We tend to think of emotionally mature and immature as concepts that apply to children:Emotionally Mature: Little Lisa is just so polite and respectful and always waits patiently after asking for something.Emotionally Immature: Little Johnny throws a fit when he doesnt get what he wants, something even his younger sister doesnt do.But heres the thing:Emotional maturity is not something you automatically grow into as you age.
You dont instantly become emotionally mature when you turn 18 and society labels you an adult. Nor do you magically become emotionally mature when you get your first job, get married, have a kid, or retire.Unlike physical maturity, which happens more or less automatically, emotional maturity is largely learned, practiced, and reinforced.
And many of us were not taught the skills and habits that foster emotional maturity. Or perhaps we learned the basics, but not much more.In my work as a psychologist, I spend all day talking to adults of drastically different levels of emotional maturity.
I have clients who are brilliant doctors, prestigious lawyers, and successful entrepreneurs, but they struggle mightily to simply describe how they feel emotionally. Outwardly, theyre paragons of maturity and achievement, but emotionally, theyre stunted.This isnt their fault, of course.
As a society, we train our kids to be critical thinkers and hard-working athletes, but we too often ignore or discourage anything involving feelings or emotion. So it shouldnt be surprising that most of us have somewhat underdeveloped levels of emotional maturity.Luckily, its not that difficult to become more emotionally mature to learn more about our emotions and how they work (emotional intelligence), and to cultivate habits and routines that strengthen our mental health and wellbeing (emotional fitness).
And one of the best ways to do this is to examine people who do have high levels of emotional maturity and break down the specific traits that lead to it. Here are three common traits Ive observed among people I consider to have a high degree of emotional maturity, plus a few brief suggestions for how anyone can begin to cultivate these traits in themselves.1.
Emotionally Mature Adults Are Flexible in Their ThinkingEmotionally mature adults have relatively stable emotional lives. While they do experience mood swings, bouts of anxiety, and bursts of frustration or anger, their overall emotional level tends to be fairly consistent and even. On the other hand, those with low emotional maturity often have large, erratic swings in their emotional lives.
While something as complex as the range of our emotional experience isnt very amenable to sweeping generalizations, its hard to ignore the following observation:Behind most patterns of extreme emotion are habits of extreme thinking.In particular, theres one dimension of thinking that seems to have a profound effect on how we feel emotionallyrigidity/flexibility. Rigid thinking means you tend to think the same way over and over again even though its unhelpful.
Here are two examples of rigid thinking:Worry. Worry is problem-solving applied to a situation that is either not actually a problem or not a problem you can solve right now. Sometimes, we get stuck in worry because it gives us the illusion of control and power over a situation that makes us feel afraid and helpless.
Unfortunately, by definition worry never actually solves anything, but it does produce a lot of anxiety and stress. This is why the key to undoing any form of anxiety is to change the rigid thinking style that drives it worry. Rumination.
Rumination is a pattern of thinking that, like worry, pretends to be a form of problem-solving, but in reality, is massively unhelpful. It involves replaying an event from the past often a mistake we made or a perceived slight against us by someone else over and over again in our mind. Unfortunately, rumination rarely solves anything, and it frequently leads to ever-increasing levels of shame, depression, and anger.
Emotionally immature people tend to see thinking patterns like worry and rumination as things that happen to them over which they have little to no control. This is understandable because they often didnt have adults in their lives at a young age who modeled this for them and taught them how to be aware of and take control over their thinking.On the other hand, people with higher levels of emotional maturity have developed the mindset that believes while thoughts can initially be quite automatic and outside our control, its always possible to become more aware of them and modify them.
Theyve learned to control their attention and their thinking styles in a way thats flexible, realistic, and useful.How to become a more flexible thinkerThere are two key skills anyone can practice to improve their ability to think more flexibly, and as a result, bring more balance to their emotional life:Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the best way I know of to build meta-cognition the ability to think about your thinking.
