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10 Signs of Emotional Maturity (And How to Develop It) - Happier Human

10 Signs of Emotional Maturity (And How to Develop It)

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Have you ever wondered why some people can navigate their emotional spectrum smoothly, while others often end up feeling overwhelmed with regret, guilt, or shame?

Of course, numerous factors could explain why some people handle their emotions well, from personality and temperament to parenting styles and self-control.

But there is one psychological construct that indicates how well we cope with unexpected (and unpleasant) events that generate emotional discomfort and throw us off the track.   

It’s called “emotional maturity,” and unlike your personality or temperament, it’s something that you can develop in time and with sustained effort. 

In a largely uncontrollable and unpredictable world, the only way to thrive is by being mature enough to understand the importance of adaptability and view every emotional reaction as an opportunity to learn something valuable about yourself.   

What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Mature?

Emotional maturity is the process by which you learn to successfully navigate your entire emotional spectrum, taking responsibility for how you feel about yourself, others, and the world around you. 

In my opinion, emotional maturity is one of the primary ingredients of a happy and fulfilling life. That’s mainly because emotionally mature individuals can cultivate healthy and authentic relationships, a fundamental condition for lasting happiness.

Furthermore, emotional maturity involves a certain degree of mental flexibility. The way you interpret the occasional failures and misfortunes that everyone encounters throughout life matters greatly. Your perception can amplify or diminish the emotional impact such events can have on your overall sense of happiness and well-being.

For emotionally mature individuals, a failed business or a relationship that has come to an end is part of the journey, not the end of the world. Nobody can stay on a winning streak forever, so it’s vital to handle setbacks with patience and self-compassion. 

But perhaps we could gain an even better understanding of emotional maturity by looking at the opposite pole of the spectrum.

Common Excuses That Emotionally Immature People Use to Justify Their Self-defeating Attitudes 

It’s not my fault/problem/responsibility

Not taking responsibility for your feelings and actions is a guaranteed way to remain emotionally immature for the rest of your life.

Emotionally immature people have a hard time dealing with shame, guilt, or disappointment. 

Come to think of it, most of us hate it when we realize that we did something wrong and we hold responsibility (at least partially) for the unpleasant outcome of our actions. Or when someone points out that we did something inappropriate. 

But we learn to handle uncomfortable emotions and adjust our behavior because that’s what mature people do. They listen, learn, and adapt.

As a psychologist, I can understand why it’s more comfortable to blame others for your misery and unhappiness. Taking the pressure off yourself and placing it on someone else’s shoulders creates a momentary sense of relief.

Unfortunately, the less responsibility you take for how you feel, the less control you have over your feelings.  

As a result, you tend to be highly reactive to people and circumstances that generate emotional discomfort. This often leads to anger outbursts and heated debates over how right and who’s wrong.

It’s not fair; I don’t deserve to…

One of the fundamental truths of life is that we’re not always in control of how things will unfold.

Another fundamental truth is that reality isn’t always governed by a set of rules. There’s no invisible force that ‘settles the score’ when life doesn’t treat you the way you think it should.

And yet, you insist that life should treat you fairly, and when it doesn’t, you find it challenging to live with the frustration and disappointment. 

In a way, emotionally immature people can’t get over the fact that reality is rarely how they imagine it and that it’s them who need to adapt to the environment, not the other way around. 

On the opposite pole, emotionally mature individuals learn to make the best with what they have instead of getting frustrated and upset when things don’t go as planned. 

To quote John Haynes Holmes, “The universe is not hostile, nor yet is it friendly. It is simply indifferent.”

I don’t waste my time on feelings; I get things done

For emotionally immature individuals, feelings are a headache rather than an opportunity to understand themselves better. 

It’s challenging for them to exercise control over their reactions, given how little attention they pay to their emotional reactions. 

But trying to achieve emotional maturity without taking the time to understand how emotions work is like trying to become a surgeon without having a basic understanding of the human body.

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For emotionally immature individuals, feelings are a headache rather than an opportunity to understand themselves better. 

I firmly believe that building emotional maturity relies on both self-exploration and self-education. 

In other words, you strive to become aware of your emotional reactions and take the time to educate yourself on how emotions work.

Whether you like it or not, emotions are (and will always be) part of your day-to-day life, and no amount of rational thinking can justify your reluctance to befriend your feelings.     

I can’t stand it!

One of the most common signs of emotional immaturity is the lack of tolerance for emotional discomfort. 

I’m talking about those situations when something or someone has upset you, and instead of sitting with your emotions, you resort to all kinds of avoidance behaviors. 

From binge-watching and binge eating to shopping, mindless scrolling on social media, and substance abuse, modern society offers you a wide range of distractions.

Objectively speaking, some emotions are more challenging to tolerate than others. And this applies to every person on the planet. 

Just because you don’t like to feel a certain way doesn’t mean it’s wise to avoid that feeling. 

