depressive episodes. 


Instead try: The weather changes so quickly here!


  1. Kill me/I wanted to die!


For people who have experienced suicidal ideation or attempts, hearing other people casually or jokingly say things like this can contribute to the stigma that often stops people from seeking help. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts (even passive ones!) it’s important to mention them so you can find help, but if you’re trying to find an impactful way to describe frustration, embarrassment, or shame, there are better options. Suicidal thoughts are more prevalent than you might think, and shouldn’t be the punchline in a joke. 


 Instead try: That was so embarrassing I wanted to run out of the room!

Now that you’re aware of the potentially harmful effects of these phrases, you might be surprised to notice how often you hear them used. To be a better mental health ally, first start but just noticing when you use them or when they come up for you, then try to consciously replace or correct yourself with something like the alternatives listed. Small changes make a big impact!




How to Practice Self-Compassion

How to Practice Self-Compassion

From a young age, most of us are taught how to be kind, considerate, and compassionate toward others. But rarely are we told to show the same consideration to ourselves. This becomes even more true for individuals brought up in hyper-critical or neglectful homes....