- John Mayer, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life
- Monifa Seawell, MD, board-certified psychiatrist based in Atlanta
- Peter Economou, PhD, psychologist and program director in the department of Applied Psychology at Rutgers University
- Scott Lyons, PhD, holistic psychologist, educator, and author of Addicted to Drama: Healing Dependency on Crisis and Chaos in Yourself and Others
What causes immaturity?
Many possible reasons point to why one 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 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 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 our relationship with others and even ourselves. For instance, a person who is immature might be unable to understand someone else’s perspective, much like a child until a certain age, 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—and—prolonged conflict and tension in relationships because 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 and struggles present to them, but rather project it onto other people.
As such, immaturity can also impact the individual themselves. “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 might manifest, a person can’t fix or outgrow immature behaviors if they don’t realize they’re at play. “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 might 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 a frequent occurrence when a person is upset, 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, one 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) can help a person understand why they might react the way they 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 a roommate staining a favorite shirt in the wash because they left a pen in their pocket. That said, 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
Maybe a person decides to go out drinking the night before a big work deadline, or books an expensive vacation on whim. 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 oneself, says Dr. Economou—and if unable to control impulsiveness, a person can put themselves at risk for 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 someone is working with a therapist, they might suggest “frontal lobe conditioning,” which involves mindfulness and meditation to help a person understand the root of impulse-control issues in order to address it accordingly.
4. Constantly feeling the need to be the center of attention
A constant need to be in the spotlight is a sign one might typically associate with narcissistic personality disorder, but not always. “There is a spectrum of needing to be the center of attention,” says Dr. Economou. If a person constantly feels the need to have all eyes on them and feels unappreciated or bummed out when the focus isn’t on them, it might point to immaturity. Dr. Economou adds that when it becomes problematic is a key to growing out of it.
How to grow out of it: Dr. Economou recommends taking a beat and thinking about one’s 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. Putting oneself first
Prioritizing one’s 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 oneself, “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 one’s ability to be mindful of those around them.
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 one’s 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 without awareness of them or active intention to stop them repeating—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. Moreover, a therapist can help a person identify strategies needed to break out of the circular pattern of making the same mistakes so as to avoid the consequences that can arise from this issue.
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 one’s responsibilities—regardless of what they might be—typically “requires some level of emotional maturity,” says Dr. Economou. Conversely, someone who avoids responsibility or lets their responsibilities fall to the wayside might exhibit signs of immaturity—and, moreover, deal with consequences that can be detrimental to them in the long run.
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 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. 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 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.”
- Crews, Fulton Timm, and Charlotte Ann Boettiger. “Impulsivity, frontal lobes and risk for addiction.” Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior vol. 93,3 (2009): 237-47. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2009.04.018
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