Some people are better able to control and understand their emotions than others. And even the most emotionally intelligent among us get caught up in moments of emotional immaturity.
That’s because one size does not fit all when it comes to our response to conflict, betrayal, and other relationship challenges. Our upbringing, life experiences, and our natural disposition all shape the way we respond to difficult situations.
In this video from The School of Life, author and philosopher Alain de Botton explores the three common signs of emotional immaturity, and how we can learn to see our more immature reactions for what they are—unexplored areas of necessary emotional development.
How to Test Your Emotional Maturity
There’s a simple way to access your level of emotional development, or emotional age, says De Botton:
First, ask yourself this question:
When someone on whom you depend emotionally lets you down, disappoints you, or leaves you hanging in uncertainty, what is your characteristic way of responding?
Then, consider how you respond:
There are three methods of responding that indicate emotional immaturity (you can rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 for each of these options):
1) Deciding to Sulk
When we become upset with someone we’re close to, our first reaction is often to deny there’s anything wrong—choosing instead to hint passive aggressively that something’s wrong. But when we withhold the reason for why we’re mad at someone, we prevent the conflict from ever being solved.
“We hope against hope that another person might simply magically understand what they have done and fix it without us needing to speak,” says de Botton. “Rather as an infant who hasn’t yet mastered language might hope a parent would spontaneously enter their minds and guess what was ailing them.
The Emotionally Mature Solution: Practice clear communication
Instead of acting passive, make an effort to mindfully communicate to your friend, partner or family member what it is that they’ve done to upset you, and why your feelings were hurt.
“With a bit of luck, we will find the words to make ourselves understood by someone whom we can remember, deep down, even at this moment of stress, is not our enemy,” de Botton says.
2. Reacting with Rage
Sometimes when we’re angry at someone or something, we explode at the first person we come into contact with. Yelling and creating a scene may make us feel powerful in the moment, but at the root of this kind of outburst is fear of losing control and usually a whole lot of unexplored pain.
“Our insults and viciousness are, in their coded ways, admissions of terror and defencelessness,” de Botton notes.
The Emotionally Mature Solution: Learn to trust
Rather than giving in to your first hot-tempered instinct, pause and consider what you really need in the moment. Often, what we need most is the time and space to vent to a supportive friend. Working through our anger more slowly allows us to resolve it reasonably, and gives other people involved a chance to be heard.
An emotionally mature person has, “the confidence not to need to shout immediately, to give others the benefit of every doubt and not to assume the worst and then hit back with undue force,” de Botton explains.
3. Going Cold
When someone hurts our feelings or does us wrong in some way, it’s tempting to ice them out and pretend our relationship with them never meant anything to us. Who amongst us hasn’t sent a call from someone we’re mad at straight to voicemail?
“It takes a lot of courage to admit to someone who has hurt us that we care, that they have a power over us, that a key bit of our life is in their hands,” de Botton says. “It may be a lot easier to put up a strenuous wall of indifference.”
The Emotionally Mature Solution: Embrace your vulnerability
In order to fully trust and develop intimate relationships we others, we have to find the strength within ourselves to be vulnerable.
“The mature know, and have made their peace with the idea that being close to anyone will open them up to being hurt,” de Botton concludes.
Many Adults Never Learn The Language of Emotional Maturity
Communication, trust, and vulnerability can be learned as a child, growing up in a supportive and nourishing emotionally aware home. But at least half of us weren’t brought up in the land of emotional literacy and will have to learn it ourselves, says De Botton. “This is akin to the difference between growing up speaking a foreign language and having to learn it over many months as an adult,” he explains.
“There is nothing to be ashamed of about our possible ignorance,” says de Botton. “We may never have heard adults around us speaking an emotional dialect. So we may need to go back to school and spend 5 to 10 thousand hours learning the beautiful and complex language of emotional adulthood.”