Skip links

Differentiating Asian Cultural Values vs. Emotionally Immature Parenting

A question that is frequently discussed in our Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents Support Group is, “How much of my challenges with my parent(s) are rooted in cultural differences vs. in emotional immaturity? And how can I tell?” 

In many Asian cultures, familial bonds and respect for elders are deeply ingrained values that shape the fabric of society. However, within these cultural norms, it’s essential to distinguish between healthy expressions of tradition and emotionally immature parenting. While certain behaviors may be attributed to cultural heritage, it’s crucial to recognize when these cross into harmful territory.

Understanding Asian Cultural Values

Asian cultural values often prioritize family unity, respect for authority, and a strong work ethic. These values are typically instilled from a young age and play a significant role in shaping individuals’ identities and behaviors within the family and broader community.

An image of a house in asian styling, representing Asian cultural values. Learn more about the help an Asian American therapist in Los Angeles can offer with addressing differing cultural values. Search for an Asian therapist in Los Angeles, CA to learn more.
  1. Respect for Elders: In many Asian cultures, respecting elders is paramount. Children are taught to obey and defer to their parents and other authority figures within the family hierarchy.
  2. Collectivism: Asian cultures tend to prioritize the needs of the group over individual desires. Family decisions are often made collectively, with consideration given to how choices will impact the family unit as a whole.
  3. Education and Achievement: Academic and professional success are often highly valued in Asian cultures. Parents may place significant emphasis on their children’s education and career paths as a means of ensuring future stability and success.
  4. Filial Piety: The concept of filial piety, or honoring and respecting one’s parents and ancestors, is deeply ingrained in many Asian cultures.
  5. Harmony and Avoidance of Conflict: Maintaining harmony within relationships and avoiding confrontation are important cultural values in many Asian societies.
  6. Modesty and Humility: Humility and modesty are valued traits, and individuals are often encouraged to downplay their accomplishments and avoid boasting.

Recognizing Emotional Immaturity

Lindsay C. Gibson, author of Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, identifies the following personality traits or tendencies of an emotionally immature parent. 

An older Asian woman rests her head on her crossed arms while looking into the distance. Learn how an online Asian therapist in New York can offer support with addressing cultural differences. Search for multicultural therapy in Los Angeles, CA or contact a culturally sensitive therapist in Los Angeles, CA.
  1. They are rigid and single-minded: There is only room for one opinion, and that is theirs. They may become very defensive or upset when you have other ideas. 
  2. They have low stress tolerance: Regulating emotions is difficult for them, and they tend to overreact. They expect others to soothe them by doing what they want. They tend to blame others and discount facts. Their emotions are intense but shallow. 
  3. They do what feels best: They tend to do what feels best, not considering the consequences or impact on others. 
  4. They are subjective, not objective: When they assess and interpret a situation, they tend to focus on how they feel about a situation, rather than on what is actually happening. What feels true is much more important to them than what is true.
  5. They have little respect for differences: They believe everyone should see things the way they do, and may become annoyed when someone has a different point of view. 
  6. They are egocentric, self-preoccupied, and self-involved: They tend to be self-centered, and their own needs, desires, and emotions consistently take precedence over those of their children.
  7. They are self-referential, not self-reflective: All conversations tend to lead back to themselves. They may be able to act like a better listener if they are more socially skilled, but they do not show genuine interest or curiosity in their conversation partner. 
  8. They like to be the center of attention: They tend to dominate the group’s attention and don’t like when the focus is redirected to someone else. 
  9. They promote role reversal: They relate to their child as if the child were the parent, and they were the child. They might treat the child like a confidant, discussing topics that are inappropriate for a child, such as marital or financial issues. They may expect unilateral praise, comfort, and validation from the child, as a child might seek from a parent. 
  10. They have low empathy and are emotionally insensitive: Their lack of empathy leaves their child feeling unseen and unheard. They may have an uncanny ability to sense or read other people’s feelings, but they don’t use this understanding to deepen emotional closeness. Instead, the focus may turn to their own reaction to the other’s feelings. 
  11. They are often inconsistent and contradictory: They display inconsistent emotions and behaviors. They might toggle back and forth between being loving or detached based on their mood in the moment. 
  12. They develop strong defenses that take the place of the self, they fear feelings: They may unconsciously suppress their deeper feelings, meaning they have a limited capacity for emotional intimacy. Any strong or genuine emotions may make them feel too exposed and vulnerable to bear. 
  13. They focus on the physical instead of the emotional: They are much more comfortable taking care of their children’s physical needs, health, and things like education than their emotional needs. Children might find that their parents are much more attentive when they are sick, but seem blind to or uninterested in their emotional experiences. 
  14. They can be killjoys: Instead of encouraging or joining in their children’s excitement or joys, they might choose to rain on their parade. This might look like an abrupt change of subject or warning their child to not get their hopes up. 
  15. They don’t experience mixed emotions: Their emotional experiences tend to be one-tracked and very black-and-white. They don’t simultaneously experience different emotions that reflect the complexities or nuances of a situation. 

Is it Culture? Or is it Emotional Immaturity?

For the sake of this blog, we will be zooming in on just a few of the above-mentioned traits that are commonly confused with Asian cultural values and norms.

