While maturity, as we popularly understand it, is typically developed through a combination of age and experience, emotional maturity is another story. Merriam-Webster defines the state of being mature as “having completed natural growth and development,” but with emotional maturity, the emphasis is more specific and personal. Nicole LePera, PhD, founder of The Holistic Psychologist, defines it as “the ability to process your own emotions and cope with life situations with agency, responsibility, and flexibility.”
And that agency aspect of the definition is key. “Emotional maturity is when you do not rely on others to fulfill your needs physically, emotionally, or spiritually,” says licensed clinical psychologist Dara Bushman, PsyD. So, think of the concept as an internal thermostat that self-regulates, no matter what external stressors you are experiencing.
There are several symptoms, so to speak, that point to someone having a highly developed sense of emotional maturity. Those include being able to see other people’s perspective without reacting, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, setting boundaries, not trying to fix or change people, and having empathy for yourself and others when mistakes are made. Signs of emotional immaturity skew toward the opposite, and—spoiler—many of us are guilty of a number of them from time to time. “Screaming, stomping off, and slamming doors are common manifestations of this,” Dr. LePera says. Other signs, says Dr. Bushman, include not taking care of your own needs and engaging in self-sacrificing behavior.
For the most part, the concept is something that’s learned during childhood rather than being an inherent skill. “Our level of emotional maturity is in direct correlation with the emotional maturity of our parents or early caregivers,” Dr. LePera says. The good news is that childhood isn’t the last period of time when developing your levels of emotional maturity is possible.
Even as full-grown adults, we can work on emotional maturity through a form of psychotherapy called reparenting. “Reparenting means doing the work to become aware of your own emotions, needs, and values,” says Dr. LePera. “If we were denied these things in childhood, we will demonstrate behaviors that are emotionally immature such as neediness, being demanding, or withdrawing.”
And just as with correcting any other sort of habit, undoing old patterns and developing new ways of being is no simple task. But you have to start somewhere, and there’s never a better time to do so than right now. Here, the experts share nine ways to step up your emotional maturity, which is an endeavor from which even the most seemingly emotionally mature among us can benefit.
Below, learn 9 steps for leveling up your emotional maturity.
1. Drop the shame
There’s nothing wrong with having a lacking amount of emotional maturity, especially given your renewed interest in raising your level of it. We’re all doing the best we can with what we were taught, and making yourself feel badly about that benefits no one. Instead, rejoice in your awareness of this because that’s where you’ll derive your power. “The more conscious we become of our emotional immaturity, the more we have agency to change the behavior and grow into emotional maturity,” Dr. LePera says, adding that this inner work is something everyone can do.
2. Notice your triggers
“The first step to almost all personal growth is awareness,” says success coach and business consultant Jenna Linville. “Begin to consider and form awareness around your emotional triggers.” Pay attention to what causes a big emotional reaction in you. Is it something in particular that people say or do? Is it a certain situation? You may find it helpful to keep a list of these triggers on a notepad or on your phone to jog your memory whenever you want or need.
3. Identify how emotions feel in your body
“Emotions are energies that have a physiological effect on our bodies,” Dr. LePera says. As an aspect of developing your emotional maturity, she recommends getting curious and really paying attention to how different emotions feel in your body. Do you feel tension, tightness, tingling, heat, or something else? Make a note of everything.
4. Label your emotions
After observing and better understanding how your emotions feel in your body, you can label them, which can help you communicate with others more effectively. “We are not given a manual on what these sensations mean or how to give them names,” Dr. LePera says. “Our journey is about learning how to give language to the things we are feeling in our bodies.”
5. Learn how to soothe your emotions
“It is our responsibility to teach ourselves new ways to feel better when we are feeling emotions,” Dr. LePera says. To facilitate this self-soothing, she recommends using one of two types of coping tools, depending on the situation: active (things you do) and passive (things you don’t do).
“It is our responsibility to teach ourselves new ways to feel better when we are feeling emotions.” —psychologist Nicole LePera, PhD
Examples of active strategies include taking a bath, going for a walk, catching a yoga class, or anything else you can physically do that you’ve noticed helps you process and move through emotions. An example of a passive coping tool, Dr. LePera says, is simply developing a tolerance for being with your emotions (all emotions, including the complicated ones) without trying to push them away.
Another part of the soothing process is also to give yourself permission to fully feel all emotions and allow them to pass. Linville recommends doing this in a safe space with another person, such as with a mentor, coach, or a friend you trust. “When we create room in our lives to feel, we become less likely to feel an involuntary need to express our emotions at the very moment we feel them,” she says.
6. Observe rather than react to other people’s immaturity
Two key elements of developing emotional maturity: understanding and processing your own emotions and also being able to handle the differing levels of emotional maturity that the people around you exhibit. “It’s important to stay present and observe the behavior rather than react to it,” Dr. LePera says. “Then, you can choose to communicate openly about it.”
7. Write it out
The next time you’re feeling all the feels, let it flow onto the page: Research supports the idea that journaling can enhance emotional maturity. Then, once you’re feeling more settled and in a more balanced headspace, re-read what you wrote in the heat of the moment to assess whether you reacted with optimum emotional maturity. If you didn’t, journal on what you learned from the experience and what you’ll do differently in the future.
8. Find a role model
Just like you can have a role model for your career or relationships, you can also have role models for emotional maturity. “This can be a real person or someone on TV who deals with difficulties in a way that you admire,” says educational therapist and prosperity astrologer Elisa Robyn, PhD. “Watch how they deal with grief, emotional challenges, raising children, or life changes.” Role models have the power to show you what is possible and reinforce the belief that you can indeed develop a level of emotional maturity.
9. Take responsibility
Having emotional maturity means that you take full responsibility for what happens in your life—the good and the bad. “Take an honest look at the problems you have created for yourself,” Dr. Robyn says. From there, consider what set of actions you can take to change those behaviors. This can include apologizing to people you’ve hurt, admitting you have a problem, and seeking support.
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