Before you can change your thinking to be more flexible, you have to cultivate the ability to be aware of your thinking. Cultivating a mindfulness practice and practicing ordinary mindfulness are great places to get started.Cognitive Restructuring.
Cognitive restructuring is a technique from cognitive behavioral therapy that involves identifying unhelpful automatic thinking patterns and then modifying them to be more realistic and adaptive. Basically, it means re-training your self-talk. This often involves learning to identify cognitive distortions and keeping a thought diary.
Remember: The way we habitually think determines the way we habitually feel. 2. Emotionally Mature Adults Are Experimental in Their BehaviorEmotionally mature adults tend to be humble, especially when it comes to their own psychology: how they typically feel, think, and behave.
In other words, when things arent going well, they know they dont have all the answers. Theyre not afraid to swallow their pride, admit what they dont know, and try to improve, either by asking others for help or trying new things themselves. On the other hand, emotionally immature adults tend to have a core feeling of insecurity and inadequacy, which means their sense of self feels too fragile to expose to possible failures and mistakes.
As a result, they hang onto whatever strategies, habits, and defaults they have, unwilling to update them.Heres an example:Imagine two 50-year-old men, Adam and Zach. Both are fathers to teenage sons who are out of control and chronically engaging in risky behavior drugs, casual sex, dangerous activities like dirt bike racing while intoxicated, etc.
Both Adam and Zach have tried everything they can think of to get their sons back on track grounding, taking away cell phones, switching schools but nothing seems to be working.Both Adam and Zach are called into meetings with their respective sons high school guidance counselors, both of whom suggest the same thing: Part of your sons issues may be related to your relationship with your son. As a result, we recommend considering working with a therapist yourself to better understand the nature of your relationship with your son and how you might improve it.
Adam storms out of the office, furious about the hippie nonsense hes just heard and doubles-down on his strategies. He destroys his sons phone in front of him, ships him off to military school, and though hes not totally aware of it starts drinking a little more than usual. Zach has a similarly angry reaction to the guidance counselors recommendation at first.
But after sleeping on it, he realizes that there may be some truth to the idea, even though it makes him feel a little anxious and maybe ashamed. He buys a few books on parenting teenagers. And while theyre a little touchy-feely for his taste, he realizes there may very well be some things he could work on to improve his relationship with his son.
Adams refusal to consider much less try something new indicates significant emotional immaturity. Hes got his ideas and theories and hes sticking to them, regardless of new information and developments. Zachs willingness to at least experiment with a new way of looking at things by reading some books shows at least modest levels of emotional maturity.
Hes got his ideas, but hes humble enough to realize that they might not be a perfect theory for whats going on. And as a result, he experiments with a new theory to see if it works better. In some ways, this is similar to the first trait: thinking flexibly.
Zach has indeed started by thinking more flexibly about the situation with his son. But hes taken things a step further by designing an experiment and testing out a new theory hes been flexible in his behavior, not just his thinking. Its said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again even though it doesnt work.
The constructive corollary to that is: the definition of sanity is trying new things when old things arent working.To become more experimental in your behavior, learn to design and test behavioral experimentsIf something isnt going well in your life, its natural to think about why that is and what to do about it. The problem is, thats where most of us start and end.
We think our way into a solution and blindly apply it without testing it to see if our solution actually lines up with reality.This is like an entrepreneur spending their life savings on a business idea that has no market research or validation behind it. Or a scientist who develops a cure for a disease without putting it through rigorous testing and clinical trials.
No matter how good you think your theory is, reality is the ultimate arbiter of effectiveness.This means you must test your ideas in the real world before accepting them and implementing them. By designing and testing a new set of behaviors that is, by running an experiment youre opening yourself up not only to new ideas, but also to new data and evidence.
And thats where better theories and improved results come from.Remember: Theories without evidence are dangerous. Learn to be a good scientist in the experiment of your life.
