I got an email from a client recently in which she described herself as emotionally immature. She’s a very warm person, hard-working, and intelligent, but I asked myself, “Is she immature?” The simple answer is yes, she is, but aren’t we all emotionally immature in our own ways?
It’s helpful to think of emotional maturity as residual. We are each as emotionally mature as our experience, actions, and beliefs have led us to be. A good analogy for this idea is physical health. If you do sit-ups regularly you’re likely to have strong abs; your physical strength is based on your past actions. In other words, in the present moment we have no direct control over our emotions.
The point about my client is that her awareness of emotional immaturity is very beneficial to her and can lead her to make changes to live a more fulfilled life and better relationships. Her past is certainly affecting her current outcomes, but it doesn’t need to define her future. Merely saying she want to change isn’t sufficient either, she needs to take action which will help her increase her emotional maturity.
What kind of action might she take? A good starting point is awareness of her emotions. We are all emotional creatures and quite often our emotions dominate us. In order to change this we need first to pay attention to our feelings and realize that just because we feel a certain way doesn’t mean that we’re judging a situation, or event accurately. With practice we can better manage emotions so they don’t swamp or dominate us. We can also take charge of our thoughts. A strong emotional experience often leads to repetitive thinking that doesn’t lead to real change. This repetitive thinking is more likely to increase our emotional turbulence. Once we realize this, we can begin practicing putting a stop to such thinking and instead learning to focus out attention on whatever it is we are doing in the moment.