But I get it. It’s easier to avoid than to confront, and I’m sure there are many reasons you keep telling yourself that you can’t stand certain emotions.

Maybe you think unpleasant emotions are “bad” and should be avoided at all costs. Positive vibes only, right!!

Or maybe you think you’re too fragile to withstand an ‘emotional storm’ and emerge stronger and wiser.  

As always, I’m here to tell you that there are no “bad” emotions. 

No matter how intense or unbearable it may feel, every emotional experience is a valuable opportunity to build resilience and emotional maturity. 

Do Emotionally Mature Individuals Live Happier Lives?

This is clearly not a yes/no question.

There are so many factors to consider, not to mention that each of us have our own version of a happy life.

At first glance, it would be intuitive to assume that emotional maturity contributes to our overall sense of happiness and well-being.

After all, emotionally mature individuals, 

  • know their way around their entire emotional spectrum, 
  • overcome setbacks through resilience, 
  • have a solution-focused approach to life,
  • invest in authentic and lasting relationships,
  • and are well-aware that happiness is a lifelong journey.

Nevertheless, I took on the challenge of browsing through the latest studies to see if there’s any evidence behind this assumption.

Let’s begin with a recent study that investigated the relationship between emotional maturity and general well-being. [1] For adolescents, emotional maturity leads to an increased sense of well-being.

Another study on adolescents revealed that emotional intelligence and emotional regulation are strong predictors for happiness and optimism. [2]

In other words, adolescents who are mature enough to handle their emotions without drama, avoidance, substance abuse, or other unhealthy coping strategies live happier lives. 

The fact that they have a good grasp on their feelings – and don’t wallow in self-pity or regret – allows them to cultivate a ‘glass-half-full’ mentality. 

Even though the study was conducted on adolescents, I see no reason why the same ingredients (emotional intelligence and emotional regulation) couldn’t work for adults.

For tips on how to develop effective emotional regulation strategies, I strongly recommend this guide

Given that happiness is a profoundly subjective construct, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving it. Current evidence suggests that as you mature (emotionally and psychologically), your perception of happiness changes. [3]

There’s a good chance that the way you visualize happiness in ten years will be different from the way you see it now.   

And that’s perfectly ok; it’s what any mature person would do. The ability to adjust your perspective – not just on happiness, but everything else – based on how your life unfolds, keeps you anchored in reality. 

When faced with adversity and unexpected changes, instead of getting caught up in regrets, self-pity, and disappointment, you make an effort to change your perspective and look for happiness elsewhere.   

Long story short, one conclusion we can draw from current research is that emotional maturity is a multi-faceted construct and a process that can contribute significantly to a happy and fulfilling life.

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10 Signs of Emotional Maturity

1. You Don’t Hold Grudges

Throughout life, you’ll get to meet all kinds of people. 

Some will appreciate and love you unconditionally, while others will stick around long enough to use you for their purposes.

Some will value and honor your opinions (even if they disagree with you), while others will criticize and hate you just because you have a different perspective.

Holding grudges against people doesn’t change their views, nor does it help you deal with their hurtful remarks or actions.

Tip: Whenever someone says or does something inappropriate, disrespectful, or hateful, try to start a conversation and let the other person know how you feel. There’s no guarantee that he or she will change his/her attitude, but at least you did more than just wallow in bitterness and resentment.

2. You Look Beyond Your First Impressions

Many people believe that first impressions are everything. 

In a world that is often moving faster than we can keep up, it seems that few still have the patience to get to know a person. 

Unfortunately, the price that you pay for replacing authentic human interactions with meaningless first impressions is superficiality.

In other words, you risk losing someone with whom you could have had a real connection simply because he/she didn’t give you “a good vibe,” and you don’t make an effort to look beyond this feeling. 

As an emotionally mature individual, you know better than to judge a book by its cover, and you take the time to discover his/her real self. 

Tip: Before you rush to criticize or label the person in front of you, take a moment to understand him/her. Put yourself in his/her shoes and figure out the reason behind an attitude or remark that you think is “wrong.”

3. You Stopped Looking for Perfection

When you’re emotionally mature, you know very well that perfection is just a word that has absolutely no real-life application.

Like everyone else, you are a work in progress, a perfectly imperfect being that, despite making mistakes and acting rashly at times, continues to improve himself/herself. 

But you know what? This is the kind of mindset that drives you to better yourself. 

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Emotionally mature people know better than to judge a book by its cover.

Because the moment you think you’re perfect is the moment you stop growing. 

How could you feel motivated to prioritize self-discovery and self-improvement if you believe you’re already the best you can be?

Tip: Identify the areas in your life where you tend to be a perfectionist or set unrealistic standards and make a cost-benefit analysis. Ask yourself, “What do I lose, and what do I gain by holding on to the standards I set for myself or others?

