Building Your Emotional Maturity

Your body has changed radically since the day you were born, and your mind is continually growing and changing based on your experiences. But what about your emotional world? What does it mean to become emotionally mature, and how can you build your emotional maturity? 

Unlike gray hairs and forehead wrinkles, emotional maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age. It’s something we have to cultivate with intention by building our self-awareness, empathy, and understanding. It’s not always easy work (in fact, our most difficult experiences are the ones that spur the greatest emotional growth), but the benefits are endless. Best of all, this work is never finished — you always have room to become more emotionally mature, and this article is going to show you how. 

I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is Dr. Harold P., D.Min., M.A., CCC, CPC, a marriage counselor, life coach, and therapist on our team at Growing Self. He not only helps clients build their emotional maturity (often through emotional intelligence coaching or counseling for healthy relationships), Harold is also someone who exudes emotional maturity himself, and today he’s sharing his secret with you. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

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Building Emotional Maturity

Emotional maturity is emotional intelligence at work. It impacts your internal experience every day, from how well you cope with disappointments and setbacks, to how much of your time and energy you spend worrying about things that are beyond your control. Basically, it’s a key marker of personal growth.

Becoming a more emotionally mature person is also the path to building healthy relationships. People with high levels of emotional maturity are skilled at recognizing their own needs, rights, and feelings, and respecting the needs, rights, and feelings of others. They can assert themselves without alienating other people, and they’re flexible enough to compromise, learn, and grow through their relationships. All of these skills come together to create connections that are deeper, longer-lasting, and more fulfilling for everyone involved. 

Emotional maturity is not a destination — it’s an ongoing process that’s fueled by our life experiences (especially our most difficult experiences), and our capacity for self-reflection and personal growth. Part of being emotionally mature is having the humility to recognize that you’ll always have room to learn more about yourself, your feelings, and how you’re relating with others. 

What Is Emotional Maturity?

What does it mean to be “emotionally mature?” It means having reached a certain stage of growth in terms of your self-awareness, your relationship with your emotions, your ability to manage big feelings, and your understanding and empathy for other people

We all fall somewhere along a continuum of emotional maturity, and your spot on that continuum is not necessarily tied to your chronological age. It depends more on your ability to self-reflect and grow, and transform difficult experiences into wisdom and resilience

What Are Signs of Emotional Maturity?

So what does emotional maturity look like in practice? Here are a few of the traits that emotionally mature people share:

Deep Self-Awareness

The first hurdle we all have to leap over on the path to emotional maturity is becoming self-aware. Self-awareness means recognizing the feelings you’re having internally, and being able to manage them in appropriate, emotionally-safe ways. 

Being aware of your feelings can be more difficult than it sounds, especially if you were raised in a family where feelings were invalidated or, worse, shamed. Many people reach adulthood unsure of how to feel their feelings, which makes it impossible to manage emotions in a healthy way. When you’re not aware of feelings like frustration or anger, for example, you might grow resentful or even passive aggressive with the people in your life, without realizing what’s bothering you or having the opportunity to ask for what you need. If you’re not aware of your feelings of anxiety, you may attempt to manage those feelings by trying to control your environment, or trying to control other people

Managing Stress, Disappointment, and Setbacks

Emotionally mature people are able to manage stress and disappointment without becoming too overwhelmed to function. That doesn’t mean you never experience stress or even that you never feel overwhelmed, but it does mean that you can recognize when you’re under stress and make a conscious choice about how you want to respond, including through self-soothing techniques and emotional self-care skills. 

Taking Responsibility for Your Feelings

One of the hallmarks of emotional maturity is recognizing that your emotions belong to you, and that they’re no one else’s responsibility to change or manage. That means knowing that no one else has the power to “make you feel” anything — other people are responsible for their behavior, but not the emotional response that you have to their behavior. 

As harsh as that may sound, especially if someone has hurt you by acting in crappy ways, owning your feelings is actually the route to becoming self-empowered. It means trusting that your feelings are valid and that they’re part of an emotional guidance system that will point you in the direction of what is good and right and healthy for you. No one else can give you that kind of direction; it has to come from inside of you. 

Taking responsibility for your feelings makes life easier in a number of ways. It makes healthy communication easier, because you’re less likely to fall into unhealthy communication patterns like defensiveness, deflection, or blaming. It also eases any unhealthy guilt you might have when someone has a negative reaction to your choices. If you know in your heart that you are acting ethically and responsibly, you don’t have to take on the burden of trying to please others by changing yourself. 

Having Good Boundaries

It’s important to take responsibility for the things that are yours — i.e., your feelings — but it’s just as important to avoid taking responsibility for the things that are not. That’s where healthy boundaries come in. 

When you have healthy boundaries, you are clear about what is your problem, and what is not your problem. That doesn’t mean that you don’t care about other people’s experiences, validate them emotionally, and empathize with them. It just means that you don’t step outside of your sphere of control and into someone else’s because you’re fuzzy about where your responsibilities lie. 

The opposite of having healthy boundaries in this context looks like expecting other people to think, feel, or behave in the ways you believe they should (in order to make you feel better), and then getting upset when relationships fail to live up to your expectations. When you have healthy boundaries, you release other people to manage their side of the relational fence, and you focus on managing your own side. 

