7 Signs of Immaturity That Therapists Say Folks Can Grow Out of at Any Age

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Whether it’s laughing at fart jokes or insisting on having a favorite sugary breakfast cereal on hand at all times, there are some qualities that have come to be equated with immaturity (which tends to have a negative connotation) despite being totally benign in regards to how someone operates in the world. On the other hand, some actual signs of immaturity that actually can negatively impact a person’s relationships—and other areas of their life—are a little more subtle.

Experts In This Article

What causes immaturity?

There are a number of reasons a person might be holding onto immature behaviors that make them appear to be a childish adult— including having been habitually rewarded for immaturity, being surrounded by other not-so-mature people, having an abusive upbringing, or not having mature role models while growing up, says clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD. According to psychologist Scott Lyons, PhD, author of Addicted to Drama: Healing Dependency on Crisis and Chaos in Yourself and Others, immaturity can also be a response to past trauma, which can stunt one’s ability to develop to their full emotional maturity and “freeze” them at the age at which they experienced a traumatic event. It can also be challenging for a person to come to terms with the fact that they might be acting immature because, often, “it’s a label people use for other people,” says Dr. Lyons.

However, there are tells that might point to immaturity—including, but not limited to, impulsivity or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. “Those are signs of what we might call immaturity or the inability to use a certain skill set, read social cues, and identify what the right circumstances are for what type of behavior,” Dr. Lyons says.

The consequences of immaturity

In the worst-case scenario, immaturity could impact one's relationships with others and even themselves. For instance, a person who is immature might be unable to understand someone else’s perspective, much like a young child, says Dr. Lyons. “One of the major things we lose in immaturity is the ability to see multiple truths or perspectives,” he says. This, in turn, can create unnecessary prolonged conflict and tension in relationships because resolving it will often require the skills that someone who is immature may not have. He adds that people who are immature often fail to see how they might contribute to the challenges around them, but rather project their struggles onto other people.

“When those skills are stunted, they’re not going to get their needs met very often,” says Dr. Lyons. “They’re not going to be able to communicate what they want and action it in a way that facilitates people giving it to them.”

“To change a deeply ingrained behavioral pattern, a person must have, at a minimum, some level of awareness that the behavior is problematic and that is causing harm and resulting in negative consequences.”Monifa Seawell, MD, board-certified psychiatrist

Regardless of how immaturity manifests, a person can’t fix or outgrow immature behaviors they don't are negatively affecting them. “To change a deeply ingrained behavioral pattern, a person must have, at a minimum, some level of awareness that the behavior is problematic and that is causing harm and resulting in negative consequences,” says board-certified psychiatrist and life coach Monifa Seawell, MD.

All to say, identifying the ways in which immaturity can manifest is the first step in shifting the negative behavioral patterns that might be impacting one’s life—and fortunately, it’s never too late to grow out of them. Ahead, mental experts outline seven common signs of immaturity and how to outgrow them.

7 common signs of immaturity—and how to outgrow them

1. Quick emotional escalations

Everyone has moments when they have emotional flare-ups, but if this is a frequent occurrence, it could indicate a sign of immaturity, says psychologist Peter Economou, PhD, program director at the department of applied psychology at Rutgers University.

“Quick emotional escalations are likely involving the thought that someone is ‘attacking’ you or there’s some other cognitive distortion involved,” he says. Meaning, you might regularly perceive things as being more serious or intense than they really are and react at a heightened level as a result.

How to grow out of it: A form of counseling like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could help you understand why you react the way you do and replace unhelpful thoughts with more healthy ideas and behaviors, says Dr. Mayer.

2. Blaming others when things go wrong

Sure, sometimes it is someone else’s fault when things go wrong, like when a roommate stains your shirt in the wash by leaving a pen in their pocket, but constantly placing blame on others—even when the issue has nothing to do with them—signals that you aren’t willing to take responsibility and accountability for your actions, says Dr. Mayer. Dr. Lyons echoes, “When we often blame other people for our contribution for the consequences that are happening, that’s a sign of immaturity.”

How to grow out of it: Fixing this “takes help from others and trust in others to point out the reality of your accusations,” says Dr. Mayer. If, for instance, a well-meaning friend points out that you are the common denominator in a long string of messy breakups, it’s probably worth at least hearing them out rather than lashing out at them for bringing it to attention.