3. Emotionally Mature Adults Understand That Environment Matters a LotEmotionally mature adults have a nuanced understanding of the influence of our environment on the way we think, feel, and act. They understand that while people do have agency, control, and freedom in their lives, this freedom is always constrained to some degree by their environment and context.
Quick example:You get home from work, and as soon as you walk through the door, your spouse comments that youre late and you need to hurry up and get ready to meet the Joneses for dinner.Imagine how you might respond to that scenario under different circumstances:Circumstance A: You only slept five hours the night before because of a flair-up of chronic pain in your back, you missed lunch because you were stuck in yet another pointless team meeting, and there was horrendous traffic on your commute home.Circumstance B: You got a solid seven and a half hours of sleep the night before, had a really productive one-on-one lunch meeting with your boss where you got to introduce that new idea youve been sitting on for months, and even though there was traffic on your commute home your best friend from college called you up and you had a great catch-up chat.
What are the odds that you snap back sarcastically at your spouse, get into an argument, have a tense dinner with the Joneses, and go to bed still mad that night given Circumstance A vs Circumstance B?I dont care how reasonable, thoughtful, self-possessed, emotionally intelligent, and full of will-power you think you are youre crazy if you think your odds of responding constructively to your spouses comment are the same under those different circumstances.Emotionally mature adults understand that many things we think of as universal traits or abilities are actually highly context-dependent.
From problem-solving and work ethic to physical stamina and cheerfulness, how we think, feel, and behave is profoundly affected by our environments both past and current. Of course, this doesnt mean that people dont have individual strengths and weaknesses, or that individual effort and will dont matter. They do.
But to assume thats all that matters is naive and actually dangerous.If you keep telling yourself that you should have more patience when your spouse makes sarcastic comments toward you, youre ignoring alternative strategies that could be far more helpful and effective practicing assertive communication, for instance, or prioritizing sleep and exercise as a form of emotion management and self-care. Acknowledging the powerful influence of environment on how we think, feel, and behave isnt just a nice insight; its a crucial ingredient in more effective habits and strategies for living well.
How to become more realistic about the impact of environment on us and othersPractice looking for the subtle but powerful ways our environment shapes us.Just like a good architect knows that the design and layout of an office building will ultimately impact the effectiveness and wellbeing of the workers in the building, start to observe how different aspects of your environment and context affect you or other people in your life:Do you often find it hard to resist that bowl of ice cream each night after the kids go to bed? Maybe it has less to do with your lack of discipline and more to do with the fact that you buy ice cream every week at the grocery store, which means its always available and tempting at the end of a long day.
Is your wife always cranky after dinner? Maybe it has less to do with her personality and moral fiber, and a whole lot more to do with the fact that youve never once offered to make dinner one or two nights per week.Does your toddler have a hard time paying attention during story time before bed?
Maybe its not a budding case of ADHD, and instead, it has something to do with the fact that they spend all day watching insanely hyper-stimulating cartoons on their iPad. And so, understandably, Pat the Bunny seems a little underwhelming by contrast. Remember: Will-power and discipline arent strategies; theyre a last resort.
Design your environment to be more conducive to your goals, and youll rarely need all that willpower you consistently overestimate.All You Need to KnowEmotional maturity is not something we attain automatically simply because were grown up, educated, successful, intelligent, or sufficiently advanced in any other dimension. It requires a careful attention to and cultivation of our emotional lives something most of us instinctively avoid.
Think flexibly.Live experimentally.And never underestimate the power of environment RELATED QUESTION I didn't get Google Glass Explorer Edition.
Is trying to learn Glass dev without the hardware a futile effort? No, you can still learn the fundamentals of Glass development without the hardware. There are three main approaches for accomplishing this: 1) Visit the Mirror API documentation, get into the playground, and start hashing up some code.
Download the PHP, Java, and Python library, whichever you're most comfortable with. Familiarize yourself with the jargon and converntions (timeline, bundles, menus, etc). Read the support documentation (second link below) to see how the Glass hardware actually functions.
Build some apps to this specification. Soon enough, you will find a friend with hardware to t