Thursday, July 10, 2008

Youth wastes away, but immaturity can last a lifetime

I don't think this guy is immature - I think he's enjoying life. But I'm sure you've had more than one occasion to observe the difference between chronological age, intellect, and emotional maturity. One does not necessarily correlate with the other, much to our chagrin from time to time.

We can develop our intellect - schools do it every day, and we can continue the process by being intentional about developmental reading programs, what we watch, even games we play. We can develop our bodies to forestall signs of chronological aging (thank heaven) to some degree.

We can also develop our emotional maturity by paying attention to it just like we do to the physical and intellectual aspects of ourselves. Here are signs of emotional immaturity as presented by Jerome Murray, Ph.D.:

  • Volatile Emotions: Emotional volatility is indicated by such things as explosive behavior, temper tantrums, low frustration tolerance, responses out of proportion to cause, oversensitivity, inability to take criticism, unreasonable jealousy, unwillingness to forgive, and a capricious fluctuation of moods.
  • Egocentricity: Egocentricity is self-centeredness. Its major manifestation is selfishness. It is associated with low self-esteem. Self-centered people have no regard for others, but they also have only slight regard for themselves. An egocentric person is preoccupied with his own feelings and symptoms. He demands constant attention and insists on self-gratifying sympathy, fishes for compliments, and makes unreasonable demands. He is typically overly-competitive, a poor loser, perfectionistic, and refuses to play or work if he can’t have his own way. A self-centered person does not see himself realistically, does not take responsibility for his own mistakes or deficiencies, is unable to constructively criticize himself, and is insensitive to the feelings of others. Only emotionally-mature people can experience true empathy, and empathy is a prime requirement for successful relationships.
  • Stimulation Hunger: This includes demanding immediate attention or gratification and being unable to wait for anything. Stimulation-hungry people are incapable of deferred gratification, which means putting off present desires in order to gain a future reward. Stimulation-hungry people are superficial and live thoughtlessly and impulsively. Their personal loyalty lasts only as long as the usefulness of the relationship. They have superficial values and are too concerned with trivia (their appearance, etc.). Their social and financial lives are chaotic.
  • Over-Dependence: Healthy human development proceeds from dependence (I need you), to independence (I don’t need anyone), to interdependence (we need each other).
    Over-dependence is indicated by: (a) inappropriate dependence, e.g. relying on someone when it is preferable to be self-reliant, and (b) too great a degree of dependence for too long. This includes being too easily influenced, indecisive, and prone to snap judgments. Overly-dependent people fear change preferring accustomed situations and behavior to the uncertainty of change and the challenge of adjustment. Extreme conservatism may even be a symptom.

Sometimes it's easier to take a look at your emotional development by setting targets for yourself, not dwelling on the "as-is" state and instead focusing on the "can-be." Here are Murray's signs of emotional maturity:

  • The Ability to Learn from Experience: The ability to face reality and to relate positively to life experiences derive from the ability to learn from experience. Immature people do not learn from experience, whether the experience is positive or negative. They act as if there is no relationship between how they act and the consequences that occur to them. They view good or bad experiences as being caused by luck, or fate. They do not accept personal responsibility.
  • The Ability to Give and Receive Love: Emotional maturity fosters a sense of security which permits vulnerability. A mature person can show his vulnerability by expressing love and accepting expressions of love from those who love him. An immature person is unduly concerned with signs of “weakness” and has difficulty showing and accepting love. The egocentricity of immaturity will allow the acceptance of love, but fails to recognize the needs of others to receive love. They’ll take it, but they won’t give it.
  • Just as Interested in Giving as Receiving: A mature person’s sense of personal security permits him to consider the needs of others and give from his personal resources, whether money, time, or effort, to enhance the quality of life of those he loves. They are also able to allow others to give to them. Balance and maturity go hand in hand. Immaturity is indicated by being willing to give, but unwilling to receive; or willing to receive, but unwilling to give.
  • The Ability to Face and Deal with Reality: The immature avoid facing reality. Overdue bills, interpersonal problems, indeed any difficulties which demand character and integrity are avoided and even denied by the immature. Mature people eagerly face reality knowing the quickest way to solve a problem is to deal with it promptly. A person’s level of maturity can be directly related to the degree to which they face their problems, or avoid their problems. Mature people confront their problems, immature people avoid their problems.
  • The Capacity to Relate Positively to Life Experiences: A mature person views life experiences as learning experiences and, when they are positive, he enjoys and revels in life. When they are negative, he accepts personal responsibility and is confident he can learn from them to improve his life. When things do not go well, he looks for an opportunity to succeed. The immature person curses the rain while a mature person sells umbrellas.
  • The Ability to Accept Frustration: When things don’t go as anticipated, the immature person stamps his feet, holds his breath, and bemoans his fate. The mature person considers using another approach or going another direction and moves on with life.
  • The Ability to Handle Hostility: When frustrated, the immature person looks for someone to blame. The mature person looks for a solution. Immature people attack people; mature people attack problems. The mature person uses his anger as an energy source and, when frustrated, redoubles his efforts to find solutions to his problems.
  • Relative Freedom from Tension Symptoms: Immature people feel unloved, avoid reality, are pessimistic about life, get angry easily, and attack the people closest to them when frustrated—no wonder they are constantly anxious. The mature person’s approach to live imbues him with a relaxed confidence in his ability to get what he wants from life.

Emotional maturity doesn't rely on you being an introvert or an extrovert. It's a matter of seeing yourself clearly, choosing your actions consciously, and finding something outside of yourself (a purpose) on which to focus your energy. If you think you're OK in emotional maturity but want to get even more effective, this might be a scope of work for a coach. If you think you have longer-term baggage that you want to get rid of, perhaps a chat with a counselor would be helpful to determine an appropriate course of action.