Friday, August 17, 2012

Emotional Maturity

The other day, I was having a conversation about what constitutes “emotional maturity”. I discussed the topic with a number of people and no one seemed to have a very clear idea about what defines emotional maturity or how one becomes emotionally mature.

Several years ago, a patient/teacher made a comment leading me to write the following definition which, upon further reflection, seems lacking.

A Definition of Maturity:
  • The ability to discriminate between reality-based thinking and fantasy/wishful thinking - followed by...
  • choosing the reality-based choices/decisions because you recognize that what you wish/want just isn’t based on the real-world reality - and...
  • the willingness to tolerate/accept the predictable emotional fallout from your choice.

I suppose that is one definition.

I was told by others that emotional maturity is achieved when one doesn’t always have to be “right”; that one has transcended the right/wrong paradigm. Does this suggest that the Israelis and Palestinians, as cultures, aren’t emotionally mature? They’ve been debating who is right or wrong longer than I can remember.

Another told me that emotional maturity is exhibited in empathy – the capacity to vicariously experience the feelings and experience of another.

There was an interesting article in SLATE magazine in 2007 discussing what the author called the “Mind-Booty Problem”. William Saletan, the author, discusses the idea of the age of consent (regarding sex). He comments that in English common law, later adopted by American colonies, the age of consent was between 10 and 12. In 1885 the age was raised to 16. One might suggest that physiological maturity naturally occurs around age 12-13. Some research suggests that intellectual maturity seems to level out around the age of 18; but intellectual ability or physiological maturity has little or very little or nothing to do with emotional maturity. Most of us recognize that teenagers engage in frightening and too often tragic risk-taking behavior. This tendency seems to level off in the early 20s.

These qualities seem biologically determined. Emotional maturity, however, seems to be mediated more by life experience and one’s ability to be truly consitutionally honest with one’s self and one’s thinking and behavior.

I’ve sometimes commented that if one has a lot of money, emotional maturity can be avoided till the day one dies – because having a lot of money (power) means, for some, that they may seldom if ever have to experience the limits of their “control”. Perhaps developing a realistic sense of how much power/control one reasonably can expect is correlated with emotional maturity.

I can’t say, definitively, what constitutes emotional maturity – but I do think the question is important. (My old teacher was fond of saying, “Why ruin a perfectly good question with an answer.” He valued questions more because it continued the conversation. Defining answers tend to end conversations.)

Here are a few other qualities that might be expressed in emotional maturity:
  • The ability to “handle” one’s own emotions without making another responsible for them. How often have you noticed someone else (or yourself) blaming another person or situation for emotions that are experienced.
  • The ability to allow others to have emotions without giving in to some inner or out influence to “fix” the other's troubling emotions.
  • Emotionally mature people understand (hopefully by their mid-20s) that the world DOES NOT revolve around them. Sometimes, therapists like to describe such self-absorbed people as “entitled”.
  • Emotionally mature people can be independent but also have the ability to be partners in relationships without being dominant or submissive.
  • Emotionally mature people are honest, sensitive and don’t bring “drama” into relationships as a manipulation.
  • Emotionally mature people communicate as clearly as they can (understanding that the act of communicating itself is fraught with error). They don’t engage in mind-games and are not passive-aggressive.

These are just some of my random thoughts on the matter (helped along by my friends and patient/teachers). I challenge you to answer the question. What defines emotional maturity? What experiences encourage emotional maturity? I challenge you to ask your own friends to see what they say.

And please – tell me what you learn because it will help me be more useful to others.

Here’s a related question that I won’t write about now – but equally important. What is SPIRITUAL maturity?

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