If you've ever hung around a toddler or a teenager for any length of time, you know what emotional immaturity looks like.
If the toddler doesn't get her way, she might scream, stomp, and fall on the floor in a fit of rage and frustration. Toddlers have very few filters preventing them from expressing their inner worlds in a most dramatic fashion.
Teenagers have more filters but still don't have a fully-formed prefrontal cortex, the brain's rational thinking arena. Teens are hovering on the brink of adulthood, but without a complete set of judgment tools at their disposal, they will revert to immature responses as soon as things don't go their way.
They may not fall on the floor in a fit, but they might scream, slam doors, pout, or use passive aggressive and manipulative tactics to achieve their goals.
It isn't until we are about 25-years-old that our brains are fully developed, and we're capable of understanding consequences, using sound judgment, and practicing emotional maturity (also called "emotional intelligence").
However, turning 25 doesn't guarantee a person will automatically become emotionally mature. I'm sure you've seen many 40-somethings or even 60-somethings who behave like children. Maybe you have someone like this in your life right now.
Emotional immaturity is pretty easy to spot, and is characterized by . . .
- Emotional escalation
- Telling lies
- Poor impulse control
- Narcissistic behaviors
- Need to be the center of attention
- Denial and attacks
- Passive-aggressive behaviors
Why would an adult, with a fully-formed prefrontal cortex, remain stuck in these childish behaviors and responses?
Experiencing trauma, neglect, or instability as a child can impact one's ability to mature properly. Those who have suffered from trauma as a child can remain stuck and stop growing emotionally.
If parents are emotionally immature themselves, they are poor role models for their children, who may never learn appropriate and mature behaviors.
Also, an adult can remain emotionally immature if he or she was rarely allowed to take responsibility for mistakes, failures, or poor judgment as a child or teenager. If mom or dad always stepped in to save the day, then a child never learns how to fend for himself.
Parents who were highly indulgent and who didn't implement appropriate consequences often raise children who can't accept responsibility for their actions as adults.
They don't know how to cope with life's inevitable conflicts and challenges and will resort to the only responses they understand -- those that are child-like and immature.
Even if you didn't experience childhood trauma or have "helicopter" parents who hovered around meeting your every need, you can benefit from improving your emotional maturity.
We all have pockets of immature responses and behaviors that can be triggered in certain situations or within our close relationships. It is valuable for all of us to be honest with ourselves about our own immature behaviors and to work on improving them.
Improving emotional maturity can . . .
- Increase your level of self-awareness so you better understand your emotions;
- Help you regulate your emotions and express them appropriately;
- Allow you to be more empathetic and compassionate with others;
- Sharpen your social skills through improved communication;
- Help you create appropriate boundaries with others;
- Boost your self-confidence, as you feel more comfortable in your own skin.