Many people don’t ‘get’ the term emotional maturity? We all use the words “mature” or “immature” when speaking of people whose age in years does not match their behaviour. Children exhibit grown-up behaviours that put adults to shame, and adults behave as if they belong back in school. Yet, what does the word mature actually mean, and how does it s?
What Is Emotional Maturity?
To be mature means that one has the qualities of an adult rather than those of a child. It refers to a person who knows how the world works and who can adapt to the situations it throws at us.
Psychologists define emotional maturity as using the appropriate level of emotional expression and control. So, the term emotional maturity refers to an ability to watch your own and others emotions, evaluate them and use that information to decide further actions.
To be emotionally mature requires a person to have experienced a broad range of complex emotions in their life and can access a full range of appropriate emotions as a situation requires. The assumption is that having lived through complicated emotional situations, you understand the impact or consequences of different emotional responses. From that experience, you will appreciate the benefit of managing your and others emotions rather than allowing the emotions to control you.
Why Is Emotional Maturity Important?
Human brains have two very distinct regions. One deals with logic and rational thought, the other with emotions. We usually swing between the two, and they work well in supporting each other.
Yet, life can be uncomfortable and difficult. We all make mistakes, have differing opinions, and do the wrong thing sometimes. We get hurt and angry, and every now and again, we hurt others or make them angry, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
When we are in difficult and uncomfortable situations, we stand at a fork of two roads. Our emotional brain governs one road, our analytical brain the other. We always have a choice of which path to travel. Yet, once we set out on the chosen road, that part of the brain gains primacy. It dominates the other.
We’ve heard sayings such as, “she was mad with rage”, or someone describes “a red mist descending”. These phrases indicate that the emotional brain has gained the upper hand, and the rational brain is pushed into the background. Psychologists call it child logic when thoughts and responses are unrealistic, unthinking and potentially very harmful. The result is mental distortion and impaired judgement.
In a challenging or significant situation, someone needs to “be the adult in the room”, the person who chooses to take the road signposted by the rational brain. If two or more people decide to let emotions rule, they risk the eruption of dangerous rage, ill-considered decisions, and hurtful comments or actions.
Emotionally immature people react. They may lash out, become defensive or go on the attack. They lose all reason and sense of proportion. They want revenge. Having chosen the emotional road, it takes a considerable effort to turn back, and if there is no emotionally mature person around to help them, they carry on harming themselves or others.
Emotionally mature people will feel hurt or threatened by a situation, but they understand the need for rational thought. When hurt or angry, they force their logical brain to consider what is occurring and decide the appropriate response. They manage their behaviour to ensure the best outcome from the situation for both parties. They remain calm and rational, no matter how unfair the circumstances. Their analytical brain gains primacy and they become “the adult in the room”.
10 Signs of emotional maturity
1. The ability to admit mistakes
We all make mistakes, and no one is perfect. Rather than denying a mistake by using deflection or anger, emotionally mature people use the rational part of their brain to review a situation, accept their role in it, apologise and move on.
2. The ability to manage or accept criticism and feedback
Criticism hurts, and feedback can be challenging. Particularly when you consider either or both are unwarranted. Emotionally mature people control their responses by explaining things they feel the person giving feedback may not have considered or politely disagreeing. Criticisms are often another’s an opinion, they’re entitled to them, but you have no obligation to accept them.
Emotionally mature people understand and value their own needs and feelings. While we all should help and be considerate to others, it should not always be detrimental to ourselves. We matter too, and if we are always giving ground to others, we become resentful and are easily influenced. Calm, respectful assertiveness is the sign of an emotionally mature individual.
4. Being unafraid of vulnerability
A common phrase is, “He was too strong to show his emotions”. The reality is that being unable to do something is seldom a sign of strength; it can be a weakness. Emotionally mature people are not scared of showing vulnerability, neither are they afraid of vulnerability in others. They don’t need to be seen as perfect, and they can open up to friends and show their feelings.
5. Not playing the victim card
Setbacks are a part of life. Emotionally mature people take responsibility for their lives and accept their role in managing events to the best of their ability. They do not give away their power by believing everything is external to them, in effect “happening to them”. They make decisions and take actions to best manage the situation they find themselves in.
6. Not acting on impulse
We’ve already seen that emotionally immature people react impulsively, whereas mature people pause and rationally consider their options for an appropriate response. They gain a reputation for reliability, stability, and thoroughness.
7. Having principles or integrity
The ability to maintain an ethical or honest approach to a situation, even when no one will ever know or check, is a sign of emotional maturity. If someone is only honest or truthful when being observed or a chance of being “found out”, they are emotionally immature.
8. Considering another’s opinion
Emotionally mature people are great listeners. They are not in a rush to say their piece or give their opinion. They will listen to another’s thoughts and consider them, even if they vehemently disagree with what they are hearing.
9. Showing empathy
There is a saying, “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes”. This refers to understanding a person’s experiences, trials, and thought processes before leaping to a judgement on them. Emotionally mature people can step outside themselves and see things from another’s perspective. They can empathise.
10. Having an ability to laugh at themselves
Being able to laugh at yourself when you do something silly and not becoming annoyed when teased is a sign of emotional maturity. Even when the teasing goes beyond a personal boundary, emotionally mature people deal calmly and assertively with the issue and don’t allow themselves to become annoyed.
How can I work on my own emotional maturity? (5 Tips)
1. Develop an awareness of what triggers your emotions
Pay attention to your emotions and recognise when you become scared, angry or tearful. This is engaging your rational brain. Take note of what in your environment caused the feeling, then try to analyse why. As an emotionally mature person, how many other ways might you deal with this rather than lashing out, running away or crying? Make some notes of these triggers, learn to recognise them, and plan techniques using assertiveness, reason, acceptance, or apology, allowing you to “be the adult in the room”.
2. Choose to be an observer rather than a participant
Maintain curiosity about why people behave or speak the way they do. Try to understand their motivation rather than react. Taking the position of an observer allows you to either communicate openly and objectively about your observations or withdraw from the situation without emotion.
3. Accept responsibility for yourself
Positive and negative things occur in everyone’s life. Many of them may have been caused by you, and whether good or bad, accept that responsibility. Externalising all your problems onto others or fate is a common sign of emotional immaturity. Having assumed responsibility for the bad things, make amends by apologising, seek help, or make a pact with yourself to change the way you speak or behave in future situations.
4. Learn to listen
If you believe someone speaking to you is an annoying distraction from the next point you wish to make, stop. Learn to truly listen when people talk. Sometimes what they say and what they mean are not aligned. By rushing on to the bit where you get to say what you want, you miss out on so much. Step back and analyse what they are saying and why. Then pause and consider before responding. Don’t be in so much of a rush to push yourself forward that you miss real opportunities to learn and grow.
5. Develop your empathy muscle
We all have a view of the world based on our upbringing and life experiences, and we all differ. Yet, we are all convinced that our views are the only correct ones. Set yourself a challenge to think up four to six different ways to view an issue and consider how each case might change your position. That person who cut in front of you on the way home might be rude; but, they might also have just heard that a family member has been in an accident and they’re rushing to their side. Maybe they’re late for something, or something has failed on their car or bike. Perhaps they made a mistake. Seriously and objectively consider if that were you in their situation, how might you have behaved?
“Emotional maturity is not measured by our advancement in age but by the strength of our mind.”
Emotional maturity is not a destination. It is a process of development and discovery that is lifelong. Yet, if you are unaware of the need for it or fail to work on it, you will find people will drop out of your circle and life will be more stressful than it should. Emotionally mature people are liked, respected, and generally happy as they live a life of balance and authenticity. It’s worth the effort!