Society often makes the mistake of judging a person’s maturity based on their chronological age.
If you’ve ever met a precocious teenager or a goofy middle-aged man, you know that age has nothing to do with the way someone shows up in the world.
In other words, age is not a guarantee of maturity.
Despite having these kinds of examples all around us, we continue to believe that people should “act their age”, and are continually surprised to find that they don’t.
What we’re really talking about, and what many people are looking for when they are seeking a relationship, is proof that their love interest has emotional maturity – can they handle the commitment required by a relationship?
Here’s how you can tell if someone is emotionally mature:
1) They are aware of their place in the world.
People who have a well-developed emotional maturity are able to place themselves in their surroundings, understand their biases in the world, and can take responsibility for how they show up in the world.
This means that if they lived a privileged life, they acknowledge that and understand their entitlement in the world.
According to psychotherapist Megan Bruneau, M.A. in Mind Body Green, a key sign of emotional maturity is “learning to cultivate an active awareness of these biases and prejudices, and examine how they might influence our decisions and actions.”
People who have low emotional maturity think that the world revolves around them and they don’t need to change.
2) They ask questions first and speak second.
Emotional maturity requires people to listen and take in the world around them before responding and reacting.
Rob Pascale and Lou Primavera Ph.D. says in Psychology Today that emotionally mature people “are able to control their impulses and are less prone to emotional outbursts, and aren’t quick to anger.”
If you are sizing up a potential partner in a relationship and wonder why they freak out about things you say and do without explanation, or why they get angry at other people’s actions, it’s not because they are jerks – it’s because they don’t have a well-developed emotional maturity.
3) They can put themselves in your shoes.
If you are looking for someone to be in a relationship with, make empathy high on your checklist of what you want in a partner.
Someone’s ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes means that they can position themselves in different situations, understand a variety of challenges, and get along with people during difficult times.
Empathy has a lot to do with emotional intelligence. According to Peg Streep in Psychology Today, “your ability to know what you’re feeling, to accurately label and name different emotions with precision, and to use your emotions to inform your thinking – will make it easier or harder for you to be empathic.”
Empathy doesn’t mean that they are weak-willed, but it does mean that they can show up and be opened to the people around them and support someone in a meaningful way – definitely a trait you want in a partner.
4) They can admit when they are wrong.
Wondering if someone has strong emotional maturity? Ask yourself this question: “can they admit when they are wrong?”
If they fight you tooth and nail on whether or not they are in the right, then they are not expressing emotional maturity.
People who need to be right often come with more emotional baggage that can drag a relationship down.
What we often don’t realize is that people who have a desire to be right all the time don’t actually care if they are right, they just want other people to believe their point of view. It’s a power thing.
If you are trying to figure out if this person is ready to be in a relationship and can exhibit emotional maturity, figure out where they stand on admitting they are wrong.
5) They ask for help when they need it.
Emotional maturity means you can recognize when you are out of your element and you need help.
This may come very easily to you, especially if you are able to admit when you are wrong or you are able to be vulnerable around other people.
But for those who do not have a fully developed emotional maturity, asking for help can be a sign of weakness.
It is a sign of their lack of maturity, in fact.
They may want to appear strong and independent, but people who can’t ask for help are not emotionally mature and cannot engage in a relationship in a way that brings collaboration and trust.
6) They can show the world they are vulnerable.
Vulnerability is the last frontier for humans. We are all struggling to show the world we are not perfect, at a time when everyone expects everyone else to be perfect – based on social media profiles and picture-picture selfies.
We are afraid to show the world who we really are, so if you are trying to figure out if someone is emotionally mature or not, dig into their ability to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is a sign of emotional maturity that tells you whether or not someone can handle being in a relationship, being honest, being opened, and being real.
Being vulnerable allows you to communicate more honestly and more clearly express your own needs, which is important for building trust with others, according to Pascale and Primavera in Psychology Today.
[Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a key aspect of mental resilience. To dive deep into how to be more mentally tough, check out Hack Spirit’s eBook on how to be more mentally tough here]
How to become more emotionally mature
Emotional maturity is not something you are born with; it is something you need to earn.
Not everyone will take advantage of situations to learn about their own emotional maturity, but for those who are lucky enough to pay attention and make those most of those situations, change can occur.
Lasting change that means a better life for you can improve your way of thinking and the results you get as you walk through this life.
Emotional maturity means you think before you act, take time to pause, and wonder about the world at large- instead of walking around thinking you already know everything there is to know about yourself, others, and the world around you.