Embracing Radical Acceptance

Most of the pain that we experience in life is not a direct result of our circumstances. Instead, it’s secondary pain that comes from struggling against the reality of our circumstances. When we practice radical acceptance, we stop struggling against things we can’t change and begin directing our energy where it can actually make a difference. 

People with high levels of emotional maturity are adept at embracing reality and working within it. Instead of spending months feeling indignant about getting fired, for example, they can come to terms with their circumstances, process their feelings about what happened, and begin plotting a new beginning. An emotionally mature person also doesn’t waste time trying to change other people (a bad habit that can lead to codependent relationship dynamics), instead accepting that others will follow their own path. 

Giving and Receiving Love

Being able to both give and receive love is a hallmark of emotional maturity. 

Unfortunately, many of us are much better at one than the other. Not everyone has the opportunity to develop a strong sense of self-esteem, or a core belief that, despite their imperfections, they are worthy of love and respect. When you’re insecure in this fundamental way, allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person, in the way you need to be vulnerable in relationships in order to be loved, can feel unbearable. That’s why loving yourself is the path to finding loving relationships — having a well of self-love inside of you gives you the courage to allow yourself to be seen. 

People who are emotionally mature recognize that they have flaws just like everybody else, but that none of their flaws make them unlovable. They don’t have to do anything or become anything different in order to be worthy of love. They can give love to themselves and to others, and they can accept love in return. 

Having Empathy for Others

There’s a reason that we associate idealism with young people who haven’t had a ton of life experiences yet. Lacking empathy and understanding for others can be a mark of idealism, because it shows that you’re expecting other people to behave perfectly, rather than in the imperfect ways that make sense given their past experiences or current emotional reality. 

When you’re emotionally mature, you know that we all have bad days. An emotionally mature person can even have empathy for people who routinely act in ways that aren’t so great. There are always reasons that lead people to become the way they are, and having empathy for others simply means understanding and accepting those reasons. Without empathy, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing other people as one-dimensional villains when they do things you don’t like.  

Rejecting Perfectionism

The upside of being empathetic with others is not only that you will have healthier relationships, but that you’ll spend less time beating yourself up for your imperfections. Emotionally mature people can forgive themselves and move forward after mistakes, because they know in their bones that to err is human. 

When you’re emotionally mature, you aim for improvement, not perfection. You know that what matters is not doing everything right, but acknowledging your shortcomings, making repairs when necessary, and continuing to work on yourself. 

How to Become More Emotionally Mature

Just as most people tend to overestimate their emotional intelligence, it can be hard to know where your emotional maturity stands without some outside input. We all have blindspots, and often the people in our lives are hesitant to point them out to us for fear of hurting our feelings or damaging the relationship. 

Working with an emotional intelligence coach or a therapist with experience helping people develop their emotional maturity can help you get a clear understanding of where you are now, and where you have opportunities to grow. If you’re interested in developing your emotional maturity with an expert on our team, we invite you to schedule a free consultation


Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Building Your Emotional Maturity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by Mick Harvey with their song “Hank Williams Said it Best.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Hi, this is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. What does it mean to be emotionally mature, and why does it matter? How can you recognize emotional maturity in others? And most importantly, how can you cultivate it in yourself? That’s what we’re talking about on today’s show.

I chose to feature this artist, Mick Harvey, on today’s show about emotional maturity because I believe he has a great deal of insight into this subject, and really kind of exemplifies someone who has explored many facets of the human experience and the nuances of people’s emotional reality in a very insightful and empathetic way, that kind of exemplifies what we’re talking about today. 

This is his song, Hank Williams Said It Best, but this is a prolific artist who has many, many things to say. He is a novelist, a poet, a painter. I don’t know if he actually is a novelist, poet, or painter, but he brings that kind of depth and energy to his songs and albums, and I encourage you to check out all of his stuff,

I’m so excited for today’s episode, because today, we are talking about such an important topic, and, I think, something that we all aspire to, which is emotional maturity. Emotional maturity is really the foundation of so many of the ideas we’re exploring on this podcast, and it’s at the root of so much personal growth work. If you haven’t yet heard about the concept of emotional maturity, here’s a way of understanding it.

Somebody who is emotionally mature has reached, I think, a certain stage of growth, in terms of their self-awareness, their empathy, their understanding for themselves, but also for others, and has developed ways of being that help them manage big feelings, kind of ride the ups and downs, the waves of life. And also, I think, manage their relationships with others pretty skillfully. 

We talk a lot about emotional intelligence on this podcast, but truly, at the end of the day, I think someone who has worked on this and attained emotional intelligence, what it looks like in action is often emotional maturity, which is just another way of understanding it. And I think that most of us are in progress, right? We’re all falling somewhere on this continuum. 

If we have the wisest, most self-possessed person you’ve ever met on one end, and then, perhaps, a two-year-old throwing a tantrum on the floor of the grocery store, because you will not buy them the gummy worms. Those are two extremes of emotional maturity. And as we grow and evolve throughout our lives, hopefully, we are trending in the direction of becoming more emotionally mature as we go. 

What is also true is that cultivating emotional maturity is a really active and intentional growth process. Not all adults, even older adults have attained this, and just because you’ve reached a certain age or stage in life does not mean that you have attained emotional maturity. And certainly, if you haven’t been working on it consciously over the years, I think we all have room to grow in this area. 

