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 episode of the podcast is going to show you how.
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. I hope you’ll join us.
You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
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Building Emotional Maturity: Episode Highlights
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.
Here are a few of the traits that you tend to find among emotionally mature people:
- 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.
- Kissing Perfectionism Goodbye
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.
Building Your Emotional Maturity
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.
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Building Your Emotional Maturity
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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:https://mickharvey1.bandcamp.com/. 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 copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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