Here are seven ways you can be more emotionally mature.
1) Be in the moment.
One way to exercise emotional maturity is to practice mindfulness.
People who live dramatic lives often live in the past or in the future, worrying about what might happen if they take paths A, B, or C.
But when we focus on the present focus moment and observe feelings and reactions from a distance with a non-judgmental attitude, we create space to be in better control of our reactions.
Mindful.org says that mindfulness is “practicing the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.
Megan Bruneau, Psychotherapist & Executive Coach, explains why mindfulness is powerful:
“Through practicing mindfulness, we can increase the amount of time between feeling a particular emotion and reacting to it. We gain a sense of spaciousness with regard to how we observe our emotions — rather than clinging to our feelings immediately and reacting instinctively, we learn how to first observe, and then react more carefully and productively.”
[To learn mindful techniques to live more in the moment, check out our eBook on the art of mindfulness here]
2) Remember all people are created equal.
Despite our differences, opinions, beliefs, and practices, every human being is worthy of love and has been created with the opportunity to do something with their lives.
What you choose to do with your life is a sign of your emotional maturity: if you squander it away on frivolous things and practices, you lose the opportunity to connect with your higher self and get more out of life.
In Voice Therapy, Robert W Firestone Ph.D. explained how mature individuals interact in a close relationship:
“People whose actions are based primarily on the adult mode relate to each other as independent individuals with considerable give and take in terms of reciprocal need gratification.”
In other words, emotionally mature people have developed their capacity for giving and accepting love.
3) Be curious.
People who have strong emotional maturity approach life with a sense of wonder and don’t assume they know everything there is to know.
Think back to when you were a teenager and how you thought the world was at your doorstep: it’s likely taken years for you to realize that there is so much more to life than what you see.
If you are someone who has good emotional maturity then you know that there is so much more out there waiting to be discovered.
Tim Elmore says in Psychology Today that a mature person is teachable:
“A mature person is teachable. They don’t presume they have all the answers. The wiser they get the more they realize they need more wisdom. They’re not ashamed of seeking counsel from adults (teachers, parents, coaches) or from other sources. Only the wise seek wisdom.”
Emotionally mature people approach life with curiosity, questions, and an open mind.
4) Practice gratitude during difficult times.
If you are trying to be more emotionally mature, one way to do this is to practice gratitude when you feel like the sky is falling.
When everything seems like it is crumbling to bits, practicing gratitude will help you see the good in the situation and make you feel like there is a lot more to the story than what you may be telling yourself.
Difficult times happen upon us all, and if you can practice gratitude for the difficult situations you encounter, if you can be grateful for the challenges in your life, you’ll be one step closer to being emotionally mature.
Tim Elmore in Psychology Today says that mature people realize how good they really have it:
“Immature children presume they deserve everything good that happens to them. Mature people see the big picture and realize how good they have it, compared to most of the world’s population.”
[To dive deep into eastern philosophy techniques to be more grateful and live in the moment, check my eBook on the no-nonsense guide to eastern philosophy here]
5) Learn new things.
Emotionally mature people don’t wake up that way: they have to go out and learn to be that way.
Emotional maturity is about placing yourself in front of the world and saying, “I am your student.”
Learning to learn, learning about yourself, and learning about the world around you is a great way to live a connected and meaningful life that is rich in experiences and wonder.
Even if the things you learn have hurt you, there is meaning in there and emotionally mature people follow those paths to learn as much as they can.
6) Ask questions.
Looking to become more emotionally mature? Start with questions about yourself, your relationships, your connections, reactions, goals, wants, needs, and achievements.
What were you hoping to find? What did you want to get out of those situations? What does your life look like right now? What do you want to be better at? What do you want to grow into?
Questions help you move forward. Whenever you are faced with a roadblock in life, questions will help you get over the hump.
HBS assistant professor Alison Wood Brooks and HBS associate professor Leslie John says in the Harvard Business Review says that asking questions generally offers serious benefits.
“It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust.”
7) Don’t react quickly.
A cornerstone trait of people who are emotionally mature is that they stand their ground during difficult situations and don’t react.
They are proactive and can anticipate their reactions ahead of time and make sure they don’t blow a gasket when things go awry.
Emotionally mature people are able to take in the facts, assess the possible outcomes, and learn from their own mistakes along the way.
So even if you fly off the handle once in a while, if your emotional maturity is developing, you’ll recognize ways to improve and not beat yourself for losing your footing.
As Albert Ellis says,
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president… You control your own destiny.”