3. Impulse-control issues

Someone who habitually decides to go out drinking the night before a big work deadline, or books an expensive vacation on whim, might have difficulty with impulse control. Any instance in which a person has trouble controlling their impulses is typically a behavioral responses that’s linked to the frontal lobe, or the area of the brain that’s responsible for controlling responses and monitoring oneself1, says Dr. Economou—and if they're unable to control impulsiveness, a person is at risk of making irresponsible decisions, both big and small.

How to grow out of it: Dr. Economou says that CBT can help correct impulse-control issues. If you're is working with a therapist, they might suggest “frontal lobe conditioning,” which involves mindfulness and meditation to help you understand the root of impulse-control issues in order to address them accordingly.

4. Constantly feeling the need to be the center of attention

A constant need to be in the spotlight is a sign often associated with narcissistic personality disorder, but it can also be a sign of immaturity. “There is a spectrum of needing to be the center of attention,” says Dr. Economou. If you constantly feels the need to have all eyes on you and feels unappreciated or bummed out when the focus isn’t on them, it might point to immaturity.

How to grow out of it: Dr. Economou recommends taking a beat and thinking about your personal values: “If it’s important to you to be a caring person and you need to be the center of attention, think about how you could be negating someone in your environment or inner circle and not actively listening to them.” Reminding yourself of that can help you learn to keep that impulse in check.

5. Putting oneself first

Prioritizing your own physical, emotional, and mental health is important and it can even improve yourself to care for others. While there is value in looking out for yourself, “it’s important to differentiate when there is pathological narcissism versus being confident,” says Dr. Economou. “Confidence is not negative.” When things become inherently negative is when they interfere with interpersonal relationships, or with your ability to be mindful of those around you.

How to grow out of it: Awareness is half the battle. “A person must be aware that their behaviors are harmful but also care that they are harming themselves or others,” says Dr. Seawell. Listening to feedback from the people in your life and actually taking their thoughts into account can help you, too, Dr. Mayer says.

6. Trouble learning from mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes, but learning from them—and doing your best to avoid that particular mistake in the future—is a sign of emotional maturity. “It requires a certain level of insight to be able to comprehend and embrace mistakes,” says Dr. Economou. For some folks, though, it’s easy to get into cycles of making the same mistakes over and over again—and that, he says, is often a sign of immaturity.

How to grow out of it: Time can be the best teacher, says Dr. Mayers, but a therapist can also help identify strategies needed to break out of the circular pattern of making the same mistakes.

7. Active avoidance of responsibility

Whether it’s holding down a steady job, paying rent, or being in a relationship, fulfilling and taking ownership of your responsibilities—regardless of what they might be—typically “requires some level of emotional maturity,” says Dr. Economou. Conversely, avoiding taking on responsibilities or accepting them and quickly letting them fall by the wayside can be a sign of immaturity.

How to grow out of it: If you feel like you’re constantly rejecting responsibility in your life, Dr. Economou recommends taking small steps to change that, like volunteering to organize your next dinner date with friends or watching your parents’ dog for a few days, and ramping up things from there.

The main takeaway

While it’s possible to address these common symptoms of immaturity, unless the person is interested in growing out of them, no real shift will happen. “None of these behaviors will change unless the individual wants that change,” Dr. Mayer says.

If you’ve recognized that you display some of these signs of immaturity in a relationship or your life and you actually want to do something about it, “it’s worth it to connect with a trained, licensed, and reputable mental health professional,” Dr. Seawell says. Dr. Lyons echoes this sentiment. “We mature through relationships with other people,” he says. “If we think about a baby maturing into a toddler, for example, they do it in relation to parents and ideally, in an environment of safety and support. [Therapy] replicates those environments that most easily allow for the maturity to happen and for the developmental progression to occur.”

Frequently asked questions

What are characteristics of immature behavior?

Immature behavior includes, but is not limited to, quick emotional escalations; impulse-control issues; a consistent need to be the center of attention; a lack of accountability for their actions; and avoidance of responsibility.

What are the effects of immaturity?

Immaturity can hinder a person’s emotional and interpersonal skills which can affect their ability to relate to others and themselves—and as mentioned by Dr. Lyons, if left unchecked, it can prevent a person from developing the skills needed to grow out of these behaviors.

What is immaturity in a relationship?

According to Dr. Lyons, some signs of immaturity in a relationship might be an inability to see multiple truths or perspectives. An immature or childish adult might also project their own challenges onto others, and their failure to take accountability for their actions can also cause conflict and tension.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Friedman, Naomi P, and Trevor W Robbins. “The role of prefrontal cortex in cognitive control and executive function.” Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology vol. 47,1 (2022): 72-89. doi:10.1038/s41386-021-01132-0

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