I think, so much of the work that we’re doing here, at my counseling practice, Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, really at the core is in that emotional intelligence, emotional maturity realm, whether it’s how to become more emotionally healthy, how to grow personally, how to have better relationships, how to create a fulfilling career path. 

I mean, emotional maturity and intelligence is a core skill of achieving all of those things. Emotional maturity is the way we can love others fully, feel good about ourselves, and also, I think, take full responsibility for the lives that we’re creating. So there is so much to discuss here and it’s a really important topic, and I am so thrilled to be discussing this today with my colleague, Harold. 

Dr. Harold is a couples and family therapist. He is a counselor on our team here at Growing Self, and not only is he a true expert on this subject, I can personally attest that he is a very emotionally mature person. If you’ve ever spent any time with Dr. Harold, you, too, will have that impression as well, I think. And I thought he was the perfect person to explore this topic with us today. So Dr. Harold, thank you for being here.

Dr. Harold H. Park: Thank you. It’s great to be with you.

Lisa: Yeah. And you know what? I just have to share one of the things that I think, is a sign of emotional maturity, when we were first chatting about this topic, and I was like, “Harold, I really wanted to talk to you about this, because you seem like a very emotionally mature person.” You’re immediately like, “Well, if you asked my wife, she would probably tell you something different.” And it’s just that like– right there. There it is. 

That ability, I think, to be self-aware, to be understanding of, even at this place that you are in life, that you’ve done so much work on yourself, and have so much experience in helping others, there’s still this humbleness, humility, even. This ability to be like, “Yes, work in progress.” And I think that that, in some ways, exemplifies what we’re talking about. 

Harold: I think, one of the key things about self-growth is that we do need to have other people speaking into our lives. And so, with my wife, we’ve been married for 17 years, and and she picks up on things that I’m not able to recognize in myself, I have these blinders on. And so, she’s helped me in this journey of emotional maturity.

When I look at it, it’s sort of what you said, it’s a process, it’s an ongoing, lifelong journey where you can look at it kind of like– it’s like a slow cooker. It’s simmering. It’s something that’s continuous throughout our lifetime. It’s not something where you say, “Oh, I’ve got it. I’ve got this emotional maturity, and now, I don’t have to continue to change and grow.”  

It’s a process where we’re continually learning, continually being able to receive feedback, and do some self-exploration. So this is a really fascinating topic that I find– it’s really key for one’s own individual growth, or whatever relationship you’re in, emotional maturity is definitely going to be impacting those relationships.

Lisa: Yeah, for sure. Well, and I love the way that you describe this as a process– a process. I should tell our listeners that Dr. Harold is based in Winnipeg, Canada, and has the most charming Canadian accent, coming out a little bit in our conversation. So which is awesome.

Harold: Yeah, I always find, whenever I say that word, the clients that I have in the States, they say it a different way. So process, process, it’s different, but we understand what we’re talking about,

Lisa: Yeah, there’s just a few little differences with, I think, Canadian English, and American English, and the word process is one of them, but that’s such like a wise point. And, I think, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I’ve worked with clients so many times, or even experienced this in my own life. It’s like, where I want to feel more emotionally mature, kind of cultivate my emotional intelligence. 

I do think that, to a degree, we can incorporate new skills and new ideas and practice things differently in service of that goal. But truly, the way that this works is exactly what you said, like your slow cooker metaphor, that you, I believe, really need to live through some life experiences that teach you about yourself and give you the opportunity to learn how to manage some of these things. 

You can’t really rush that. You kind of have to live through it, at least, to a degree. It’s up in your experience.

Harold: Yeah, I find like, sometimes, when I meet with clients, they look at situations in life that are challenging. You could call them roadblocks, but I look at those opportunities as stepping stones towards growth. And so, if you have that mindset, realizing that this is an opportunity to be more self-aware, to know how to work on this in healthy ways, then I believe, that those storms in life really are the teachers for us.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s a wise advice. And so, to set this up a little bit, I mean, and this may be challenging, and I don’t want to put you on the spot, but for the benefit of our listeners, I think that we all have our own definitions of what certain things mean.

But what would you describe as being sort of your definition of emotional maturity, versus what you sort of think of as a way of being that you would consider more emotionally immature? How do you see those two things?

Harold: That’s a good question. I think, there’s so many aspects to emotional maturity. And so, I think one of the key things is just having an awareness of the emotions that we’re feeling inside, and then, to be able to express and to be able to control our emotions in appropriate ways. 

I think, just that recognition, that self-awareness within ourselves, and then, being able to recognize that with other people, what feelings other people are going through, and then to respond appropriately, that’s one of the key things that’s at the core of emotional maturity. There’s so many other aspects, but when I look at emotional maturity, I would say that would be one of the key things. 

In terms of low levels of emotional maturity, I think, if you think about people who may not be able to feel comfortable with their emotions, maybe, growing up, they were raised by parents who really didn’t feel comfortable with those emotions to be with their child during those times when the child was feeling sad or frightened, where they felt, maybe the child felt like it was inappropriate to feel that way. 

