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Accepting What You Can and Can't Control in Relationships with Emotionally Immature People

Navigating relationships with emotionally immature people can be a challenging and draining experience. Whether it's a parent, partner, friend, or colleague, interacting with someone who lacks self-awareness, empathy, and healthy coping skills often leaves us feeling frustrated, confused, and powerless.


In these types of relationships, it's common to find ourselves caught in a cycle of trying to help, fix, or change the other person. We may spend hours explaining our perspective, attempting to get them to take responsibility, or wishing they would just grow up already.


But despite our best efforts, nothing seems to change.


The hard truth is: No matter how much we may want someone to change or grow, we can't control their emotional development. Maturity is a choice that each individual must make for themselves. Trying to force it only leads to our own exhaustion and resentment.


So what can we actually control in these difficult relationships?


And what do we have to we accept is beyond our power? Let's explore.


What You Can't Control


You can't control their level of self-awareness.

Emotionally immature people often lack the ability to reflect on their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They may struggle to recognize how their actions impact others or take responsibility for their choices. This lack of self-insight is a fundamental characteristic of emotional immaturity.


As much as you may try to point out their patterns or help them see their blind spots, you cannot force self-awareness. It's an internal process that requires a willingness to look inward and face uncomfortable truths.


You can't control their capacity for empathy.

Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of others—is a key marker of emotional maturity. Immature individuals often struggle to put themselves in others' shoes or consider perspectives different from their own. They may dismiss or invalidate your emotions, or make everything about themselves.


While you can model empathy and compassion, you cannot make someone empathize with you if they are not ready or willing to do so. That's a skill they must choose to develop on their own.


You can't control their coping mechanisms.

Emotionally immature people often rely on unhealthy coping strategies when faced with stress, conflict, or discomfort. They may lash out in anger, shut down and withdraw, or turn to substances to numb their overwhelming feelings.


As much as you may want to help them find healthier ways to cope, you cannot control their reactions. You are not responsible for regulating their emotions or fixing their problems—that's entirely their job.


You can't control their willingness to change.

Ultimately, growth and change require a desire to do things differently. If someone is content with their current behaviors and doesn't see a problem, no amount of pushing or convincing from you will make them change course.


You can express your concerns, set boundaries, and invite them to consider other perspectives, but you can't control their readiness to evolve. That's a personal journey they must choose for themselves.


What You Can Control


You can control your boundaries.

One of the most powerful things you can control in any relationship is your own boundaries. You get to decide what you will and will not tolerate, what you are and are not willing to do, and how you want to be treated.


Setting clear, consistent boundaries is essential when dealing with emotionally immature people. It communicates what you need to feel safe, respected, and valued in the relationship. It also protects you from overextending yourself or accepting mistreatment.


You can control your responses.

While you can't control how someone else acts, you can always choose how you respond. You have the power to decide when to engage and when to disengage, when to speak up and when to let go, when to offer support and when to prioritize your own wellbeing.


Responding rather than reacting allows you to act from a place of intention and integrity rather than getting caught up in the other person's emotional turbulence.


You can control your self-care.

Relationships with emotionally immature people can be incredibly draining. It's critical that you prioritize your own self-care to avoid burnout and resentment.


This means setting aside time for activities that replenish you, seeking support from friends or professionals, and giving yourself permission to take space when needed. It also means practicing self-compassion, recognizing that their behavior is absolutely not a reflection of your worth.


You can control your own growth.

Ultimately, you are in charge of your own personal and emotional development. While you can't make someone else mature, you can always choose to work on yourself.


This may involve examining your own patterns, healing past wounds, learning new communication skills, or expanding your capacity for resilience and self-love. By focusing on your own growth, you empower yourself to show up differently in all your relationships.


Accepting Reality in Relationships with Emotionally Immature People


Accepting what you can and can't control in relationships with emotionally immature people is a game-changer. It frees you from the exhausting cycle of trying to change someone who may not be ready or willing to change themselves.


Instead, you can focus your energy on what's truly within your power—your own choices, boundaries, and personal development. By doing so, you reclaim your agency and create the possibility for healthier, more fulfilling connections—with them and with yourself.


Remember, you can't pour from an empty cup. Prioritizing your own wellbeing isn't selfish. It's necessary. And as you learn to show up for yourself with compassion and maturity, you model the very traits you wish to see in others. That's an incredibly powerful shift.


 


Photo of Kelly Judd, life coach for women, a white woman with dark hair and large tortoiseshell glasses, slightly smiling at the camera

Hi, I'm Kelly. 👋 I help you make hard decisions and do hard things. Like you, I spent decades putting others' needs before my own. After almost 20 years of leadership roles and a lifetime’s worth of plot twists in my personal life, I made the empowering decision to seek greater meaning and purpose in my work, helping others to reconnect with their authentic selves and discover the joy, peace, and clarity that comes with finally identifying and prioritizing your own needs.

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