Emotionally mature people observe their thoughts and feelings in order to effectively manage, communicate, and cope with difficult emotions.
Emotional maturity is more than being able to maintain your composure. It’s also:
- understanding what you’re feeling
- being able to show emotions in a healthy way
- recognizing emotions in others
As you age, emotional maturity isn’t guaranteed. Have you heard of the Peter Pan complex? Childhood experiences, modeling the behavior of caregivers, and relationships throughout life can all shape how you experience, express, and balance emotions.
Jennifer Vincent, a licensed mental health counselor in Indianapolis, says that being “emotionally mature is about the art of being both self and socially aware — the ability to recognize emotions in both yourself and others.”
When you’re able to identify your wants and needs and know which ones you can meet and which ones need to be met by others, you may be on your way to emotional maturity.
According to Robyn Smith, a body-centered trauma and relationship coach from Arcata, California, common signs of emotional maturity in adults often include:
- being aware that your emotions are separate from your identity (i.e., you’re not “an angry person;” you sometimes experience anger)
- taking responsibility for your emotions (not blaming others for how you feel)
- understanding how your emotions manifest in your body
- taking an interest in other people’s emotions and needs
- receiving feedback without becoming defensive or argumentative, even when you don’t agree
- knowing how you feel and freely communicating your emotions
- expressing anger without harming others or yourself
- regulating emotions in a variety of situations
- allowing space for the emotions and experiences of others
- experiencing emotions without allowing them to take over (i.e., remaining calm in a situation even when you’re frustrated)
Emotional maturity vs. emotional regulation
Emotional maturity is not the same as emotional regulation.
Emotional regulation is the ability to recognize and manage the emotions you experience. While it’s a part of emotional maturity, communication and expression of emotions are also necessary.
“Being able to regulate your emotions is an aspect of emotional maturity but emotional maturity entails much more than emotional regulation,” says Smith.
If emotional maturity naturally progressed as you aged, most of the adult population would be emotionally mature. That’s not the case.
A number of factors in life can support or hinder the development of emotional maturity.
Smith notes secure attachment is positively related to emotional maturity.
In psychology, attachment style theory suggests the strength and quality of the bonds you develop with caregivers in childhood impact your adult relationships.
If your emotions were ignored, dismissed, or invalidated when you were a child, you may not reach emotional maturity or experience challenges in that respect. If the opposite happened, it’s likely you have more chances to be emotionally mature early in your adulthood.
Many children learn through modeling or mimicking behaviors they see in those around them.
“Growing up in an environment that did not let you express your emotions in healthy ways makes it harder in adult life to deal with emotions well,” explains Vincent.
Growing up with caregivers who didn’t recognize your emotions or regulate their own may contribute to challenges in emotional maturity later on.
When you experience a delay in psychological or psychosocial development due to specific life experiences, this is known in psychology theory as arrested development.
Arrested development may be due to trauma or adverse childhood experiences like early incarceration.
It may also happen later in life when you start to form adult relationships.
Your caregivers aren’t the only bonds that can influence your emotional development. Friends, authority figures, and peers can play a role as well.
Smith indicates having a history of successful relationships is often a contributing factor to emotional maturity.
Developing your emotional maturity may not only help improve your relationships with others, but it may also boost your mental well-being.
Research on life satisfaction has found that low emotional maturity — emotional immaturity — is directly related to higher levels of loneliness and low life satisfaction.
Journaling has many mental health benefits. It can help you work on expressing what you’re feeling and putting names to the varieties and intensity of emotion.
Vincent explains this helps create an opportunity for self-awareness.
If you’re unsure where to start, you can try writing down images or colors that align with an emotion you’re feeling.
You can also work with journal prompts that may make it easier to pour your thoughts and feelings into paper.
Emulating those around you
“Choose close people who honestly care for you, respect you, and are interested in your feelings,” suggests Smith.
As you observe how they interact with their own feelings and those of other people, you can gain a perspective on how emotional maturity looks.
Emotions may be less intimidating if you remind yourself they’re your body’s way of telling you something important.
“Learn to appreciate your emotions as messengers with important information for you instead of scary energy that must be suppressed,” says Smith.
Learning about emotions
The more you understand emotions, the more you may be able to recognize them. To help with this, Vincent recommends stocking up on podcasts and self-help books.
Listening to your body
Smith suggests focusing on how emotions show up in your body.
Identifying where an emotion starts may help you recognize it early, creating an opportunity for you to manage it and express it appropriately.
Emotional maturity is a multifaceted concept that involves being able to communicate, identify, and manage emotions.
It’s OK to not know how to be mature emotionally. Many life experiences may make it difficult to reach emotional maturity. Journaling, emulating, and learning about emotions may help.
If you’re feeling stuck, or if you’re working through distressing memories and past experiences, working with a mental health professional can help unlock emotional processing and healing.