If someone’s grown up in that environment, then, when they’re adults, they may feel like having these kinds of emotions are not healthy, they’re not useful. And so, then, what do you do with that when you’re in a relationship, and you’re feeling these things? How do you express that to your partner? Or if you’re sensing these emotions from your partner, then how do you respond to that? 

Emotional immaturity, I would say is the inability to really process those emotions in a healthy way and to respond appropriately. So I think that’s one of the starting points.

Lisa: Yeah, gosh, what a beautiful definition. So to recap, understanding yourself, being able to manage yourself, understanding others, and then, being able to communicate in an appropriate way, is really the definition of emotional maturity.

The opposite of that would either be not knowing how you feel, not knowing how to regulate your own internal wellbeing, not understanding others, or perhaps responding inappropriately or not communicating well, in those moments. Thank you for breaking that down.

Harold: That’s really just the starting point. There’s so many other aspects of emotional maturity that we can talk more about in our session.

Lisa: Oh, I would love to. And I’m also, actually, thinking about another thing. And I don’t know if this is okay to ask, and if you’d rather not talk about any of this on the podcast, completely understandable. We can shift but I think that our listeners might also benefit from knowing. 

I mean, you have some really interesting and unusual and important life experiences that, in addition to being a therapist, and to being a coach, that I imagine would have informed your own emotional maturity, but also your ability to really understand this and others. Would you mind sharing just a little bit about your journey?

Harold: Sure. Yeah, I’d be happy to share. So I spent seven years doing chaplaincy work in several prisons in our area. And so, I got to interact and counsel male offenders. And so, that really gave me an insight about how they thought about themselves, how they thought about life, how they go about processing things. And so, when we talk about emotional maturity, there were often roadblocks for them to developing emotional maturity. 

A lot of that is related to things that happened in their childhood trauma, adverse childhood experiences, which really stunted them in their ability to grow in emotional maturity. And then, just the modeling that they had growing up, perhaps their household was filled with addictions, divorce, incarceration, various types of abuses, neglect, all these things really contribute to how people are able to grow in their emotional development. That experience has helped me to look at some of the key factors, in terms of emotional maturity.

The other experience that I really feel has shaped my understanding of emotional maturity is the fact that, in our family, we have a few children who have been adopted into our family. And through that experience, I’ve been able to realize that even though a child may be 13, their emotional maturity level may be at a– maybe like a 10-year-old or 9-year-old. 

We really need to be very empathetic towards where they’re at, in terms of their ability to deal with things emotionally. And so, that’s given me a greater level of empathy towards people who are still children, are still trying to deal with trauma, how to move forward, dealing with life. 

Having these kinds of day-by-day conversations with our children has really helped me to understand that, chronologically, they’re a certain age, but emotionally, socially, and in various other ways, they may be several years behind, and I really need to be able to be with them where they’re at.

Lisa: Just hearing you talk about some of your life experiences, Harold, is just– and I’m sure that those must have been some challenging moments. I mean, sitting with the people that you have, and so compassionately. 

But also, like, I think, just what a gift to have the perspective that you have, and really to be able to understand what’s going on, and also, “Why?” to understand that some people, the hand that they get dealt, it’s very– that their path is much more difficult because of that. But also, a wonderful point, and I think, I’ve had a milder version of that experience. 

But I mean, I, myself, have had interactions, either with people in my personal life, or also as a therapist where I might be sitting with a, chronologically, 30-something-year-old person, and just have this moment of understanding where I’m like, “I am sitting with a 13-year-old,” in terms of their emotional capacity, social skills, developmental abilities. Not in their intelligence, but like, that something happened, that they did get stuck. 

When I can shift that and see that that’s what this says, be able to kind of handle it differently as a counselor. As opposed to having expectations, I think, of that person that are really unreasonable, given what the reality is, but knowing that, then, we can move forward.

Harold: Yeah, I really believe that we really need to take time to get to know people’s stories, and to be able to step into their shoes for a bit, and really understand what has contributed to where they’re at, emotionally. As I’ve been meeting with couples, oftentimes, what I find is that, there have been roadblocks in their emotional maturity, and that significantly has affected their ability to, to connect and communicate with their partner. 

It is important to be able to have an idea of where they’ve been in the past, and to be able to look at at their lives from an empathetic, compassionate perspective.

Lisa: You mentioned a couple of minutes ago that you’ve realized that there are other kind of facets of this or consideration. We’re thinking about emotional maturity that you were– you’re excited to dive into. 

I’d love to invite you. I mean, just to share some of your thoughts about this, because I know that this is a huge topic, we could go in a lot of different directions, but what do you, I’m curious to know what you think, are the most important things for our listeners to know and to understand?

Harold: Yeah, I would say, as we go through life, we’re dealt road bumps, we’re dealt curveballs, and I think, one of the key things of someone who’s emotionally mature is to be able to handle those road bumps and curveballs in life. 

To know that when we’re under stress, that we are able to deal with those in a way that really is a healthy process; to deal with our feelings or thoughts related to those challenges; and then, to be able to make the choices that really reflect our maturity. 

Instead of being impulsive, and just kind of reacting to some situation– let’s say, you’ve had an argument with your partner, and you feel like shouting out the curse words, to then, be able to really process that and be able to take time to work your way through that, and be able to have a healthier response. 

