Emotional Maturity as a Prerequisite for Understanding Yourself and Others



We often link emotional maturity with age, but it’s not always an accurate indicator as maturity doesn’t necessarily keep in line with our physical growth. 

Growth and development of one's personality is a much longer process than reaching adulthood. It is a process that has different phases and that lasts continuously throughout life. 

In this article, we’ll explore the three common signs of emotional immaturity defined by author and philosopher Alain de Botton and learn about wiser and better emotionally mature solutions.

But first, let’s explain what exactly emotional maturity is!

What Is Emotional Maturity?

First of all, emotional maturity reflects in a person’s self-respect, respect toward others, and respect for the world around them. It also relates to an individual’s capability to understand their emotions, manage and control them. 

There are many aspects of emotional maturity. But to put it simply, we could say that an emotionally mature person has a pretty good picture and understanding of who they really are and knows how to cope with difficult situations life throws at them. They perform well under stress and give off a sense of certain calmness and composure.

But, to understand emotional maturity, we first need to learn how to recognize the other side of the spectrum, emotional immaturity. Sometimes, it can be difficult to identify, and can prove to be quite a challenging factor to overcome.

However, you just need one seemingly simple question to assess one’s underlying emotional age - How do we respond when someone who we love disappoints us or leaves us hanging?

Patterns of Emotionally Immature Behavior

If someone whom we depend on emotionally lets us down in some way, there are three typical patterns of emotionally immature responding: 

We might sulk. We might decide to sulk and show a long face instead of explaining to the person who’s upset us what made us feel hurt or mad. We feel that facing the problem and admitting how we feel can hurt our dignity and pride, when in reality, we’re too fragile to do so. 

And so, we continue denying there's anything wrong and keep a passive-aggressive stance, preventing the conflict from ever getting solved.

[similar to] an infant who hasn’t yet mastered language might hope a parent would spontaneously enter their minds and guess what was ailing them.

- Alain de Botton

We might react with rage. Going from one extreme to the next, from passive-aggressive to full-on aggressive behavior, we can get furious and explode at a person who disappointed us. We might feel that with rage, we'll take control over the situation and that it will make us look powerful, when on the inside, we feel scared and broken.

Our insults and viciousness are, in their coded ways, admissions of terror and defencelessness. Our pain is profoundly poignant; our manner of dealing with it a good deal sadder.

- Alain de Botton

We might decide to go cold. It’s easier to pretend as we didn’t care and turn a cold shoulder than to pluck up enough courage and admit we’re feeling vulnerable and that someone else has a certain power over us. 

In our eyes, it might seem that this wall of indifference will protect us from getting hurt even more, but the truth is, it only isolates us. This behavior can be detrimental as it can lead to us losing touch with our true feelings, and our pretending can become our reality.

How to Develop Emotional Maturity?

If you’ve found that some of these responses above ring true to you, it surely doesn’t make you a bad person. It rather means that there’s a journey ahead of you to achieve emotional maturity. 

These responses point us to the three crucial virtues of emotional maturity:

Practice clear communication. Instead of sulking and hoping the message will get across without saying a word, make an effort to communicate your feelings and explain to your friend, partner, co-worker, manager or family member that some of their actions upset you. 

Have faith that they are not your enemy but people who care about you. And remember that you’re not pathetic for suffering and feeling sad and hurt in a given situation.

Learn how to trust and stay calm. If you try to fight your first instinct to act out with anger, you'll learn that working through your hot-temper more slowly will allow you some time and space to realize what you really need at that moment. Ultimately, it will give the other person a chance to be heard, and you can reasonably resolve any conflict.

Learn to trust that not everybody acts with a sole intention to mock, slander, or hurt you, especially not the people who care about you..

Accept that being vulnerable is okay. An emotionally mature person is at peace with the fact that getting close to anyone will open them up to getting hurt. They know that only through showing their genuine emotions, tears, and weaknesses can they find someone who'll know how to bear them. 

It takes a lot of courage, mental strength, and maturity to embrace and show your vulnerability. But it's the only way and a prerequisite for meaningful friendships and relationships.

The way we respond to betrayal, conflict, and other relationship challenges will depend on our upbringing, life experiences as well as our natural predisposition. Some will learn how to communicate, trust and embrace vulnerability as children in a supportive and nourishing home. Others learn these skills the hard way as adults.

Ultimately, the first and key step is to open your mind to change and be mindful that emotional maturity is the foundation for our well-being and developing healthy relationships with other people.

Emotional immaturity is searching for love outside you. Emotional maturity comes from realizing you are the source of love.

- Collette O'Mahony  


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