A key factor in positive mental health is achieving emotional maturity. If a person is emotionally mature he or she exhibits certain characteristics which enable them to deal with people and situations that they find in life. In my work as a Toronto therapist I see that there are 3 characteristics of emotional maturity. They are: 1/ The ability to deal with feelings. 2/ The ability to take responsibility. 3/ The ability to face things.
1/ The Ability to Deal With Feelings – Dealing with feelings involves a number of skills. The necessary first step is to accurately recognize which feeling you are having. Many people who seek my services can’t recognize their feelings. For example, people with anger management problems are not able to recognize the feelings that underlie their anger. Often underneath anger there is fear, hurt and shame. Because angry people can’t recognize these feelings they revert to anger. Somewhat opposite to this, people suffering from depression can’t feel their anger, which could help them. Also people suffering from stress could cope better if they could recognize individual feelings rather than just be overwhelmed by stress.
After recognizing feelings the second phase of dealing with feelings is to understand them and work with them. For example, I was working with a man who was a child of alcoholic parents. He knew he was angry and hurt; however, he could not understand why. As we began to work with his feelings he saw why – he realized his hurt and anger came from not having his needs met. He also realized that he was continuing this pattern in his relationships. So the working phase for him consisted of learning to name his needs and to learn to ask for them with others.
2/ The Ability to Take Responsibility – This is a key component of emotional maturity. If a person cannot take responsibility for what happens in their life and continues to blame others for their problems, they cannot grow emotionally. It renders them powerless because they feel they have no part in what happens to them. I see this behaviour in people suffering from addiction and codependency. I often see these people blaming other people or things for what happens in their lives. Certainly, in most cases, their sense of being a victim has a truth. The truth is that they were powerless in their childhoods and many were victims of childhood abuse. It is very hard for them to realize that they are now adults and that they are no longer in the same situation. When I work with these people I try to help them look at the reality of their lives. They often have anger management problems and victimize others. They also don’t see that they have real power in their lives and they are not victims. If they can slowly realize that they have real power and what happens in their life depends on them, they can then begin to take more responsibility for their lives.
3/ The Ability to Face Things – Life can be very hard and the things we must face can be very difficult for us. Emotional mature people, nevertheless, are able to confront and deal with, as best they can, the things that life will send their way. On the other hand, people who lack emotional maturity are forever finding ways of avoiding making decisions and taking action in the face of these challenges. I remember a fellow who had been an alcoholic for 45 years saying, “Here I am at the age of 60 and I’ve now got to learn how to face things. Before, I just drank when something difficult came my way.” There are many ways we can run away from life, but as the saying goes, “You can run but you can’t hide.” Because the things we run from just pile up upon our lives and cause more and more havoc.
Because of this, the ability to face things consists of taking the steps to learn how we can best find creative ways to move towards our responsibilities. One man, a survivor of childhood abuse, found the smallest challenge overwhelming. He suffered from great stress and anxiety all the time because of this. We worked on this together and we found ways that he could take small steps at first in order to give himself the feeling that he wasn’t running away. When he was able to feel this, he was then able to take further steps. He also was able to share with others more about his stress and this also helped him face life.
Many of us, as children, were overwhelmed and helpless in the face of situations we could not affect or change. As a result we turned away from our feelings, often became stuck in the victim role and could not face life’s challenges. Growing up and learning how to be emotionally mature can therefore be a
difficult task. Nevertheless, understanding what we feel, learning to take responsibility and facing the problems of life can gradually help us to emotionally realize we are adults. In this way we can finally attain emotional maturity.