by Andrea M. Darcy
Yes, we might be grownups in these parts, at least physically. Emotional maturity can come far, far later…. Or we might not even quite be there yet.
What is emotional maturity, really, and do you have it?
What is emotional maturity?
Emotional maturity doesn’t mean you have to play by all of society’s rules. You can have Peter Pan syndrome and love being playful, but still be emotionally mature.
Instead, emotional maturity means we are responsible for, and in control of, our emotions.
We know how to use our emotions as useful guidance. But we don’t allow them to blind us to the perspective of others, or to the uniqueness of each situation we find ourselves in.
Is self-esteem connected?
Emotional maturity doesn’t have to wait until you feel great about yourself and your life. It’s not connected. A 2020 study from an Indian university concluded that emotional maturity is not connected to self-esteem. Or gender, for that matter.
What is emotional immaturity?
It can be helpful when trying to understand if you are or aren’t emotionally mature to take a quick look at the opposite — emotional immaturity.
Yes, this can mean you are known for throwing adult temper tantrums. But not always. Another form of emotional immaturity can be quite the contrary.
Some people’s emotional immaturity is about avoidance. They believe feelings are pointless or stupid, a sign of weakness even. Trying to cut themselves off from feelings, they tend to instead intellectualise everything.
In either case, emotional immaturity can involve:
- speaking before thinking when upset and being unnecessarily hurtful
- starting sentences with “you make me feel” (blame)
- seeing your emotions as hard ‘truth’ instead of just your experience
- focusing or even obsessing on certain details in disagreements
- keeping ‘score’ in relationships and often feeling the victim
- taking revenge in little ways, such as gossiping about people you don’t like
- turning to things like alcohol, party drugs, or overeating to avoid feelings
- having poor personal boundaries, or keeping people at such a distance you don’t need any
- secretly waiting for someone to save you from yourself.
10 Signs of Emotional Maturity
So then how does life work if you are actually emotionally grown up?
1. You aren’t afraid of your emotions.
You are fine if you start to feel emotional, because you know that emotions are normal. That we all at times feel sad, angry, joyful, thrilled, disappointed.
You recognise that each emotion has its own gift. Sadness helps you recognise joy, and anger helps you know where you need to set a boundary.
2. You control your emotions, instead of being controlled by them.
You know how to let an emotion rise without overwhelming you. And you don’t have to immediately offload that emotion, either. You can sit with it, explore it, get to know it.
And you can share it when you are ready to do so, in a constructive over destructive way.
3. You know healthy tools to help you navigate otherwise.
When you are feeling such big emotions they are throwing you off kilter, you don’t panic. Instead, you use tools to help you navigate them. This might be:
You aren’t afraid to admit if you need support or help. You are mature enough to know that reaching out is a sign of courage and strength, not weakness.
4. You see your emotions as useful guidance, not gospel truth.
Emotions are true in that they are honestly what you are feeling, here and now. If you feel mad, you feel mad.
But they are not ‘the’ truth. They are not a perfect descriptor of any given situation. Often our emotions are bigger than just the situation in front of us. We aren’t really just mad at our partner as he is late for dinner, for example. We are mad as the last time he was late, it was because he had driven home a colleague you both know wants to be more than friends.
And emotions are only an indicator of your personal experience. Imagine a field of different flowers in the face of a storm. For the fragile orchid, the storm is terrifying. For a dandelion, maybe not. It’s the same storm. But it’s not going to be experienced the same.
5. You don’t see the emotions of others as truth, either.
Not only do you recognise that your emotions can sometimes blind you, you know that this happens for others, too. They might be working with a lack of information, or be triggered and reacting to things from the past.
It’s not that you don’t know how to defend your corner if someone is being unnecessarily aggressive. But emotional maturity means you still see them through the emotion. They are still that friend or colleague you know, and you won’t judge them solely on one emotional outburst.
6. You own your emotions.
You know that the way you feel is a choice you are making. Nobody else can force you to feel anything.
If someone cuts you off in traffic the day you got a promotion, you might just roll your eyes. If someone cuts you off in traffic the day you lose out on an investment, you might suddenly feel really angry. The emotion is your choice, not dictated just by the situation.
When you are disagreeing with someone, you use responsible language to show you own your responsibility. “I feel [insert emotion] when you….” takes the place of, “You make me feel…”.
7. But you don’t own other people’s emotions for them.
You know you are not responsible for someone else’s unhappiness. Yes, you would love for the people you care about to feel good, but you know that is up to them, and is not your job.
8. You know how to say sorry.
If you do let your emotions get the better of you, or do go into blame and dump your feelings on someone else?
You don’t let that throw you into a sea of endless guilt or more upset. You own up and apologise then move on.
9. And there is no score card.
As well as knowing how to say sorry, you know how to accept an apology. So once the air is cleared, so is the score.
You are not keeping a running tally of what the other person did to wrong you, and it won’t be bought up in the next conflict, or endlessly for the rest of your relationship with them. You know that is not emotional maturity but simply manipulation.
10. You know the difference between an emotional outburst and danger.
Yes, you are emotionally mature enough to know when someone is just blowing off steam, and to not judge them too harshly for it.
But you also know when someone is no longer a safe zone. You don’t mistake abuse for an emotional outburst. If someone might harm you, if they are in a state of rage, you don’t feel responsible. You leave. If they are being psychologically cruel or manipulative, you recognise the signs and walk away.
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Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer. She also runs a consultancy helping people find their perfect therapy and therapist. Find her on Linkedin or follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy