I wrote this blog because I recognise just how much conflict and unnecessary pain and drama is created by emotional immaturity; it is entirely disempowering, and yet can so easily be addressed… leading to a much happier, healthier, more productive life. If you are at the mercy of someone who is emotionally immature, you will understand just how draining and exhausting it can be, and how easy it becomes to end up distrusting and disliking them.
The biggest problem with emotional immaturity is that it is a defensive and largely destructive force. It is to be expected from the young… say early to late teens, and even into the twenties in these modern times. However, in people who are older than that, especially those in their late 30’s and up, it is not an attractive, life-enhancing quality – and it is a real pain in the backside to deal with!
One of the key features of emotional immaturity is victim-mentality – because it is all about reaction rather than response – and reaction goes hand-in-hand with defensiveness… which always comes from the desire to self-protect. The emotionally immature will often believe themselves to have been consistently let-down, hurt, used, ignored or abandoned, and will usually be easily offended.
We all respond in an emotionally immature way from time to time; however, if we are engaging in it on a regular basis it has probably become our default setting, and we are likely to have programmed ourselves to react to life rather than respond to it – and there is a difference between the two, the first making life far more difficult than it needs to be… for ourselves and those around us.
And of course, as already mentioned, emotional immaturity isn’t restricted to certain age groups. I have worked with 20 year olds who handle life in a more mature way than some 50 year olds; it is possible to grow up in body, raise a family, run a home, hold down a job… and yet still be a simmering pot of fearfulness and hypersensitivity, taking every challenge and discomfort personally, and often refusing to accept any degree of personal responsibility.
I have a theory that emotional immaturity really comes from being unconsciously stuck at some point in the past, usually a long way back. It is all about feeling unsafe, invalidated, unsupported. It can, of course, also be about selfishness and self-entitlement, and even manipulation. I remember the woman who’s fear of travel also prevented her partner and son from going anywhere, but it wasn’t the ‘phobia’ that was the problem, as far as I could see – it was her attitude. She appeared to be almost proud of the fact that she had this issue, meeting every suggestion for change with an immediate and challenging – almost jubilant – reaction, arms folded tightly across her chest. She had an answer for everything, and she reminded me of a stubborn, angry child (which she probably was, emotionally speaking), and appeared to be ruling the roost in her home through her fears and phobias… it was almost as if they gave her a sense of power that she willingly wielded over her loved ones. I concluded that, at some point in her life, she had experienced strong feelings of powerlessness and insecurity, which, at a psychological level, had led her to come up with an effective way to, a) protect herself, and b) regain a sense of personal power. Having a bit of hypnotherapy was unlikely to be enough, as her fear was not really about travel, about boats, trains and aeroplanes – it was about powerlessness. Of course, I’m not a psychologist and this is only my personal conclusion, and so I could be completely wrong!
How DARE you!
Emotional immaturity shows itself through consistent (as opposed to occasional) over-reaction to everything that is deemed to be an ‘attack’. Or, to the suggestion that the reactor might need to change something about his or her approach if they desire a different outcome from the one they generally experience. Or, when they hear something they don’t like, that doesn’t run in line with their demands and expectations.
It is difficult to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with an emotionally immature person, regardless of gender, because they are habitually defensive and self-protective. They lack genuine, hard-earned coping skills, and struggle to accept personal responsibility for their own emotional state. Age-wise mature people who enter into relationships with overly-romanticised thinking and unreasonable expectation are displaying signs of emotional immaturity. Of course we all want to be with a partner who loves, accepts and cares for us – but, in a realistic, manageable way. We cannot carry the rawness of our own past into a new situation, demanding that the other person heal us and be the source of our happiness! Having a hit-list of needs that must be met in order for us to trust them is asking too much.
Another way that emotional immaturity raises its head for the age-wise mature person is when dating turns into a huge drama; falling head over heels in ‘love’ at the drop of a hat, becoming fixated before getting to know the other person properly, becoming too caught up in obviously questionable situations, refusing to acknowledge the warning signs… this is not romance, it is co-dependence and neediness!
THEY did THIS to ME!