I think that one of the key things is just dealing with your own thoughts, your emotions, and being able to really come up with more of a healthier, emotionally mature response.

Lisa: So what you’re really talking about is a lot of self-awareness as being a big component of emotional maturity. Like, to be understanding, the inner experience that you’re having, the thoughts, the feelings, knowing that you have a tendency to react in certain ways, that may not be like– in your experience, is that a big component of emotional maturity is developing that like, understanding of yourself?

Harold: I would say that’s probably one of the key starting points is– just that self-awareness of recognizing what emotions you have. And then, to be able to take responsibility for those things and not blaming others for that, or deflecting or becoming defensive. And then, through those feelings, just being able to know, “Okay, so what do I do next?” 

“What do I need to communicate? How would I be able to express my needs or my wants clearly and honestly, with the people that I’m in relationship with?” So I think, the the ability to be self-aware of those things would be just really a key starting point.

Lisa: Well, and you brought up another really important facet, and one of the things that, to me, signifies emotional maturity, is this ability to take responsibility, rather than blaming others, or kind of externalizing things. Can you say more about that idea of taking responsibility, and how it relates to emotional maturity? And also, if I may add, why it’s so hard to do that sometimes?

Harold: It really ties into this concept of boundaries. I think boundaries are things that people kind of have an understanding what that is– is basically being able to own the things that are yours, that you’re able to take control of, and have ownership of, and then, allowing for other people to own their stuff, their side of their story or their responses. 

I really believe that if we have healthy boundaries, that’s going to help us to be able to have a clearer perspective of what is it that we have control over, what is it that we don’t have control over. That will simplify things in ourselves, because sometimes, what happens is, when we deal with a challenging situation, without the healthy boundaries, we may, kind of cross the boundaries, and then try to, maybe, force other people to think how we think.

We may expect them to do certain things, but we really don’t have control of that side. So oftentimes, the way I explain it is, think of having a rectangular table in front of you, and you have a piece of tape down the middle. 

On the left side are things that you could take responsibility for, you can take ownership of, and on the right side are things that are not yours to own, that we need to be able to have that boundary to allow other people to own their things. And so, if we can do that, I believe that would really help us in managing our relationships well. 

Lisa: Wow, there’s a lot here. ‘Cause we’re talking about, like, boundaries with yourself, almost, and having clarity around, “Okay, what is on my side of that tape line on the table, the things that I can control, the things that I am in charge of, these are my responsibilities in order to be bringing good things to the table. Be it  my relationship and my role as a parent, with my health, with my career, even. Like, these are things I can do.” 

But also having a lot of clarity around many other things like, what is actually someone else’s responsibility? What is their problem, rather than my problem? And also, though, a lot of awareness and insight around– I’m struggling for the words here a little bit– it’s like, the things that I almost don’t have the right in some ways to define for others.

My rules, my expectations, my core beliefs about the ways of being that I feel are correct and virtuous. Like, to almost not be putting those on other people, and then getting upset when they don’t do that. So to have a lot of awareness around, like where the margins are, because you’re totally right. 

I mean, we’ve both seen a lot of relationships run into trouble when people come at their partners or their co-workers or whatever, with these expectations of how they should be behaving, that are sort of self-defined. There’s a lot here.

Harold: Yeah. And I think, along with the boundaries is to get to a place where you can accept the reality of the situation, where there may be things that are totally out of your hands, but unless we come to a place where we can accept that that’s the reality. It’ll lead us to becoming frustrated, becoming stressed, anxious. 

But if we can get to the place where we can accept that this is where things are right now, we’re controlling our side of the table, we’re doing the best we can to manage that, and we’re just going to release it to the people that need to focus on their side of the table. So I think that would bring a greater level of peace, being able to move forward from those things.

Lisa: Yeah, I feel like we’re starting to talk about this idea of radical acceptance, we’ve heard it called, which is a challenging thing to wrap your mind around. But I’m hearing you say, is also a core ingredient of true emotional maturity. 

I’ve had clients put me on the spot sometimes, they’re like, “Tell me what radical acceptance is.” Because it’s almost like a hard thing to explain, to define. But what you are saying is accepting what is, as a path to inner peace. Can you just talk a little bit more about your understanding of radical acceptance, because it’s difficult,

Harold: I would say it’s how you can embrace reality, what is happening in your situation today. So let’s say, in your relationship, or in your work life, to be able to get to a point where you can say, “I know that this is difficult. I’ve only got a certain amount of control in this situation. But I’m gonna get to a place where I realize that there’s a lot out of my hands, and I’m just going to embrace this reality that I’m dealt with.” 

“The deck that I’m dealt with, this deck of cards, this is the reality, and I’m going to embrace it. I’m not going to try to fight it. I’’m not going to try to do things that are crossing the boundaries.” And so, it is a difficult concept to be able to embrace that.

Lisa: As we’re talking, I’m thinking of a story that I often kind of go to– almost like a parable– that I go to when trying to help explain this idea. And I’m going to totally butcher this, so for everybody who knows how the actual story knows, thank you for being patient with me. But the story that, in my mind, was that there are two Buddhist monks walking alongside the river, one day. And out of nowhere, this guy rushes up and pushes both of them into this raging river. 