As a caveat, it’s crucial to be mindful not to equate cultural stereotypes as fact, as doing so can perpetuate harmful misconceptions and reinforce biases. Asian communities are not a homogeneous monolith, and tendencies of emotional immaturity should not be equated to or dismissed as a cultural norm.

A close up of the small typed words that read "are you ok?". Learn how an Asian American therapist in Los Angeles can help improve emotional awareness. Search for culturally sensitive therapy in New York to learn more about culturally sensitive therapy in New York, and other support.

Low Empathy, Emotional Insensitivity 

A lack of empathy and emotional awareness are not tenets of any culture. Empathy may simply be expressed in different ways across different cultures. The next time you are expressing an emotion to your parent(s), try observing their response. 

  • Are they expressing genuine interest in your feelings? Do they ask follow-up or clarifying questions? Do they offer practical support or solutions? Do they give you a meaningful pat on the back or squeeze your hand? Do they cook your favorite food for the next meal? What is their energy like? Do you feel cared for or seen after the conversation, even if it wasn’t explicitly expressed in words?
  • Do they change the subject or end the conversation? Do they turn the focus back to them? Does the conversation center on their reaction to your feelings, rather than on your feelings or experience? Do you sense disinterest or discomfort in response to your feelings? Do you feel frustrated, empty, ashamed, or lonely after the interaction?

Strong Defenses and Fear of Feelings

A common stereotype exists that Asian people are more emotionally reserved and much less expressive, at least less so than their Western counterparts. While emotional closeness might feel awkward and uncomfortable in some Asian families, the distinguishing factor is openness to the idea. An emotionally immature parent will typically not be open to the idea of becoming more in tune with their stronger, deeper emotions, let alone those of their child. An emotionally healthy parent may show a willingness to try, even if they may feel uncomfortable, awkward, or bewildered at first. You may witness the emotional connection growing stronger over time, even if it is gradual. 

Little Respect for Differences

As many Asian cultures tend to prioritize the collective, a parent may have difficulty understanding individualistic thinking and behavior. They may believe it’s wrong and perhaps even become upset. However, are they willing to make the effort to understand? Do they come around after they have cooled down? Are they able to acknowledge that your different views are due to differences in culture and upbringing, or do they take it to mean something negative about your character? Or do they take it as a personal attack against them? Are they willing to respect you as an individual with autonomy, even if they may not necessarily agree with your decisions or views?

A child in an oversized jacket sits at an office desk while appearing to work. This could represent child parentification and emotional immature parents. This could represent the effects of stress that an Asian American therapist in Los Angeles can address with multicultural therapy in Los Angeles, CA. Search for culturally sensitive therapy in New York to learn more.

Promoting Role Reversal

This may be an especially confusing one for children of immigrants who grew up taking care of paperwork, making calls, and speaking to service professionals in their parents’ stead. This may be a common experience whether your parent is emotionally immature or not. The emotionally immature parent, however, will not only rely on their child for practical support due to language barriers, but they will also rely on their child for emotional support and caretaking without any reciprocation. Another key difference is that they are typically unaware of the role reversal dynamic, the part they play in it, or the impact it has on their child’s psyche. In fact, they may even feel entitled to their child’s unconditional support and validation, even in matters that are not age-appropriate. 


Distinguishing between Asian cultural values and emotionally immature parenting requires a nuanced understanding of both cultural norms and psychological principles. It’s essential to recognize that cultural values can coexist with healthy parenting practices that prioritize emotional well-being and individual autonomy. This understanding is especially important for the healing of adult children of emotionally immature parents, whose internal experiences have often been denied, dismissed, and minimized.

Seek Culturally Informed Therapy at Yellow Chair Collective in Los Angeles or New York

If you are seeking therapy specifically tailored to your needs, consider reaching out to the culturally-informed therapists at Yellow Chair Collective. We understand that being a child of emotionally immature parent(s) can be distressing and have pervasive, negative impacts on different aspects of your well-being. We also understand that there may be unique cultural and contextual factors that may influence your experiences.

At our Los Angeles, CA, and New York City, NY-based therapy practice, we have many skilled, culturally sensitive therapists who can provide an empowering therapeutic experience. For your added convenience and simplicity, we offer online therapy for anyone in the state of California or New York. We know that navigating the journey as a child of an emotionally immature parent(s) is challenging and painful, and we want to help you move past whatever trauma is holding you back. Follow the steps below to begin.

Begin Working with the Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents Support Group

You don’t have to struggle alone as you navigate healing as a child of emotionally immature parent(s). Our team of therapists is happy to offer support groups across the country. You can join the support group at YCC by following these simple steps:

  1. Fill out our registration form here to be put on the waitlist for our next cohort.
  2. The team will reach out to you when sign-ups are open.
  3. Start your healing journey alongside a community!

Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective

There are many options for treatment using online therapy in California and New York, it just depends on what you’re needing. And while we certainly service Asian American folks, we also work with individuals from other cultures, too. So, whether you’re needing support in overcoming anxiety, burnout, trauma, or PTSD, we can help. Likewise, we serve teens and couples in need of support, too. So when you start online therapy with us, you can bring your whole self, including past struggles, cultural impacts, and more.

Relevant Resources

Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | Growing Up w/ Emotionally Immature Parents, Boundaries, & ADHD – Mina Yoon, MFT