“Maturity is not when we start speaking big things. It’s when we start understanding small things.” ~ Anonymous
It amazes me to experience in various ways the fact that what should come extremely naturally to us is something that we spend a lifetime struggling with.
We delude ourselves into thinking that as humans we’re supposed to “do” things to live and experience life whereas we need to just “be”—who we are, embrace every moment with presence and awareness, accept our emotions as they as are and let them be the guiding force after having understood them and enable others around us to do the same.
Instead, all we end up doing is pushing, shoving, rushing our way through life. We are experiential beings who experience the world through our own thoughts, emotions, and actions.
And while we are too busy doing many things, our emotional world somehow gets left behind and we go through life disconnected with our emotional self in more ways than one.
We are all emotionally immature in one way or another, and our journey is to keep reminding ourselves to just be i.e be comfortable with our emotional experience no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
I have this conversation with people day in and out; it’s almost as if I’m on repeat mode telling them that “it’s okay to feel,” “your discomfort will pass,” and “the answers will come once you allow your emotions to be released.”
They ask me, “Oh, if I feel uncomfortable then what do I do to make it better? To make it go away?” and I tell them, “Do Nothing. Just sit with it.” They look confused at first, but when they try it, they tell me they’ve dropped the fight with what they feel and it does feel better.
Sitting with our own emotional discomfort is extremely important because our inability to be comfortable with emotional highs and lows and not being able to regulate our own emotional states and responses lies at the heart of all instances of emotional immaturity.
Emotional immaturity is nothing but not being able to normalize our own emotional experience. Eventually, it becomes about not being able to normalize any emotional experience.
Why can’t we normalize it?
Perhaps, we have never learnt how because the majority of us were told that we shouldn’t cry or feel sad. We were told to just forget about what hurt or upset us and move on.
We were asked to be quiet because what would our parents or an aunt or some random person think? So we learnt that somebody else’s emotional world is more important than ours.
And some of us simply grew up in an emotionally cold environment where no one was around us to tell us anything. We grew up in that empty space and learnt to rationalize or disconnect from our emotions and difficult thoughts because we didn’t know what to do.
Over time, we developed a mental pattern of either quashing or externalizing that discomfort, turning us into lost and confused kids who don’t know how to be okay with our emotional experiences.
So many relationships end up suffering and losing their essence because someone on the other side is totally cut off from their own emotional experience, and when we can’t be there for ourselves, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to be there for someone else effectively.
“A big part of emotional maturity is being able to allow others to express their opinions freely without getting upset or defensive.” ~ Anonymous
We end up saying and doing things that may damage the emotional fabric that ties a relationship together. Thus, we leave people with the feeling that they’re not understood, heard, validated, and held, and these are the very things that we need relationships to fulfill for us.
Being emotionally immature simply means that we don’t know how to handle a vulnerable situation effectively. It’s not always about acting obviously childish. Sometimes, it’s about those small cues and bids for connection that get missed out because we can’t see them.
“Emotional maturity occurs when we can express our true feelings without the need for reciprocation, validation, appreciation or trepidation. Our feelings become companions and no enemies.” ~ L.A Askew
Here are some ways in which emotional immaturity shows up:
1. Struggling to talk about or make sense of your emotional world. Either you don’t know what you feel or can’t put words to it. You’d prefer to avoid, deflect, and defer conversations that include the word “feelings” because you don’t know how to do it. It’s not occasional; it’s simply how you are.
2. You get uncomfortable when someone else is expressing their emotions. You move away, freeze, or want to jump into a problem-solving mode instantly to cut down that difficult experience. You can’t handle people being sad or crying or getting angry and it’s not because you empathize or care. Emotional conversations and moments make you uncomfortable.
3. Your relationships are surface level. It’s all good on the outside, but the inside tells a different story. You feel a sense of disconnect in your relationships; they are peripheral where important and have conversations that don’t take place and…you prefer to keep it that way. You may end up distracting yourself with other avenues instead of actually diving in and fixing the issue.
4. Finding it difficult to compromise. Relationships are built on understanding each other’s needs, and some people can’t understand what the other wants or needs because they cannot give up or compromise with their own. They will act out, throw tantrums, or become passive aggressive till they finally get what they want.
5. Blaming. For everything that goes wrong. Some people will always have someone else to blame.
6. Getting defensive. One suggestion, one reality check, and bam. When we come from an emotionally immature space, we have trouble taking accountability for our own actions and accommodating another’s perspective.
7. Dismissing our own and another’s emotional experience. Coming from an emotionally immature space where we haven’t learnt to embrace our and someone else’s emotional world wholeheartedly, it becomes difficult for us to be present to their emotional experience. We tend to get into debates, arguments, or try to rationalize and even make fun of the emotional experience, completely invalidating the other person. And yes, we do it to ourselves too.
We do all of these and much more because that’s what we have learnt. What we haven’t learnt is to:
1. Be present with our emotions and tell ourselves and others that it’s okay to feel. Let it out; cry it out; release it. It is okay. Someone might have shut us down at some point by saying “don’t!” but we can undo it; we need to sit with it and feel it.
2. Understand that the nature and flow of every emotion is different and all emotions need to be given the same space and respect. They may need to be steered differently though.
3. Then dig deeper to understand what this discomfort is trying to tell us. It’s pointing toward a problem, concern, or a need. Too often, we go after the emotion and don’t resolve the core issue.
4. Resolve the issue and the emotion will take care of itself.
It’s not about “growing up” or “acting like an adult.” It is about building the capacity to self-regulate both as kids and adults and also find comfort in the embrace of another just so that we can validate our emotional experience.
When we don’t learn to do that, we might behave like unregulated children who are lost, confused, lonely, and disconnected.
Being mature about navigating these emotional storms requires the soothing presence of another at first. However, when we become the adult of our lives, it demands that we become present to our experiences. We learn to hold ourselves in all our vulnerability and then do that for somebody else too.
Being emotionally present and mature is not a complicated art but can surely feel like one.
It’s a skill that we all need to develop, hone, and nurture for our internal and external world to be as fulfilling as we are willing to make it.
Stop. Listen. Feel. Flow. Be.