Emotional Maturity – How do you get it?
By Jim Cathcart
As you grow older your physical maturity becomes obvious. Men develop a beard. Women take on interesting new shapes. People get taller and their voices change. But what about emotional maturity?
It turns out that emotional maturity is even more obvious! A lack of it is evident in behaviors like: whining, blaming, rage and denial. People lacking this type of maturity are “high maintenance” in the worst way. They demand extra attention, recognition, consideration and privileges that they haven’t yet earned. They throw tantrums, yes even the adults, and they carry grudges. They have difficulty forgiving. Some say, “I can forgive but I won’t forget!” (If you don’t forget then you haven’t forgiven either.) Small setbacks or difficulties throw them off track and they exclaim, “That’s not fair!”
Their problem is not the world around them; it is the world within them. They live in fear, indignation and dependency. Their prevailing attitude is that someone else should solve their problems or provide their desired outcomes. Who knows the source of their entitlement mentality, maybe they are carrying old hurts unresolved into each new experience or maybe they simply never learned how to solve their own problems and deal with disappointment.
I say it’s time that we make emotional maturity an important goal of our society. Let’s measure it on school report cards, in employee reviews and as we chart our own development. At work and especially at home we need to sustain a culture in which all the rewards go to those who learn to become self-reliant. Treat it as you do when encouraging a baby to take its first steps. “Yay! You did it. Now try it again.” Let’s celebrate the ability to deal with problems in positive ways. Let’s make heroes of the people who can keep their cool under pressure, remain calm while others panic, and think when others only feel. Give me James Bond over The Incredible Hulk any day.
It is only those who have become self-reliant that are able to reach out and help others. The dependent people take from the world while the self-reliant give to it. When’s the last time you saw a destitute person hold a charity event? How many immature people step up in an emergency to make things better? If you can’t take care of yourself then how will you be able to help anyone else? By the way if you can’t lead you, please don’t try to lead me.
“The Greatest Generation,” who fought in World War II, often had to continue to work long after they were tired, and learn to create makeshift tools, repair everything, perform first aid, fight against overwhelming odds, endure ongoing pain, deal with terrifying fear, yet still “get the job done.” When they became parents many of them said, “My kids aren’t going to have it as hard as I did.” And so we didn’t. We were given much more freedom of expression and much less day-to-day responsibility than our parents had. Therefore many of us became emotionally weak. The 1960s bear abundant evidence of our immaturity.
Thankfully most of us got over it and grew up. But there were plenty of hold-outs. And succeeding generations have had ever-increasing percentages of entitlement junkies and emotionally immature people. You can measure the number of emotionally immature by tracking the metrics of entitlement programs like welfare, food stamps, public housing occupancy, and other handouts. These were meant to be “a hand up” to lift people back to self-sufficiency. Instead they have become “hand-out” programs where dependents continually line up with their hands out. You can also measure the number of laws designed to protect “the weak”. More ‘fairness’ laws = more weak people.
In a society where there is a high level of emotional maturity there isn’t much need for laws to assure “social justice” or “civil liberties” or to create “a level playing field.” With emotional maturity everyone is equal in opportunity but still different in personal ability. Of course, we should provide access for disabled people and services for the severely disadvantaged. But we should not be applying different rules that alter the “game.” That’s like giving short, light weight people the opportunity to play in the National Football League against opponents who weigh 250lbs and stand 6 ft 5in. They’d be crushed. It’s not fair to them and it alters the game for everyone else. There is always some field for which a person is not suited.
There are two important measures: The number of people receiving entitlements and the number of laws on the books to protect “the weak.” Our goal should be to reduce the numbers in both of those measures year by year. We should measure and publicize this like advertisers do for the National Debt.
When people aren’t required to produce good results then they become emotionally weak. If we reward or accept “effort” instead of “outcomes” then people learn to measure and value themselves by whether they tried, not whether they succeeded. At work they give up early. “Hey boss, I tried. It just didn’t work.” At home they find excuses for their lack of performance. “It was raining” or “I didn’t know where the tools were” or “I’m not good at that. You should do it.”
Several years ago I went to a basketball game in which my 9-year-old grandson was playing. At half time he exclaimed, “We are ahead by two points!” His teacher said, “We don’t keep score. It’s good that everyone just enjoys the game.” I thought, “What! It’s only about process (playing) and not about outcome (the score)? How do you learn anything from that?” The kids were keeping score even though the well-intentioned adults discouraged it. A score is a factual reality; one side always has more than the other. It’s natural to have a score in a game and for some people to win and others to lose. We don’t need to protect the losers, we need to encourage and train them!
If a person is shielded from the disappointment of losing then they will never develop the emotional maturity to deal with failure, difficulties and frustration. I cannot do your exercises for you in order to make you strong. If you are protected from hardships then you become a “hot house flower” that cannot withstand changes in the weather. Therefore you can never venture out from your protected environment.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Thank God you have problems! The only people without problems are in the grave. If you don’t have problems you should ask God to give you some. That’s how you grow.” He’s right. Emotional strength can only be developed through dealing with resistance. We need to encounter difficult and scary people in order to learn how to deal with them. We need rejection, criticism, unfair treatment, accidents, set backs, disappointment and failure. If we don’t get it then we don’t develop the thinking, the skills and the emotional endurance to overcome them.
A dear friend of mine loves cardistry, the artful juggling of playing cards. He carries a deck of cards with him everywhere and is constantly trying new techniques. He fails more often than he succeeds and yet each time I see him he has mastered a new technique. He once told me that he enjoys the practice almost as much as the performance. That’s the attitude all of us need. Let’s learn to value the difficulties as training toward our goals.
Nobody else is to blame and nobody else should solve your problems. Many people would consider that statement outrageous. They’d say, “Of course others are sometimes to blame and should solve our problems. Otherwise that’s unfair.” You see, “Fairness” is the problem. This is a great concept but not a reality. Life isn’t fair. The world, nature, etc. are not fair. Fairness is a human concept that people try to impose onto the world, but it doesn’t stick. People are created equal in the eyes of God but not equal in nature. Some are tall, some are gifted, some are intelligent, and some are weird. So societies are formed to help meet everyone’s needs. We agree to rules that allow us to get along and we create solutions and resources that can be shared in commerce for everyone’s advancement. But it can never be “fair” for everyone and that’s OK.
I accept my age, size, intellectual ability, appearance and current circumstances. But I continue to learn to do things that diminish my disadvantages and exploit my best qualities. I cannot change who I am but I can improve who I am! So can you.
Join me in the quest to evolve our culture so that emotional maturity is achieved by everyone. Let’s measure it, publicize it, celebrate it and collaborate to increase it on every front. And wherever we fail, let’s learn to get over it.
©2016 Jim Cathcart, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA