What exactly is emotional maturity?

In our developmental journey from a newborn to an adult, what we mostly map is our physical and intellectual growth. Our emotional maturity, however, remains inaccessible to most, including ourselves

Somi DasUpdated: Thursday, September 01, 2022, 10:18 PM IST
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A still from Never Have I Ever |

I have been binging on the web series "Never Have I Ever". I have known it to be a rage, but it was only recently that started Netflix carpet bombing my social media feed with many interesting promotional video capsules which got me invested in this character named "Devi". The other reason I didn't touch this show earlier was that I believed it to be a teen drama. I felt I had far outgrown them. Turned out not really. I got so hooked on the show that I watched all three seasons in three days. The story has its usual tropes but it's a refreshing take on immigrant life. But that's not what I am here to write about. You can read plenty of reviews if you wish to.

When I saw Devi, a 15-year-old prodigious brown girl suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder following the untimely and dramatic death of her father, I couldn't help but relate to her reactions. She loses her temper at the drop of the hat and has questionable decision-making power - behaviours that I too often display.

I figured there is not much difference between this teenager's and my emotional reaction to difficult situations in my life. Jealousy, evasiveness, getting triggered by things that could have been easily ignored, making everything about myself and my feelings, and then overthinking myself into perilous situations. As I had written earlier, the inner child is very much alive within us. It acts out when the child has been wounded by early life neglect and abuse. Similarly, there is also a raging teenager inside each of us that makes us take rash decisions, disregard others' feelings, and is ego-centric – that is, the belief and the feeling that the whole world revolves around me. 

At what stage do we exactly stop being entitled teenagers and become an adult? When do we get our first job? When we have our first stable relationship? When do we get married or have children? What is the external developmental event that corresponds with the emotional growth trajectory of a person? It is difficult to pin that down. Many of us become mature by modelling the healthy behaviour of our parents. Others by going through a series of difficulties and making bad life choices. 

While there is no biological marker for emotional maturity, it is easy to understand whether you are an emotionally mature person or not. Especially when you experience the pointers mentioned in the box authentically or when you can correct your thoughts within seconds of your habitual response coming in.

Emotional maturity is not a natural progression of events that happens instinctively. It's learnt through failures and self-correction. The ability to self-correct within the recesses of your mind, even before you utter a word is the biggest sign of emotional maturity. 

The most interesting bit about the show is Devi's interaction with her therapist. I wish I had a therapist like that when I was 15. Maybe early psychotherapeutic intervention can help us attain emotional maturity earlier. The very realisation that one might need some kind of expert intervention to help them unravel their deep-seated beliefs and thought patterns in itself is emotional maturity.

You are emotionally mature if:

  • You are able to empathise without giving up your boundaries

  • You are ready to accept the consequences of your actions without blaming others and self

  • You do not consider yourself to be a victim in all scenarios and can take responsibility for whatever mess you are in

  • You are able to accept your feelings and understand why you are feeling them and numbing them by indulging in destructive activities

  • You are not waiting to love and accept yourself after you lose weight or get the job of your dreams

  • You are aware of your triggers

  • You can protect yourself from being sucked into other people's drama

  • You don't judge someone based on another person's perceptions

  • You are not scared of being by yourself even though you may crave company and a social life

  • You do not want to be validated

(The writer is a mental health and behavioural sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter)

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