No, really, don’t be a jerk and your kids will be fine. So will your intimate relationship and your friendships and, and, and….
Emotional maturity allows us to make conscious, healthy choices in all our relationships. It allows us to live full, satisfying lives connected to those we care about. Emotionally mature people are NOT jerks.
So, what is Emotional Maturity? One of my favorite books (Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents ) lays it out quite simply…
They are realistic and reliable
This is the basic foundation upon which the rest of a relationship is built. The book describes this as the physical layout of a house…Good relationships should feel like a well designed house, so easy to live in that you don’t notice the architecture or planning that went into it.
They work with reality instead of fighting it
Emotionally mature people will see problems and try to fix them, instead of overreacting with a fixation on how things SHOULD be. If changes aren’t possible, they work to make the best of what they have.
They can feel and think at the same time
The ability to think even when upset makes an emotionally mature person someone you can reason with. It is easy to work with these people, even in conflict. They don’t lose the ability to see another’s perspective just because they aren’t getting what they want (they don’t get lost in emotion). They also don’t lose track of emotional factors when trying to solve a problem (they don’t get overly logical).
Their consistency makes them reliable
Because they have an integrated sense of self, they usually don’t surprise you with unexpected inconsistencies. You can count on them to be basically the same across different situations. Their strong sense of self and their inner consistency makes them reliable guardians of your trust.
They don’t take everything personally
They are realistic enough to not be offended easily and can laugh at themselves and their mistakes. They are not perfectionistic and can see themselves and others as being simply human, doing the best they can. Narcissism or low self esteem (Borderline traits) are traits that lead to this problem.
These traits lead people to seek too much reassurance from others and often these people feel they are being evaluated, seeing slights and criticisms where they don’t exist. This kind of defensiveness consumes relationship energy like a black hole.
Emotionally mature people understand that we all make social guffaws at times and when the other party is able to take responsibility for the mistake they are able to see this as a simple mistake and move on. They don’t see it as a rejection. They are realistic enough to not feel unloved just because you made a mistake.
They are respectful and reciprocal
These people make you feel as if they are looking out for your best interest, instead of just their own. This set of traits is like the infrastructure of a house, the plumbing and heating, that make the home inhabitable.
They respect your boundaries
They are innately courteous because they naturally honor boundaries. They are seeking connection and closeness, not intrusion.
They respect your individuality. They never assume that just because you love them, that you will want the same thing they do. They take your feelings and boundaries into account in any interaction. This does not feel like a lot of extra work to them, emotionally mature people automatically tune into how others are feeling. Real empathy makes consideration of others second nature, not extra work.
An important part of this is not telling partners or friends or children what they should feel or think. Another is respecting that others have the final say on what their motivations are. Emotionally immature people, on the other hand, who are looking for control or enmeshment, may tell you what you meant or how you need to change your thinking to meet their own desires. This is a sign of disrespecting boundaries and a desire for control.
Emotionally mature people may tell you how THEY feel about what YOU did, but they don’t pretend to know you better than you know yourself.
They give back
Fairness and reciprocity are at the heart of good relationships. Emotionally mature people do not like taking advantage of others, nor do they like the feeling of being used. They are comfortable both giving AND receiving help. They can tolerate an occasional imbalance, but will not let that go on for too long.
They are flexible and compromise well
They try to be fair and objective. An important trait to watch for is keeping an eye on how people respond when you need to change plans. Can they distinguish between personal rejection and something unexpected coming up? Are they able to let you know they are disappointed without holding it against you?
When you forge a compromise with an emotionally mature person, you won’t feel like you are giving anything up, both of you will feel satisfied. Collaborative, mature people do not have an agenda to win at all costs, so you will not feel taken advantage of. Real compromise does not feel like you are being pressured into something you don’t want. In healthy compromise, both parties feel like they got enough of what they wanted/needed. Emotionally mature people are actually enjoyable to compromise with because they are so attentive and connected that you can feel that they care about you and don’t want to leave you feeing unsatisfied.
They are even tempered
The sooner temper shows up in a relationship, the worse the implications. Be wary of people who show irritability early on in your relationship with them. This shows both brittleness and a sense of entitlement, not to mention disrespect. People who have a short fuse and expect that life should to along with their wishes don’t make for good company. If you find yourself stepping into soothe someones anger too often, beware.
Mature people find a sustained sense of anger unpleasant so they find a way to move beyond it. Less mature people may feed their anger and act as though reality should bend to them.