It is a whitewater river, it is cold, there are rocks, it is dangerous, and, understandably, both of these monks are very upset. “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that just happened. He had no right to do that. That was wrong. We did nothing.” And the difference between the two is that one of the monks was able to shift towards radical acceptance in that moment of, “Okay, this thing happened. And now, I am in a river that is cold, I am in great danger. This is happening.” 

Coming very much like in the present moment, reality. And from this space, letting go being mad about it, but thinking about, “Okay, what can I do right this very second to sort of incrementally improve this?” And begins kind of dog paddling his way over to the shore, grabs a branch, hauls himself out, and lives to fight another day, because of that embracing of radical acceptance, 

Whereas, the other monk is not in reality, he is fighting a fight with a person that threw him in the river. He is now 15 minutes ago in his mind, yelling at the person who did this and how wrong it was, and experiencing all the anger. And in that space, does not– is not able to take action to save themselves, and drowns. And so, that’s kind of– that’s a story that I know to kind of explain it. 

But that idea of emotional maturity is, as you’re saying, like, what is my reality? What can I be responsible for? No sense in being mad about it, right? Like, here’s what we’re doing, and having that faith of being able to make your way to a better, better place?

Harold: Yeah, I like that story. Because in life, we were going to be facing challenges, there’s no doubt about that. But are we able to respond positively to those experiences and be able to have a frame of mind where we know that, through that, there can be opportunities? If it’s raining, a person can complain about the rain, or the person can, maybe, sell some umbrellas. It’s just how you look at your situation that will dictate the direction that you choose.

Lisa: Yeah. So in this, you’re saying that another big piece of emotional maturity is the ability to kind of have control of your own mindset. Like, to be able to notice if you’re thinking in a way that’s not really helpful to you or anybody else, and then, intentionally kind of shift into a more helpful way of thinking that helps you feel better. Helps you– is that what you’re saying?

Harold: Yeah, because when you look at it, it’s going back to that table analogy. That mindset is what you have control over. So that’s your side of the table that you can control. Of course, it takes effort to be able to have that mindset. 

But ultimately, you could control your mindset, your attitude towards the situation that you’re in. And so, I think, that’s a really key part of it because we will have challenges in life, but it’s, “How do we create a mindset that will help us to move forward in a positive way?”

Lisa: I think, I’m also aware, and I think is important for our listeners to consider that emotional maturity isn’t attaining this perfect state where you don’t have dark feelings, or where you don’t have unhelpful thoughts, or you don’t have a tendency, a knee-jerk reaction to react to things in certain ways. Emotional maturity is almost embracing the fact that you do have all those things. 

Maybe dark emotions or unhelpful thoughts or a tendency to react in certain ways, and know how to manage those and deal with those in the moment effectively, so that that’s not your operating system. We’re not trying to make them go away. Is that true?

Harold: Yeah, I think, we do need to be gracious to ourselves to know that, even if we think that we are emotionally mature, there’s going to be situations that we’re going to be dysregulated. If our child says some things to us, we can flip our lid, and we can get into those situations where it’s a– we can take it as a growth opportunity. 

We don’t have to have it all together, but I think, it’s just continuing that simmering process, that we’re going to keep moving forward, keep learning from our life experiences, and work towards becoming more emotionally mature.

Lisa: Are there other facets of emotional maturity that you think are important to discuss?

Harold: I think one of the outcomes of emotional maturity in relationships, it’s really important to be able to give love and to receive love. And for some, it could be just in one direction, depending on kind of your personality. But I think it’s really important to be able to love deeply, and to be loved by your partner deeply, to allow your partner to love you. 

I think that is one of the key things that’s important as we grow in this area; that we have the ability to be vulnerable, that we can show love, we could do acts of service, of kindness to our partner, and in turn, be vulnerable enough to receive that from our partner.

Lisa: Yeah, the receiving can be so hard can’t it?

Harold: For sure. Yeah. I know people that are good at giving. They’re sort of built to serve others, but to receive love from others, some people may feel like, “Oh, I don’t deserve it. I’m not worthy of this love.” And that could be a real barrier in a relationship.

Lisa: Oh, yeah. Relationship, careers, I mean, so much – Well, then let’s talk about this, then, because this is also related. There’s a dimension of self-worth or self-esteem, a belief in one’s own inherent worthiness of love and respect. Like, how do you see that as tying into emotional maturity? 

Because I mean, really, when we look at it through that lens, it’s hard to imagine a truly emotionally mature person who does not have a fundamentally stable sense of self– trust in themselves. Belief that they are okay, at least.

Harold: Yeah, this is a good topic, because, I think, a lot of things do stem from our childhood. And so, I think it’s important to talk about attachment style, how your relationship was with your caregivers when you were growing up and to look at that impact. 

Because the consistency of our caregivers in our lives, in terms of meeting our emotional relational needs physical needs, that sets us up for our ability to have healthy adult relationships. And so, we may be in a secure type of relationship, or secure attachment with them, or maybe insecure attachment

There’s a lot of research out there on how that affects us in our relationships. And so, we really need to look at the impact of our childhood experiences to be able to have a better understanding of ourselves, how that shaped our belief system about ourself. And I think, if we don’t do that work, we may be really struggling to have intimate connected relationships in our adult years, as a result of some of those things that may be unresolved and processed. 

