Four Signs That You are Emotionally Stunted (and How to Fix it)

Have you let go of your childlike tendencies?

Jon Hawkins
Aug 19, 2020 · 6 min read
Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Do you get angry over small and pointless things? Do you assume everything revolves around you, and get upset when things don’t go your way? Do you treat others as though their sole purpose is to serve you?

Then you might be emotionally stunted.

Although not an official mental disorder, Psychologists acknowledge that being emotionally stunted is usually exemplified through Little Princess (or “Peter Pan”) syndrome. This syndrome is described by experts as a situation in which grown men (or women) act immaturely, like children, despite their age.

Unfortunately, those who are emotionally stunted rarely think reflexively about their actions and thoughts — and, as a consequence, they rarely recognize that what their doing is abnormal. Instead, they perceive their behavior as common and socially acceptable.

Emotional stunting can have many causes but is often the result of an overly protective mother, too much praise, and little punishment during adolescence. Regardless of its cause, here are four signs that someone is emotionally stunted (and, if you are, how to fix that).

You Act As Though Others Should Serve You

As individuals with our own thoughts, feelings and experiences — we all navigate the world in unique ways. And, in a quest to find meaning in our life, we each have our own purpose.

Typically, this purpose is based on someone's desires and aspirations — and reflects a lot about them as a person.

  • Perhaps your purpose is to serve others, and that’s manifested in your charity work.
  • Maybe you love making coffee, and you fulfill that passion as a barista.
  • Or maybe you're a parent, whose purpose is to serve their kids.

Those who are emotionally stunted tend to ignore the fact that each of us has our own purpose. Instead, they act as if our primary directive is to serve them — even when they have no rhyme or reason to think that is the case.

This rather child-like mentality manifests itself in many forms. Psychologist Berit Brogaard has named a few:

  • Emotionally stunted men act as if women should serve them. They take in their relationships but never give back.
  • They often get offended, angry, or taken back, when something isn't done for them — despite them having no claim to the things they want.
  • They throw tantrums when things don’t go their way — for example, when their favorite sporting team loses.


Fixing this type of mentality is easier said than done. It requires us to swallow a rather bitter pill — we have to recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around us.

Unless you’re born with a silver spoon, you shouldn’t expect to be handed things on a silver plate. Hard work, grit, and determination might get you the results you want. Whereas standing around, sulking, and telling people they have to help you won’t (it is a sure way to guaranteeing others will despise you, though).

Life experience is the best solution — because, with time, each of us has come to the realization that things don’t always go our way. And that’s an eye-opener to the fact that we can’t always get what we want.

“Emotional maturity is the ability to stick to a job and to struggle through until it is finished, to endure unpleasantness, discomfort and frustration.” — Edward Adam Strecker

You Think Everything is About You

“What did you just say?”

Emotionally stunted people often try and eavesdrop on our conversations, for one reason and one reason alone —

They assume we’re talking about them (or something that concerns them).

And even when we’re not, they make damn sure to introduce themselves into the conversation. They always end up talking about themselves and tie every conversation they have back to them.

According to Clinical Psychologist: Susan Heitler, this is a sure sign that someone is narcissistic and self-centered. They show little thought, or care for other people's concerns or interests — and, as a result, neglect their relationships in order to focus on themselves.

In short, they find it extremely hard to recognize that other people aren’t focused on them — so much so, that they believe they are they should be at the centre of every conversation.


The solution is simple — stop fixating on yourself, and start listening attentively. Be open to others thoughts and feelings, rather than fixating on your own.

When chatting with others, according to life coach Keith Webb, you can achieve this by:

  1. Acknowledging, at the start of every conversation, who’s story is being told; and bringing things back around to that story whenever you speak.
  2. Asking probing questions, to learn more about that person.
  3. Avoiding the pronouns “Me,” “I,” and “We” — and whenever you do use them, keeping it brief.

“Youth ends when egotism does; maturity begins when one lives for others.”― Hermann Hesse

There’s No Accountability

The emotionally stunted think it’s all about them — except when it comes to mistakes.

They rarely take initiative and decide things for themselves. Instead, much like children, they prefer to be told what to do by others. As a consequence, they rarely leave their comfort zone, and whenever they do, they aren’t prepared to take accountability for the mistakes they make.

In sum:

  • If something is even mildly inconvenient, they resist doing it.
  • They spend too much time and money playing, partying, or chasing after sexual partners — and so are financially irresponsible.
  • They rarely think anything is their fault, and instead, blame everyone around them for everything that goes wrong — they even scapegoat their mother, where convenient.

Rather ironically, because of their fear of failure and refusal to make decision —their lives are often navigated by the people they blame.


Take charge — make decisions for yourself, be spontaneous, be adventurous — and own the mistakes along the way.

And, if someone else made the decision for you, recognize that you chose to follow it. You’re a free human being, you could have chosen otherwise.

So take responsibility for your actions, rather than pointing the finger at anyone other than yourself.

You Get Defensive and Argumentative

The emotionally stunted are like children, in that they have a short fuse.

In addition, they take things personally, and they have a tendency of over-exaggerating the negative over the positive.

This is because, according to the Australian Institute of Family Counselling, Emotional immaturity is closely linked to depression and anxiety — of which these character traits are an early sign of.

These two traits lead the emotionally stunted to pick up on, and overemphasize the negative — and then become overly emotional, agitated, or angry about it.

Maybe you’ve cracked your phone or lost out your job — it’s not the end of the world, but the emotionally stunted certainly think it is.


It might sound cliche, but cultivating an appreciation for the things around you is one sure way to avoid focusing on the negative. To do so, take note of all the things you are grateful for, and align your attention with what brings you joy, overthinking about the negative.

And, to avoid exploding, being argumentative or defensive — whenever you find yourself emotional, take a deep breath and give yourself a minute or two to think; rather than saying something you might later regret.

In short, make sure you’re acting on reason, rather than impulse — because one sure way to lose an argument is to get emotional, point the finger, and spout hurtful nonsense.

Final Thoughts

The emotionally stunted fail to reflexively think about their thoughts, feelings and actions — and as a result, they often consider their behavior normal and socially acceptable.

Because of that, it can be difficult to know for sure whether you are emotionally stunted, but there are a few tell tale signs. The emotionally stunted:

  • Act as though others should serve them.
  • Think everything is about them.
  • Fail to take responsibility for anything.
  • Get defensive and argumentative over the smallest things.

If you find yourself exemplifying some of these traits, then it’s time you corrected your behavior. Do so by:

  1. Recognize that, because the world doesn’t revolve around, things are earnt, not given. And even with hard work and perseverance, things might not go your way.
  2. Stop fixating on yourself, and start listening to others, and appreciate that they too are conscious beings with their own thoughts, feelings and stories.
  3. Take charge and make decisions for yourself — and, if somethings goes wrong, own that mistake rather than blaming others or external factors.
  4. Cultivate a deeper appreciation for the things you have, rather than getting angry over the things you don’t.

After all —

“Maturity is when your world opens up and you realize that you are not the center of it.” ― M.J. Croan

I write about Self-Improvement, Life Lessons, Philosophy, Psychology & Business — to help you reach your full potential.

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Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Jon Hawkins

Written by

Asking questions, seeking answers. I write articles that help you better understand the Universe and your place in it. Let’s chat →

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Jon Hawkins

Written by

Asking questions, seeking answers. I write articles that help you better understand the Universe and your place in it. Let’s chat →

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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