People who show anger by withdrawing their love are particularly challenging. Nothing gets solved and the other person just feels punished.
Emotionally mature people tell you what is wrong and ask you to do things differently. They do not sulk or pout or make you walk on eggshells. They seek you out to solve the problem, they do not give the silent treatment.
Even healthy, emotionally mature people sometimes need some time to calm down when angry. Taking time out in the heat of an argument can give both people time to calm down and sort out their feelings before solving the problem.
They are willing to be influenced
They have a secure sense of self. They don’t feel threatened when other people see things differently, nor are they afraid of seeming weak when they don’t know something. So, when you have something to share with them, they are open to listen and consider what you are saying. They may not agree, but they are naturally curious and seek to understand your point of view. John Gottman describes this trait as one of the seven principles for a sustainable, happy relationship.
Telling the truth is the basis of trust and is a sign of a person’s level of integrity. It also shows respect for the other person’s experience.
They apologize and make amends
Emotionally mature people apologize and want to make amends when needed. These people don’t just apologize, they make a clear statement about how they intend to do things differently going forward.
While emotionally immature people may offer apologies, these are nothing more than lip service designed to placate others without real intent to change. They have no heart in them and typically feel more like an evasion than relationship repair.
When you tell people they have hurt or disappointed you, observe the response… do they defend themselves or try to change? Do they apologize to appease or do they understand and care about what you felt?
These traits add warmth and fun. These are essential to a fully rewarding relationship experience. These are the paint and furnishings that make a house a home.
Their empathy makes you feel safe
Along with self awareness, empathy is part of the soul of emotional intelligence. Without this, you can’t feel safe and secure in a relationship.
They make you feel seen and understood
When emotionally mature people find you interesting, they show curiosity about you. They enjoy hearing your story and getting to know you. They remember things you have said and reference back to that in future conversations. They enjoy the parts of you that are different than them. They are looking to actually know you, not just looking for traits that mirror them.
They see you positively and keep a library of your best qualities. They often reference your strengths and sometimes seem to know you better than you know yourself. In this climate, you will feel that you can be completely yourself. You find yourself wanting to share inner thoughts and experiences with them. And, they reciprocate the sharing. This is how true intimacy develops.
Emotionally mature people do not pull back when you are distressed, they are not afraid of your emotions and don’t tell you that you should or shouldn’t feel a certain way. They embrace your feelings and like learning about they things you have to share.
They like to comfort and be comforted
Emotionally mature, responsive people have an emotional engagement instinct that works smoothly. They like to connect and they naturally give and receive comfort under stressful conditions.
They reflect on their actions and try to change
They are capable of looking at themselves and reflecting on their behavior. They take you seriously when you tell them about a behavior that makes you uncomfortable. They are willing to take in this feedback because they enjoy the increased emotional intimacy that such clear communication brings.
Willingness to take action as a result of self-reflection is also important. It isn’t enough to say the right words or apologize. Emotionally mature people follow through and show change through their actions.
They can laugh and be playful
Humor is a delightful form of responsiveness and also a highly adaptive coping skill. Emotionally mature people have a good sense of humor and can use it to relieve stress Laughter is a form of equal play between two people and shows an ability to relinquish control and follow someone else’s lead.
Emotionally immature people enjoy humor at the expense of others, even when others are not amused. They enjoy making others feel inept or foolish.
Humor with an edge, like sarcasm, is best used sparingly. In moderation, it adds some pleasurable tension, but in excess it reflects cynicism, which is hard to live with in large doses. Too much sarcasm and cynicism are signs of a closed down person who fears connection and seeks emotional protection by focusing on the negative.
They’re enjoyable to be around
Emotionally mature people have an overall positive energy that is pleasurable to be around. Of course, they have typical mood fluctuations, but for the most part the seem able to generate their own positive feelings and enjoy life.
So, do you have some work to do? We all do. We are all a work in progress.
Emotional maturity is like any other skill. With awareness and practice, we can get better at it.
AND, the benefits are HUGE when we do.
HOW to change….
- Notice your own behaviors. Have compassion for yourself, no shame. These are just learned patterns.
- Be curious. Why do you do this? Fear? Past history? Habit?
- Be brave. Experiment. Try something new.
- Notice what happens.
That’s it. Nothing more complicated than that.
Little changes add up to big changes over time. Like pebbles you add to a pile. One by one.
This is the work of life. Lean in and get excited. Good stuff is ahead.