Emotional Maturity

What is meant by emotional maturity?  If you do a search on the web, you will find a few different meanings, studies and examples of emotional maturity.  In Bowen family systems theory, emotional maturity relates to being able to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in your own emotional functioning (Kerr and Bowen, 1988).  This is also known as differentiation. 

What does it look like to be emotionally mature and to be emotionally immature, I hear you asking?  

When we are operating as emotional ‘infants’ we are often looking for others to take care of us, have difficulty entering into the world of others, are driven by instant gratification, and use others to meet our own needs (Scazzero, 2006).  Sound familiar?  I think I have probably operated like this at times.  

If we progress a little from infancy to childhood, we might find ourselves operating in the emotional child zone – which includes only being happy when I get what I want.  Or unravelling quickly from stress, disappointment and trials.  Sometimes we can interpret disagreements as personal offences, are easily hurt or can complain, withdraw, take revenge, or become sarcastic when we don’t get our way (Scazzero, 2006).  This might mean we struggle to calmly discuss our needs and wants in a mature and loving way.  

I remember when one of my children worked in retail as their casual job whilst still at school.  When asked how their day was, they mentioned the tantrums they had witnessed at work that day.  I asked where the parents were when the children were throwing the tantrums, to which the response was – it wasn’t the children, they are well behaved…it was the adults that threw the tantrums!

Emotional adolescents are a little bit more advanced than emotional children.  We can tend to be defensive, are threatened and alarmed by criticism, keep score of what we give so we can ask for something later in return.  Dealing with conflict poorly, by blaming, appeasing, going to a third party, pouting (oh that is what I did when I was 3 years old and can still do now sometimes!) or ignore the issue completely and hope it disappears.  Part of being an emotional adolescent can also include being preoccupied with ourselves, struggling to truly listen to another person’s pain, disappointments or needs, and being critical and judgmental (Scazzero, 2006).  

In contrast, an emotional adult is able to (taken from Scazzero, 2006):

  • Ask for what they need, want, or prefer – clearly, directly, honestly
  • Recognise, manage, and take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings
  • Can, when under stress, state their own beliefs and values without becoming adversarial
  • Respect others without having to change them
  • Give people room to make mistakes and not be perfect
  • Appreciate people for who they are – the good, bad, and ugly –  not for what they give back
  • Accurately assess their own limits, strengths, and weaknesses and are able to freely discuss them with others
  • Are deeply in tune with their own emotional world and able to enter into the feelings, needs, and concerns of others without losing themselves
  • Have the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider the perspectives of others

What do you need to work on right now in your professional or personal life?  At what emotional level do you find yourself operating at, most of the time?  It can certainly make us humble when we think we are being emotionally mature but actually operating at a child or adolescent emotional level.  If you would like to work on growing your emotional maturity then get in touch with Leadership in Mind.

To make a time to meet with Veronica email on veronica@leadershipinmind.com.au or go to https://leadershipinmind.com.au  to book a time for a coaching session.


Peter Scazzero, 2006. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Thomas Nelson.

Bowen, M. and Kerr, M.E., 1988. Family Evaluation. WW Norton & Company.