We tend to think that age is indicative of maturity. The older we get in years, the better we can navigate and manage our feelings like grown-ups, right? Not necessarily. There are plenty of adults who act childish or try to escape responsibilities they may have. There are also a lot of young people who are very wise in how they think and behave. The truth is that emotional maturity takes energy, work, and honest self-evaluation. Here are some signs that you’re an emotional grown-up (and some tips to help you move forward if you’re a little behind).
One of the first indications is that you feel in control of your decisions. You’re the main character in your own life. While you take others’ ideas and perspective into consideration, it’s you who has the final say. I once worked with a client who was deciding whether she wanted to go back to school to get a graduate degree. She had a very busy life, and some members of her family felt that it wasn’t the right time for her to pursue more education. She valued their opinions, but it was her choice to make. Although she knew it wouldn’t always be easy, she made the decision to go back to school. This woman is a great example of emotional maturity in owning and embracing the ability to act for herself. If you find that you struggle with this, I’d suggest you start small. Make one decision completely on your own without any outside input. This will help you practice being the ultimate authority on your own life.
Another sign of emotional maturity is that you know what you think and how you feel. You can identify, articulate, and share your feelings in your relationships. You know what you need. Think of a young child who is cranky and overwhelmed from a sleepover. She probably doesn’t understand exactly what she needs, but a parent knows that having a nap and a story read to her would do wonders help her feel better. A mature grown-up can properly assess her own physical and emotional state. She knows what’s bothering her and can convey it to someone else if necessary. If you’re not adept at identifying your emotional needs, try journaling to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. You can’t change what you don’t admit or understand, and it’s so important for your own well-being and for the health of your relationships to really dig deep into your inner experiences.
An emotional grown-up is considerate enough to empathize with another person’s struggles without taking them on as her own. For example, a young woman I worked with had gotten to the point that she stopped confiding in her mom about the difficulties she was facing. Her mother would become overwhelmed and distressed by the things her daughter had to deal with. It’s not helpful to anyone to be consumed by someone else’s problems. If you find that other people’s burdens weigh on you too heavily, imagine an invisible bubble around yourself (sounds weird, I know, but just go with it!) You can choose which ideas, words, and experiences you let in and which ones you keep out. As a therapist, I’ve had to use this small but powerful metaphor to keep myself sane and emotionally protected. Try it for yourself if you’d like.
An individual who is emotionally mature enjoys being with others as well as spending time alone. It seems that many people have a tough time being on their own. They may get anxious or restless without someone else there. If you have a hard time with this, try to become better acquainted with yourself. Go out to eat on your own or see a movie without anyone else. It really is a freeing experience to learn to enjoy your own company. You can create your own happiness. On the other hand, if you spend an inordinate amount of time alone, it might be time to branch out and seek social connection.
Being an inner grown-up doesn’t necessarily come as naturally or as easily as one may think. It’s not a question of years so much as it is one of emotional management. If you find that you’re lacking some emotional maturity, take small steps to get in better touch with and manage your own feelings, communicate in your relationships, and take a stand for yourself.