Many possible reasons point to why you might be holding onto immature behaviors, including being rewarded for being immature, 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 E. Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life.
"To change a deeply ingrained behavioral pattern, a person must have some level of awareness that the behavior is problematic and that it is resulting in negative consequences.” —Monifa Seawell, MD, psychiatrist
But, regardless of how they came to be, you can’t fix or outgrow immature behaviors if you don’t realize they're at play. “In order to change a deeply ingrained behavioral pattern, a person must have, at minimum, some level of awareness that the behavior is problematic and that it is causing harm and resulting in negative consequences,” says Monifa Seawell, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist in Atlanta.
To remove some guesswork from the question of whether you display signs of immaturity that might be holding you back, mental health experts outline common examples they see. And—heads up—they’re all fixable.
7 signs of immaturity, plus how therapists suggests working through them
1. You have quick emotional escalations
Everyone has moments here and there when they quickly get fired up, but if this is a go-to response when you’re upset, it's is a sign of immaturity, says psychologist Peter Economou, PhD, program director in 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 may regularly perceive things as being more serious or intense than they really are and reacting at a heightened level as a result.
How to grow out of it: A form of counseling like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you understand why you have the immediate response that you do, and how to funnel it into something healthier, Dr. Mayer says.
2. You tend to blame others when things go wrong
Sure, sometimes it is someone else’s fault when things go wrong, like your roommate staining your favorite shirt in the wash because they left a pen in their pocket. But constantly placing blame on others—even when you know deep down the issue has nothing to do with them—signals that you’re not willing to take responsibility and accountability for your actions, Dr. Mayer says.
How to grow out of it: Fixing this “takes help from others and trust in others to point out the reality of your accusations,” he says. Basically, if your friend gently notes that you’re the common denominator in your long string of messy breakups, it’s probably worth at least hearing them out rather than lashing out at them for bringing this to your attention.
3. You have impulse-control issues
Maybe this means deciding to go out drinking the night before a big work deadline or booking a really expensive vacation on a whim. However it shows up for you, having trouble controlling your impulses is a behavioral response that’s tied to your frontal lobe, i.e. the area of your brain that’s responsible for controlling your responses and monitoring yourself, Dr. Economou says. And without having a grasp over that control, you put yourself at risk for making irresponsible decisions for your life and future.
How to grow out of it: That can also be helped with CBT, Dr. Economou says. Your therapist might recommend what’s known as “frontal lobe conditioning,” which involves things like mindfulness and meditation to help you understand that your reactions are likely a response to something else going on.
4. You feel like you need to be the center of attention
This can be slightly tricky to identify, given that a desire to be in the spotlight could be a sign of narcissistic personality disorder, Dr. Economou says. “But there is a spectrum of needing to be the center of attention,” he adds, and noting when it becomes problematic is a key to growing out of the sign of immaturity.
How to grow out of it: If you find that you feel bummed out when the focus isn’t on you, 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 in certain situations can help you learn to keep that impulse in check.
5. You always put yourself first
This can be another tough sign of immaturity to navigate, given the value in looking out for yourself, Dr. Economou says. “It’s important to differentiate when there is pathological narcissism versus being confident,” he says. “Confidence is not negative.” Where things become inherently negative is when they interfere with interpersonal relationships, or you constantly get feedback that you’re difficult to work with.
How to grow out of it: Awareness is half the battle, Dr. Seawell says: “A person must be aware that their behaviors are harmful but also care that they are harming themselves or others.” Listening to feedback from the people in your life and actually taking their thoughts into account can go a long way toward helping you, too, Dr. Mayer says. If that doesn’t seem to work, therapy can help you pinpoint where you’re crossing the line from confidence into selfishness or narcissism, Dr. Economou says.
6. You have trouble learning from your mistakes
Everybody makes mistakes, but learning from them—and doing your best to avoid that particular mistake in the future—is a sign of maturity, Dr. Economou says. “It requires a certain level of insight to be able to comprehend and embrace mistakes,” he says. For some folks though, it's easy to get into cycles of making the same mistakes without an awareness of them or active intention to stop them from repeating. That, Dr. Economou says, is a sign of immaturity.
How to grow out of it: A therapist can help you identify strategies for how to break the cycle. Time can also be helpful, Dr. Mayer says.
7. You try to avoid taking on responsibility
Responsibility, whether it’s holding down a steady job, paying your rent, or being in a relationship “requires some level of emotional maturity,” Dr. Economou says.
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. You can ramp things up from there.
While it's possible to change these common signs of immaturity, unless the person is interested in growing out of them, no 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 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. They should be able to help you identify where you’re going wrong and put a plan in motion to fix things.
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