I believe that the internet encourages emotionally immature behaviour in a massive way: for every person who is offended in any way at all, about anything at all, there is an immediate platform from which they can vent their spleen – with an immediate and willing audience. And the way in which a review/opinion is delivered speaks volumes. If it is factual and non-personal, fair enough; if it is passionate without being personally insulting, fine; it if is critical but tongue in cheek, maybe even a little humorous, that’s okay. And, sometimes, it is necessary to defend our position when it is clear that the critic’s intention is to cause us as much hurt and damage as possible… but even then, it needs to be a considered, rather than reactive, response. When a review or post is spiteful, vitriolic, designed to deliberately undermine another in a very personal way, and it comes from someone over the age of 25, but especially anyone over the age of 35… you know for sure that you are not dealing with an emotionally mature person! We all occasionally react in ways that we later regret (well, I know I have!), but when such behaviour has become a way of life for us, then something seriously needs to be addressed!
Reacting, rather than responding, is something we can recognise within ourselves and change – which requires self-analysis, honesty… and maturity! Sometimes people hurt us without meaning to; sometimes we have an unmet expectation of another that has absolutely nothing to do with them and is all our own work; sometimes we are hearing something that could really benefit us – but it makes us as mad as hell! It is impossible to feel satisfied with life, to be happy more often than unhappy, to progress, to enjoy any real form of success, to be able to associate with emotionally healthy individuals on a regular basis – to be genuinely, willingly loving and giving – whilst operating from an emotionally immature mindset. And even if we fake it for a while, or pretend to ourselves that we aren’t that person… if we are, and are not working to change and heal it, it will rear its ugly head again!
So, to sum up, here is a selection of characteristics often displayed by the emotionally immature… some, or all, could be relevant, at any given moment in time!
Unreasonable expectations and demands
Harbouring long-term grudges
Editing situations/the past to present themselves in a better light
Over-reaction to any actual or perceived slight/hurt
Immediately informing the world about the wrong that has been done to them, and, specifically by whom (usually their own, edited version)
Seeking out the company of those who are sure to validate their reactive behaviour
Falling to pieces or into a rage the moment they are challenged or hear something they don’t like.
Refusal to consider whether or not they own any responsibility in a situation that has upset them
The need to emotionally protect themselves at all costs, turning the tables on anyone who questions their attitude or approach
An ongoing bitter attitude
Expecting someone else to be responsible for their self-worth and happiness
Refusal to recognise what is obviously not working – because they WANT it to work
Can’t see it…
As I said earlier, we are ALL emotionally immature periodically, and some of the above will apply to us at certain times. Actually, I have just recognised a potential problem with this blog: the seriously emotionally immature probably won’t read it, and even if they do, the likelihood is that they won’t recognise themselves… or, they’ll react defensively!
Not my fault…
I remember witnessing a woman and her adult son engaged in a huge row, and his claim that she had only ever told him that she loved him once, whilst drunk, was met with huge resistance, and tears and wails of how she couldn’t ‘cope’ with this. When he was a child, she had said that she was going to the shop, when in reality she was going off with a man she had met, leaving him behind with an angry step-father. She did eventually return, but things were never addressed, and over the years there was a lot of right and wrong on both sides. But, whilst watching them, it struck me that she saw herself as the victim, and yes, things probably had been tough… but she could so easily have made a much better attempt to reach out and reassure. She could have genuinely apologised for the past, and responded in a more loving way, much earlier on. I am not saying that that would have been enough to heal everything – the whole family were blistering with resentment and rage toward one another – but it could have been better. Her unwillingness to accept responsibility for her actions, to try and create a better future for all concerned, was not coming from an emotionally mature place. I have always said that just because two people have sex and conceive a child (which requires absolutely no talent!), doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the desire or the capacity to develop loving, parenting skills. The son had no memory of his biological father (all he knew about him was a name on his birth certificate), so you can see why the whole situation was particularly painful for him. The pain of rejection led him to become emotionally immature himself, to become highly reactive in a very aggressive, childish way… because he got stuck in the past, at the most painful point in his life. However, he did come to recognise and acknowledge the destructiveness and futility of his behaviour – something he still regrets to this day – and he made a conscious effort to change it. He isn’t ‘cured’ – the damage runs too deep. However, he now oversees and manages his emotions – and, I am very pleased to say, is no longer involved in his family’s poisonous dynamic. Blood is sometimes as thick as pitch, which is great for roads… but useless for family unity and healthy emotions!