4. You Know Your Flaws Better Than Anyone Else 

Not only that emotionally mature people have stopped chasing perfection a long time, but they’re also well aware of their flaws and shortcomings.

They even take it a step further by letting others know about their least desirable traits to prevent awkward or unpleasant situations that may arise because of their “bugs.”

But aside from owning your shortcomings and failures, another sign of emotional maturity is to work on them actively. You can’t expect others to tolerate your character flaws just because you recognize and accept them.  

Tip: Although it may sound like a self-help cliché, it’s essential to sit with yourself and write down your flaws. Not necessarily to change them, but to learn to live with them.

5. You Have a Realistic Perspective on Love and Relationships

When you reach a certain level of maturity, your perspective on love and relationships takes on a more realistic tone.

In other words, you cease to believe in love at first sight. Instead of getting infatuated with people you find attractive, you take the time to get to know them before making any emotional investments.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are relationships. It takes time to develop the trust, communication, and lasting love upon which lasting relationships are built.  

Tip:  

6. You Nurture Your Inner Child

Regardless of their age, emotionally mature people constantly validate aspects of their identity that others may label as ‘childish.’

That’s because our inner child can be a great source of creativity, originality, and pleasant emotions.

Furthermore, taking a break from adult life can be quite liberating. After all, life is much more than just paying bills, doing taxes, and going to work.

These moments of playfulness allow you to cultivate positive emotions and experience a pure form of happiness.

Tip: Think about the hobbies you had as a child, the things that made you happy, not because of some extrinsic reward but simply because you enjoyed doing them. Who or what stops you from doing them right now?  

7. You Live a Value-Driven Life

Emotional maturity involves a solid set of values and principles based on which you live your day-to-day life.

A value-driven life is like a compass that allows you to navigate challenging situations without straying off course. 

Furthermore, values and principles cultivate stability and facilitate decisions based on personal beliefs, not momentary emotional impulses.

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Emotional maturity involves a solid set of values and principles based on which you live your day-to-day life.

Even though some decisions may (temporarily) generate emotional turmoil, there’s a sense of comfort and personal pride in knowing that you’ve put aside your selfish interests and did what’s right. 

Tip: Go to lifevaluesinventory.org and discover your core values. Think of practical ways you can cultivate your values. For example, if one of your core values is security, you can exercise it by opening a savings account or creating a new revenue stream. 

8. You’re an Empathetic Communicator

Empathy is a fundamental aspect of emotional maturity.

Looking beyond words and resonating with the emotional vibe of the conversation creates a truly authentic human interaction.

It is thanks to empathy that you can understand what others are going through and provide emotional support. 

Empathy is also the reason why you pause and think about other people’s feelings before you say something that may be construed as offensive or disrespectful. But empathy doesn’t stop you from voicing your opinions; it just drives you to express yourself assertively.

All and all, empathy is a valuable trait that ensures personal and professional growth. 

Tip: Be curious about others; listen to their stories; keep an open mind; ask questions instead of making remarks; always seek to resonate with the emotional vibe that the other person is bringing into the conversation.  

9. You Appreciate the Little Things in Life

Finding joy in the little things is one of the simplest ways to achieve authentic and lasting happiness. 

A pleasant walk, a tasty meal, a friendly smile from your neighbor, the bus arriving right on time; these are the moments when you should pause and enjoy them.

Emotionally mature individuals know that it doesn’t take much to cultivate a sense of happiness and fulfillment. Their lives are just like everybody else’s, full of ups and downs.

The only difference is that they don’t let themselves be dragged down by adversity and negativity. 

Tip: At the end of each day, take a couple of minutes to think about one good thing that has happened that day or one aspect of your life that you’re grateful for. 

10. You Know That Happiness is a Lifelong Process

In my opinion, the most fascinating (and challenging) aspect of emotional maturity is keeping a balance between focusing on the simple joys of life and having a Eudaimonic perspective on happiness.

In other words, emotionally mature people set realistic goals and engage in meaningful and intrinsically rewarding activities. 

For them, the mere act of pursuing a goal or doing meaningful work is enough to generate happiness. In other words, it’s not about the achievement, but the sustained effort and small victories that get you there. 

Long story short, happiness, just like emotional maturity or professional growth, is a lifelong process. 

Tip: Think of a lifelong goal that you would like to pursue regardless of whether it ends in success or failure. 

Final Thoughts on Emotional Maturity

One of the most valuable and consistent rewards that you can reap from living an emotionally mature life is emotional independence.

Nothing in this world compares to the feeling you have when you know that you’re strong and mature enough to make the best out of the worst regardless of what the future may have in store for you.

This is what emotional maturity offers – freedom, resilience, and a balanced perspective on life.

No more drama, no more wallowing in self-pity, no more losing yourself in regrets.  

Master your emotions to master your happiness. 

Alexander Draghici is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner, and content writer for various mental health websites. His work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common emotional problems – anxiety and depression.

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