- What is emotional maturity
- At what age do people mature
- How to be emotionally mature
- Early Childhood Adversities
Have you ever wondered why some people can navigate life’s challenges with grace and resilience while others crumble under pressure? To achieve this, emotional maturity is key.
Emotional maturity is essential for living a happy, fulfilling life, yet it’s something many of us struggle to develop fully.
When our emotions rule us instead of the other way around, it can negatively impact everything from our relationships and professional endeavors to our sense of inner peace.
The good news is emotional intelligence can be learned and nurtured throughout our lives.
What is emotional maturity
Emotional maturity is the ability to maintain goal-directed behavior when competing emotions exist.1
It allows us to manage difficult emotions, control our behavior, make sound judgments, and express our feelings appropriately and healthily. 2
A mature person tends to foster stronger relationships and be more resilient.
They can regulate their emotions and cope with stressful situations.
Emotionally immature people have difficulty regulating their emotions.
They have poor impulse control and may act recklessly or say hurtful things without thinking first.
Emotional immaturity makes it hard for them to build healthy romantic relationships. They are more likely to develop mental health issues.3
Signs of emotional maturity
Common signs that can identify a high level of maturity include4
- Able to balance emotions
- Behavioral stability
- Sense of empathy
- Maintain calm even in challenging situations
- Handle adverse situations without resorting to tantrums or outbursts
- Control negative emotions, such as disappointment or anger, and react reasonably
- Acknowledge their mistakes
- Take responsibility for their actions
- Demonstrate resilience
- Higher life satisfaction
People who show emotional maturity often achieve more success.
This success can be attributed to certain characteristics they display when pursuing their goals.
- Outcome-oriented instead of emotion-driven
- A growth mindset
- High desire to achieve goals
- Take calculated risks
- Search for information to minimize uncertainty
- Hope for success rather than fear of failure
- View setbacks as controllable rather than a personal flaw
At what age do people mature
Emotional maturity is an ongoing learning journey to understand and manage one’s emotions.
This process isn’t strictly related to a person’s biological age but rather to their life experiences and genetic makeup. Both nature and nurture matter, and they also interact with each other to influence one’s emotional development over time.5
This journey begins in infancy, where simple ways of expressing emotions are first learned.
Around age two, children start to grasp more sophisticated feelings, such as empathy and perspective-taking.6,7 They start to understand others’ feelings and mental states.
Between ages 3-5 years old, children’s ability to regulate intense emotions emerges.8
At the same time, they develop impulse control9 and delayed gratification10, which are critical milestones toward emotional maturity.
The development doesn’t stop here; it continues to develop through adolescence.
While cognitive abilities typically reach maturity during adolescence, emotional development continues through young adulthood and extends into the twenties as individuals gain life experiences.11
Theories of emotional development
Understanding emotional maturity is important but difficult because emotional regulation is a complex process. There have been many theories trying to explain how it evolves.
Here are two popular theories that psychologists often reference when discussing emotional development in children and teenagers – the Dual Systems Model and the Maturational Imbalance Model.12
Dual Systems Model
This theory likens emotional development during adolescence to a tug-of-war between two parts of the brain.
One part, involved with emotions and seeking rewards, matures faster and is easily influenced by what’s happening around us.
The other part, which helps us make decisions and control our impulses, takes longer to develop.
The interplay between these two parts influences our emotional growth.
Maturational imbalance model
The imbalance model believes that emotional development is not just a seesaw between the emotional and the thinking brains. It is also not a light switch that can suddenly flick on.
Instead, this model suggests that emotional maturation involves a cascade of brain changes over time, and the timing of these changes is important in explaining emotional development.
As children grow up, their brains undergo a series of changes that shape how they experience and control emotions.
When young, the brain’s more instinctive, emotional parts mature first. This can make children reactive to emotions.
In the teen years, connections strengthen between the emotional and thinking centers, improving teenagers’ self-control compared to toddlers.
But since it isn’t fully adult-like yet, teenagers still show impulsive or emotional reactions.
In the early 20s, connections in the thinking centers continue to mature.
This supports more advanced thinking skills and nuanced management of feelings.
Therefore, emotional development involves a cascade of brain changes, with every phase laying the groundwork for the subsequent one.
It does not come from the interactions between two systems, as the Dual System Model suggests.
How to be emotionally mature
Conventional wisdom suggests that emotional maturity derives from self-mastery over one’s feelings.
Mastering your own emotions is important. However, managing emotions often involves interacting with others, not just dealing with your emotions internally.
Our feelings do not arise in isolation but get formed and managed through our dynamic relationships with others and our goals in life.
Therefore, emotion regulation is about more than just managing your internal feelings. It’s a flexible process that involves balancing personal goals with social interactions.
