Emotional maturity is the number one most important thing in relationships, the number one skillset we can work on to get great ones, and the number one most important thing to a happy and effective life.
Contrary to some misconceptions, emotional maturity is not about “self-mastery,” self-development, . Mature people may pursue these, but they have nothing to do with emotional maturity. Someone can be very ambitious and hard-working, yet still lack any semblance of emotional maturity.
The #1 Sign of Emotional Maturity:
Taking responsibility for ourselves.
— our mistakes, our emotions, our needs, and our wants. And, perhaps most importantly, our feelings and responses to things.
If you read and absorb nothing else, just make it this.
The most important thing is: taking responsibility.
This is not the same as blaming ourselves — being a martyr is equally emotionally immature.
The solution is simply to ask ourselves, “what can do to fix this?” or “what can I do differently?” It’s understanding the difference between what we control (only ourselves) and what we don’t (other people.)
1. Recognize — and admit — when you’re wrong
“It’s far easier to get defensive and deny responsibility, or become overwhelmed with shame for our act of imperfection or ignorance. Being able to acknowledge when we’re in the wrong takes humility, self-compassion and courage.” — Megan Bruneau, Psychotherapist & Executive Coach
Emotionally mature people…
“Spend zero time blaming others for their problems. They take accountability for their actions as a way to further learn and grow. Life and life’s circumstances, at the end of the day, have to be dealt with from our own will and volition, and admitting wrong is woven deeply into the fabric of mature people because they view humility and admitting wrong as steps up the mountain, not steps going backward.The mature person is able to understand that life is what they make it. That every person’s destiny is within their choice. Those with maturity live life making conscious decisions knowing that whatever the result is, they are the one’s responsible.” — Sherrie Campbell, Psychologist, Author, Speaker
“Responsibility has to do with the choices you make about how to think, feel and act about reality.” — Roger K. Allen, PhD
2. Recognize — and admit — that you are biased
And illogical and messy and imperfect.
Because all humans are.
“We all have innate biases and prejudices. It’s impossible not to: we’re socialized into a stereotyping world. So what’s important is learning to cultivate an active awareness of these biases and prejudices, and examine how they might influence our decisions and actions. Ask yourself where you might be practicing discrimination (subtly or unsubtly), and how you can begin to counter these ingrained behaviors.” — Megan Bruneau, Psychotherapist & Executive Coach
3. Recognize — and accept — your own feelings and needs
This is the opposite of the above. Some of us struggle by wallowing too much in our emotions, but giving them too much authority in our lives. Others struggle by denying our feelings altogether, which is impoverished in another way.
4. But recognize that your feelings don’t run the show
We are not victims of our own lives. People are not out to get you, or hurt you. The universe has not conspired to bring you down, break your heart, or make you sad.
Life is only partly what happens to us, and mostly how we respond to it. We choose our reaction — and viewpoint.
The difference between “sad” or emotionally impoverished people, and those who are emotionally strong, is not that nothing bad ever happened to the second group, but rather that they chose not to assume a passive role.
5. Set healthy boundaries
“Being mature means stating what is acceptable to you and what you will and will not allow. Once you define that line, defend it. Don’t let anyone to cross it. Boundaries are important because when they are set, our character also sets, becoming more resistant to nonsense and drama. When someone charges ahead and breaks through our boundaries, we are compromised. Don’t kid yourself. We suffer emotionally and can sustain lifelong damage. Don’t assume people will know your limit either. It’s your job to tell them.”
6. Pause between feeling and reacting
Think it through.
“Through practicing mindfulness, we can increase the amount of time between feeling a particular emotion and reacting to it. We gain a sense of spaciousness with regard to how we observe our emotions — rather than clinging to our feelings immediately and reacting instinctively, we learn how to first observe, and then react more carefully and productively.” — Megan Bruneau, Psychotherapist & Executive Coach
“Between an event and your response is a moment, however fleeting, when you decide whether to surrender control and react automatically, or to interrupt a negative pattern and search out responses more in alignment with your long-term self-interest.” — Roger K. Allen, PhD
7. Love — defined as compassion
“One does not fall in love; one grows into love, and love grows in him.” — Karl Menninger
“Judgment is at the heart of hate. It is what fuels unhealthy relationships with ourselves and others. If you’ve learned or are learning how to be more compassionate, not just to others but also to yourself, you’re moving closer to enlightenment.” — Megan Bruneau, Psychotherapist & Executive Coach
“Feel more empathy and concern for others. A mature soul can’t help but wish well upon those around them and try to help in any way they can… Compassion is just one part of a more general approach to life that emotionally mature people adopt… Promote unity and oneness.” — A Conscious Rethink blog
Everything is interconnected, and the energy we put out into the universe is a direct reflection of ourselves.
