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Coming of Age Emotionally
By Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D.
Emotional maturity has little to do with chronological maturity. It may come before you become an adult, or you may have been an adult for decades, and still not have attained any kind of emotional maturity.
"In our emotional lives we tend to attract to us - and have relationships with – people who have attained (or stagnated at) the same level of emotional maturity as we have." That quote is from my new book Emotional Unavailability & Neediness: Two Sides of the Same Coin (just released).
What that quote implies is very important. You might have a relationship with someone who is very sophisticated in all manner of mundane ways, and who is, nevertheless, emotionally immature. You may have noticed this. You may think to yourself: how can he/she be so childish (in that emotional sense), and yet so worldly and intelligent in all those other ways?
You - or anyone else - didn't necessarily grow up in a "balanced" way on all different levels. So you might have an advanced degree from an institution of higher learning, or you might be a whiz on Wall Street and be pulling in millions, or you might be a genius in quantum physics, or you might be an amazing ballerina or concert pianist who has fought tirelessly to reach that degree of perfection, or you might be the person who invented a late-gen chip that beats all other chips for data storage, or you might be the world's number one tennis player, or that actress who won so many awards. The point is, you may have developed on many levels to an ultra-high degree, but your emotional growth and development - in a word, your emotional maturity - may have not kept pace with the rest.
Why this happens is easily understandable, and here are just a few of the reasons:
We are generally raised by parents who themselves lacked emotional maturity - not because they were immature in everything, but because they, in turn, were raised by their emotionally immature parents - and what we don't see - in our parents or caretakers - as we are growing up, is that much harder to acquire. In other words, they (and we) lacked the appropriate role models in this regard.
As a corollary of the above point, due to their emotional immaturity, our parents frequently saddle us with emotional situations or events that cause us to internalize something subconsciously that hurts, and on that same visceral level we interpret it as danger, and that is the place where our defense mechanisms begin to raise their toxic heads (which are the reasons why psychotherapists such as myself exist).
Our society doesn't exactly honor the 'inner' quest; hence self-reflection is becoming a lost art and therefore the above two points, while perhaps vaguely there in our understanding, are not consciously taken into account and then worked on, honed, and refined in our desire to grow up in that way - emotionally - that may so very much - and so very long - hinder and hamper our lives.
Therefore awareness and being conscious of the self are not generally qualities we pick up at home or school ... not even at church.
Finally, due to all of the above, we also do not tend to have role models while we are growing up, that teach us how to love ourselves, and that hinders coming of age emotionally in crucial ways.
So back to the quote at the beginning of this article: In our emotional lives we tend to attract to us - and have relationships with – people who have attained (or stagnated at) the same level of emotional maturity as we have.
Due to the lack of development in the emotional part of your psyche, and due to the reasons it is like that (as I have briefly illustrated in this article), wherever you are at emotionally - let's equate it to grade 5 at school - you will (ideally) need to grow in order to progress. How do children in grade 5 tend to learn? They go to class with others at the grade 5 level. And so we attract to us and have relationships with people who have attained the same level of emotional maturity as we have. At that level there will - eventually, after the first glow has worn off - be friction. You may blame it on your partner. But once you are aware enough that you are part of this dance, and start to take responsibility for yourself and all you think, feel, say, and do, is when you start to change and grow.
If you are lucky, your partner will do the same, and by growing together, your relationship has high possibilities for prospering. If your partner is not interested in growth, or prefers to remain at the status quo, you might have to look elsewhere for another individual who is - now - at this new level you have attained in your emotional maturity (we might call it grade 6). And of course it could be the other way around: that it is your partner who has taken steps to growth, and that it is you who wish to remain in your comfort zone.
Either way, change will come. Where are you at, on that continuum of coming of age emotionally?