But we really do have the ability to go back and make sense of our relationships and childhood, so that we can become earned-secure, which is our eventual goal.

Lisa: Yeah. Okay. So that’s fantastic wisdom and deep insight, and such important work, I think, for all of us. And I know, we don’t have a ton of time left. But there’s one other piece of this that I did think was probably important to discuss with our listeners, because in my experience, both emotional intelligence and emotional maturity, it is, I think, the norm, to not really have a full understanding of our own developmental levels in these areas. 

It’s notorious, particularly with emotional intelligence, certainly, that people tend to believe that they have higher emotional intelligence skills than they actually do. And I think that many times, people are very happy to consider emotional maturity, like in the context of their partner, or friends, or family member. Like, what they’re doing– or not looking but like, doing. 

We have blind spots when it comes to really understanding like, where we are, and that reactivity. And so, because this is so hard, there are, I think, only a few really reliable ways to kind of shine a light on this. And first of all, is to be in a relationship with somebody who loves you enough and is courageous enough to talk about their experiences of you in a constructive way that helps you grow. So that’s door number one. 

I think, too, partnering with a good therapist, either individually, in couples counseling, or even an emotional intelligence coach can be another way of getting in to this.

Because that person will be able to listen to your stories and help you talk about your patterns, your ways of thinking, your reactions, your core beliefs in a way that will help them understand what your growth opportunities are, and will be able to reflect that back to you and kind of point you in the direction of of growth. But for today, I put together a little quiz of just questions to consider of yourself.

That was– I was thinking through, like, these are things that I associate with a growth opportunity when it comes to emotional maturity. And so, I’m just gonna run through things, and Dr. Harold, as we do this, I would love for you to be thinking about, are there any other questions that you would put on this quiz? 

For people listening to the show today, to be considering, “Yeah, I do that,” as just a way of being able to assess their own opportunities for growth, here. Here are some of my questions. And so, our listeners, think true or false when you hear these.

So, one would be, “I tend to avoid conflict.” True or false?

Two, “When others are upset, I try really hard to cheer them up, and make them not feel whatever they’re feeling.”

True or false: “I feel like I need a lot of attention or external validation from others in order to feel happy and/or good about myself.” True or false?

True or false: “I believe that if other people got their act together and started behaving in ways that were more like me, then I would feel a lot happier and less annoyed. That my– the way I feel is because of what somebody else is or isn’t doing.”

True or false: “I feel like I need to impress people by looking a certain way, being charming or interesting, or making them laugh, or maybe, being really smart, like, my worth, my value is in my ability to perform.”

True or false: “I tend to gloss over and minimize issues in my relationships when confronted directly, but often feel resentful, or hold grudges against people.”

True or false: “When I feel down or upset, I try to escape this bad mood as quickly as I possibly can. Because I have a core belief that dark emotions are something to be avoided.”

True or false: “My feelings get hurt very easily.”

True or false: “I believe that people are generally mean, selfish, or unfair, or untrustworthy.”

True or false: “I believe that expressing anger in a hostile way, and/or criticism towards people or punishing them with a silent treatment is an effective way to change my relationships for the better.”

True or false: “How I feel in any given moment is largely dependent on my circumstance  from day-to-day. I feel like I’m kind of blown around by the wind emotionally.” 

True or false: “I believe that people should be happy most of the time. And if they are not, something is wrong. And that’s true for me and for others.”

True or false: “I believe that children who misbehave are just testing limits, and need to immediately be disciplined or punished or corrected.”

True or false: “Social media and the reactions that I get from posting pictures of myself doing fun things or giving the impression that I have an admirable life really helps my self-esteem when I get that affirmation, or it crushes my self-esteem when I don’t get the reaction or affirmation that I’m looking for.”

True or false: “I believe that I need to be loved, accepted, and appreciated for exactly who and what I am. Anyone telling me that I have opportunity for growth or improvement, or that I am making them feel badly, I do not agree with that, and I will not participate in that conversation.”

And then, lastly, true or false: “When other people are experiencing troubles, problems, issues, vulnerabilities, it makes me feel better about myself.” I don’t know what your reactions are to that little list, and I threw that together in about 45 seconds. So it’s not fully thought through. 

But those are some of the things that I would look at for a self assessment. I’m curious to know, which of those that you might disagree with or perceived differently, or true-or-false questions that you would add to this list?

Harold: Yeah, those are really insightful, thought-provoking questions. Like, I’d be curious to hear from the listeners; what their responses were. Because, when I heard those questions is like, I kind of think about, “Yeah, is this is this someone who is emotionally mature, like the way I responded to those questions?”

“Or am I still needing to work on this area?” So I think this is really good. I think this would be helpful to really process this, and think about where do I need to go from my responses?

Lisa: Yeah. And just full transparency, I personally would have answered true to about half of these. So there’s that– depending on the day, but like, I mean, I think that these are– but it’s that idea that it’s easy for all of us to think that we don’t have things to learn in this area. Are there true-or-false questions that you would add to the list, Dr. Harold, or does it feel like that’s pretty good?