8. Composure, grit, and ability to endure setbacks
“Life is going to be full of problems. The acceptance of this allows mature people to stay calm and think more clearly during life’s more difficult moments. The whole process of meeting and solving problems is what gives life its deeper meaning. Mature people have established the emotional intelligence necessary to understand that life’s difficulties are the cutting edge of what distinguishes one from being a success or a failure.” — Sherrie Campbell, Psychologist, Author, Speaker
“Look forward to the future and all of the possibilities that exist, but [be] mentally prepared to face difficulties as and when they arise.” — A Conscious Rethink blog
“Tolerate feelings of discomfort long enough to find solutions to their problems. An immediate solution may represent gratification to many, but mature people know that the best solutions come with delaying the need to get rid of the problem quickly. The most lucrative solutions are found in the process of thinking through the problem.” — Sherrie Campbell, Psychologist, Author, Speaker
“Cope with whatever comes your way. Even when things get ugly… keep your chin up and seek solutions to your problems… do not let events overwhelm you; the strength you’ve gained from past challenges is always available to you… do not dwell on your sorrows or seek pity from others; you have the bravery to step up, tackle the hurdles in front of you, and get back to the path you wish to take.” — A Conscious Rethink blog
“Change is not always easy… Sometimes the most important adjustment is in our attitude.” — Krystal Kuehn, MA, LPC, LLP, NCC
9. Positivity and Optimisim
“A positive attitude comes naturally to the mature person… [and] keeps mature people in a state of harmony with themselves and others because from their vantage point there is a way to make every situation a win-win experience.” — Sherrie Campbell, Psychologist, Author, Speaker
“Look upon the life with an air of optimism while still maintaining roots in reality… Maintain a positive mindset in every situation because… the alternative is defeatism and despair.” — A Conscious Rethink blog
Incidentally, one of the smaller, more specific secrets to a lasting relationship is: always assume the best of your partner.
10. Honesty and Integrity
“Mature people live with high integrity. They are committed to knowing, hearing and working within the truth no matter how hurtful or stressful that truth may be. Mature people are also willing and committed to telling the truth even when it is humiliating and difficult for oneself or another. They have an open mind to hear counsel and to respond to reproof.” — Sherrie Campbell, Psychologist, Author, Speaker
11. Self-control and Delayed Gratification
Emotionally mature people,
“Can identify urges that build up within your mind and resist the temptation to act on them. This might, for example, be the difference between getting angry and remaining calm when someone does something you dislike. A mature person is better placed to show restraint towards things that might be detrimental to their short or long term wellbeing. They can triumph over some of the more self-destructive behaviors by recognizing them for what they are.” — A Conscious Rethink blog
“Mature people have found a way to ground themselves in self-control. They know that those things worthy of their time will require their patience, persistence and effort. Mature people are able to delay gratification. They enhance their experiences of pleasure by first dealing with and experiencing their pain and getting it over with. In other words, they place their responsibilities before leisure as the only successful way to live.
The mature are willing to tolerate feelings of discomfort long enough to find solutions to their problems. An immediate solution may represent gratification to many, but mature people know that the best solutions come with delaying the need to get rid of the problem quickly. The most lucrative solutions are found in the process of thinking through the problem.” — Sherrie Campbell, Psychologist, Author, Speaker
12. Express Gratitude
“Mature people live with a natural feeling of thankfulness and appreciation for the expansive range of people, events and circumstances in their lives. Because maturity is based in responsibility, mature people live with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of depression and stress. The emotionally mature turn their happiness into sharing and generosity. They offer helpful services to others as a way to spread their own wealth and joy in ways that circle back. When their giving circles back, the emotionally mature experience even deeper levels of pleasure, personal satisfaction and gratitude for what they have been given in life to now gift back.”
“Alongside acceptance of yourself comes a sense of gratitude for all of the wonderful things that exist in your life. You develop the ability to see the immense benefits and value of both big and the small. You are thankful for the people with whom you spend your time, the basic needs that are met daily, the experiences you enjoy, and the gift of life itself. You never take things for granted because you appreciate that not everyone is so fortunate.” — A Conscious Rethink blog
13. Listen in order to understand
Not simply to respond or share your own grievances when they stop talking.
14. Don’t take it all so personally
Ego is a major cause of misery in the world. (That, and unrealistic expectations, especially around our assumptions around change and control.)
“Detach yourself from the situation.” — Nadja El Fertasi
15. Don’t make it personal
…when communicating with others.
Often done of defense, because we assume the former (that whatever they said or did was a personal attack on us), we often retaliate in like kind. But this isn’t an emotionally mature response — especially given that we’re often wrong. (Most of the things we assume are personal actually aren’t.)
“Arguments or difficult conversations get worse when you make the other person directly responsible.” — Nadja El Fertasi
“Maturity is a choice for everyone. The more you value who you are and what you have to offer, the more responsible you will be in taking care of yourself.”
As Albert Ellis says,
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president… You control your own destiny.”