Here are some tips on how to develop emotional maturity internally and relationally.
Distraction is an internal mastery approach to regulating emotions.
It is a way to deal with emotions by focusing on something else. It effectively reduces how strongly we feel emotions and can even change how our brain responds to them.13
When we distract ourselves, we shift our attention away from whatever makes us emotional.
This can help reduce the intensity of our emotions and make us feel better.
Our brain has certain areas that help us control our attention, and when we distract ourselves, these areas become active and help us suppress our emotional feelings.
Reappraisal is an effective internal strategy that can be used to regulate emotions in some situations. It involves changing how we think about a situation or event to alter our emotional response to it.
Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a tough situation, reappraisal helps us reinterpret it in a more positive light.
Shifting our perspective can help us reduce the intensity of our emotional reactions and feel better.
For example, imagine you’re planning a weekend getaway with friends, but due to unforeseen circumstances, the trip gets canceled. Instead of feeling frustrated and upset about missing out on the fun, you can reframe the situation to change your perspective.
You could remind yourself that this unexpected change in plans presents an opportunity for a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend at home.
You might view it as a chance to catch up on self-care activities, spend quality time with loved ones, or engage in hobbies you enjoy.
Reappraisal tends to have longer-lasting effects on emotion compared to distraction.
It works best when there is sufficient time available to generate and implement a new appraisal, the emotion is not intense, and the situation is uncontrollable.
However, it doesn’t work well for those with chronically low control over situations, such as those with lower socioeconomic backgrounds or children with strict parents.14
Focus on achieving goals
In a relational approach, emotions are not inherently “good” or “bad.” The situation determines their appropriateness.
Therefore, emotional maturity involves the flexible expression of emotions, striking a balance between our needs and those of others.15
Take anger, for instance.
While it may cause disruption in relationships and therefore be considered ‘negative’, there are circumstances where this emotion serves an essential purpose.
For instance, suppressing anger during disagreements is appropriate when the goal is maintaining relationships.
But expressing anger might be entirely appropriate when you need to establish healthy boundaries.
So, when emotions surge the next time, pause and consider your goals and desired outcomes.
Act in a way that supports your goals, and your emotions will help, rather than hinder, your personal and professional growth.
Alternative ways to express emotions
Another relational strategy to regulate emotions is to be flexible.
More than one way or behavior can help you regulate or express emotions.
For instance, when you are upset, lashing out or aggressive behavior is not the only way to express your anger.
One can lower their voice, enunciate their words, or merely stare at the other.
Experiment and practice using alternative ways to express emotions you find most challenging to manage.
Emotion management strategies
Emotions are not discrete events. Instead, they are ongoing processes influenced by what has occurred both before and after the emotional event itself.
The life events and moods we bring into a situation color how we perceive and react to a new meaningful occurrence.
Our past experiences and memories shape how we interpret and feel about a present circumstance.
For example, you have a job interview for a position you really want.
This is a job you know you are very qualified for and would excel at. In the days leading up to the interview, you feel nervous and anxious as you anticipate how it will go.
The anticipation shapes your emotions even before the actual interview takes place.
When the interview happens, your nerves are already heightened.
As a result, you stumble over some questions that would normally be easy for you to answer confidently. You know the material well, but the nervousness causes you to second-guess yourself.
Here are some emotion management strategies that can help you stay grounded and not get knocked off balance by challenging events.
- Practice mindfulness through meditation or awareness of the present moment. This can reduce anxiety and help you stay grounded.
- Try slow, deep breathing exercises or gentle movements like yoga whenever you notice tension rising. These can calm both the body and mind.
- Visualize handling difficult situations with poise and confidence. Mentally rehearse remaining steady and focused.
- Make sure to get enough sleep to think clearly and manage stress. A well-rested mind copes better.
- Do some light exercise like walking or stretching to lift your mood.
- Use positive self-talk and affirmations to maintain perspective and bolster resilience. Remind yourself of your strengths.
- If emotions start to overwhelm you, pause and take a breath. Compose yourself before proceeding. Regaining balance is key.
Early Childhood Adversities
For those impacted by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), their maturity level development can follow a different course.
Early childhood trauma may impede areas like regulating emotions, controlling impulses, and building healthy adult relationships.
Seeking help from a mental health professional is highly recommended.
Counseling provides the support needed to cultivate emotional intelligence and coping skills that may be lacking or underdeveloped due to childhood adversity.
If your partner or family member struggles to handle challenging times maturely, a couples therapist or family therapist can be invaluable.
Through a collaborative therapeutic process, they can gain insight into harmful behavior patterns and start adopting new strategies for emotional regulation, communication, and successful resolution of conflicts.
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