Harold: I think that’s pretty good. That’s a lot to really process, and I think that as we think about these things, that will give us an idea of what is it that we need to to work on, what direction do we need to go to to find emotional maturity.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, Dr. Harold, this has been just such a great conversation, and I love your suggestion to our listeners, that if you have reactions you’d like to share or examples of emotional maturity that we’re thinking of, maybe, during this conversation. Let us know you can come over to our blog at and look for this post. 

I think, we’re just going to call this one The Habits of Emotionally Mature People. So you’ll cruise over to our blog, And then, we’ll probably put this one into the Personal Growth collection. I think also, the Healthy Relationships collection, so you’ll be able to find it there. And then, chime in in the comments for sure. 

You can certainly, also, while you’re there, learn more about Dr. Harold and his practice, or speak with him if you would like to have a consultation with Dr. Harold. But also, Harold, before we wrap up, I was wondering if you could also share with our listeners, let’s do a little plug for your wife’s work and her podcast because I’m already so interested in having her on the show sometime. 

It sounds like she’s just doing a really amazing mission that our listeners may be interested in learning more about. So can you give us a rundown on what she’s up to?

Harold: Sure. Thank you, Dr. Lisa, for allowing me to share. So my wife and I, we founded a national nonprofit organization in Canada, about close to 10 years ago. And ourselves, we were in the process of adoption, roughly about 10 years ago, and we realized that there was a real need to support children that are in the child welfare arena. 

What we did was, we started up a nonprofit to be able to meet the needs of children and families who are involved with adoption, foster care, or just generally, people that were in the child welfare arena. And so, our organization is called Care Impact, and we’re national. We focus on connecting Child and Family Services with the church community to be able to meet the needs of the families. 

This is something that is done– we have this online platform that allows these needs to be met. So let’s say, if a child needs a crib, or a car seat, then the need goes to the social worker that’s working with that family, and those needs are sent to churches that are in various communities that we’re working with. 

Our organization helps to be kind of like a bridge organization to really help struggling families, children, and to be able to meet those needs. So that’s sort of what we do.

Lisa: That’s amazing. And I don’t know if we ever talked about this before, but I and my husband, ourselves, are former foster parents, and to have– I mean, we had people dropping bags of clothes and stuff off to our house, and just being able to help us help meet the needs of some of these children, it was just such a godsend, and also wonderful to experience. 

Because, yes, we were there, as the foster parents, but like, feeling just this community support all around us. It was definitely like that village experience; so good. And then, and your wife also has a podcast that it sounds like, is focused also on an aspect of this, around the idea of reconciliation, which is also just an amazing and important topic. Can you say a little bit more about her work around reconciliation?

Harold: Sure. The podcast is called Journey With Care, and you could find it through a link on our website at And we started this podcast about six months ago, and the focus is really to bring light to the need for reconciliation. Here in Canada, there have been a lot of challenges. Historically, the indigenous people have been really treated in a way that’s been unfair. 

We know that through the history of Canada that there has been situations such as residential schools, the stripping of their culture, adoption, racial injustice, there’s all sorts of things that have really prevented the indigenous people from thriving. And so, this podcast is really to be able to highlight stories: stories of healing, stories of challenges that indigenous people have gone through. 

What we’re trying to do is help bring awareness to just really get to learn the experiences that have happened, and just to be able to know that we can come to the table, and we can hear the stories and have a greater understanding and empathy, and be able to, then, start to find some solutions. How can we work together to rebuild relationships, to be able to reconcile these relationships that have been strained over the many years?  

Because in Canada, there has been a lot of injustices done to the indigenous population. And so, our organization, we wanted to start this podcast, journeying in a good way, to be able to raise awareness and to bring healing to our country.

Lisa: Well, that’s so awesome, Dr. Harold. I mean, just I’m such a huge fan of you, and your your work as a counselor and a coach, you’re here in our practice. But just to know that you’re involved in so many other very cool things, it just makes it even all the more admirable. 

Thank you for talking more about your work in these other areas with our listeners today. And so, the Care Impact organization, and then, also moving forward in a good way are things to check out for sure.

Harold: Yeah. So that’d be great. If you want to check it out. Yeah, we’re here, we’re online.

Lisa: Awesome. Well, Dr. Harold, thank you, again, so much for spending this time with me today, and for sharing so much of your your wisdom and insight on emotional maturity with our listeners. It was wonderful, and I hope we could do this again sometime soon.

Harold: Oh, that’d be great. Thank you, Dr. Lisa, for having me today.

Lisa: Dr. Harold and I unpacked a lot of stuff today. And if you would like to keep going, there is so much more here for you. Go to, and I would suggest you check out our Emotional Wellness collection where we’re talking about how to access and manage all kinds of feelings, and also, while you’re there, check out our Emotional Intelligence collection. 

Because a lot of what Harold and I were really talking about today is the development and refinement of emotional intelligence skills. In our collections, you’ll also find articles and podcasts about things like empathy, emotional regulation, communication skills. And also, I’ve put together podcast collections for you on those pages as well. 

Come check them out,, and from there, you can start playing around in different collections and sign what’s meaningful to you. But in the meantime, I hope you subscribe to the podcast so we can talk again next time. And in the meantime, enjoy more Mick Harvey with a song Hank Williams Said It Best. 

You can learn more about Mick Harvey, get his albums, keep track of when he may be going on tour,

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