When we think of someone who’s emotionally mature, we typically picture a person who has a good understanding of who they are.
Even if they don’t have all the answers, an emotionally mature individual gives off a sense of “calm amid the storm.” They’re the ones we look to when going through a difficult time because they perform well under stress.
In other words, emotional maturity is when someone can manage their emotions no matter their circumstances.
They know how to respond to tough situations and still keep their cool. It’s a skill set they can consistently work on over time.
Here’s a look at key characteristics and things we can do to develop emotional maturity.
People with emotional maturity are aware of their privilege in the world and will try to take steps toward changing their behavior.
This means you don’t blame others (or yourself) when something goes awry.
You possess a spirit of humility — instead of complaining about your circumstances, you become action-oriented. You may ask, “What can I do to improve this situation?”
Emotionally mature individuals approach life by doing as much good as they can and supporting those around them.
You know how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Meaning, you often feel more concern for others and try to find ways of helping.
You know how to apologize when you’ve done wrong. No excuses. You’ll admit your mistakes and try to find ways of rectifying the situation.
You also don’t have the desire to be right all the time. Instead, you’ll acknowledge that you indeed don’t have “all the answers.”
Being unafraid of vulnerability
You’re always willing to open up and share your own struggles so others feel less alone.
You’re also not interested in being seen as “perfect” all the time.
Emotional maturity means being honest about your feelings and building trust with those around you because you don’t have an agenda.
Recognizing and accepting needs
Those with emotional maturity can admit when they need help or when they’re burning out. For example, you’ll acknowledge when you need a break and know when to ask your boss for a day off.
You’re also able to clearly communicate with your partner for more help around the house.
Setting healthy boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is a form of self-love and respect. You know how and when to define a line and won’t allow others to cross it.
If a colleague belittles or puts you down, you won’t stand for it and will let your voice be heard.
In short: yes and no. There are many factors that can influence a person’s level of maturity. Being exposed to a wider range of experiences at a younger age is one example.
Critical parts of the brain like the prefrontal cortex — which helps curb risk-taking behavior — don’t fully develop until about the age of 25. This can account for why a lot of teen emotions often seem unpredictable.
Still, a person’s level of maturity has more to do with their emotional intelligence — or the way they choose to respond to a challenging situation — rather than their age.
Even full-grown adults can have a low maturity level. That’s why you may meet a much younger person who seems wiser than their years.
There are tons of online tests and quizzes to help you determine your maturity level. Many of these are for entertainment purposes and aren’t clinically reliable or valid.
You can also start off by asking yourself some basic questions to get a sense of where you are.
How did you respond to a recent stressful situation?
When you’re under a looming deadline at work, how have you expressed your need for a break? Did you snap at a co-worker or blow off steam at the gym later that evening?
Becoming upset with others and failing to acknowledge our own needs is a sign that you may need to develop your maturity.
How have you coped with unexpected change?
When your BFF reports a new promotion or that they’ve gotten engaged, how did you react?
Did you wish them well and ask how you could help them celebrate, or did you withdraw and become annoyed at them for sharing details?
People with emotional maturity are able to express their joy to others even in the midst of sudden change.
Are you often fed up with everyone and everything?
When you’re less mature, the world is full of minor annoyances, and you’re unaware of your own privileges. Think about how often a day you complain about others or different situations.
Do you express gratitude or stay stuck in rehashing everything that’s gone wrong? Can you see how others may have it worse?
When things go wrong, do you usually pin the blame on yourself or others?
While it’s more than normal to have a crabby day now and then, if you’re caught up in self-blame or finding fault with everyone around you, it’s a sign you could stand to work on your maturity.
Learning to see a situation with self-compassion and nuance — where nothing is either black or white — can help you avoid falling into the blame game.
Learn to identify your emotions
Recognizing how you feel — whether sadness, anger, or embarrassment — can help you understand why you’re reacting the way you are.
As an exercise, try writing down the number of times you were bothered by others in a journal for a week. Then try identifying the underlying emotion.
This gives you more insight into how you can respond to a situation and what your needs are.
Let go of shame
Becoming conscious of when we’re feeling bad about ourselves can give us the agency to make change.
By letting go of shame, you’re free to take charge of your life and live on your own terms rather than by other people’s expectations.
Set healthy boundaries
Being emotionally mature means not letting anyone cross your boundaries.
If you’re constantly hanging out with someone demanding your time, for example, setting a boundary is showing you won’t compromise your self-respect.
Not sure how to go about it? Check out our guide on protecting your emotional space.
Take ownership of your reality
Look at your life and take full responsibility for both the good and the bad. Exercising this kind of ownership can help you take control of your choices.
Learning to recognize when you’ve made a mistake grants you insight into preventing it from happening again in the future, and from making other poor choices going forward.
Observe others with curiosity
Instead of reacting when someone becomes dramatic, try displaying patience and understanding for where they’re coming from.
Be curious about your approach to others and avoid judging their behavior. Rather than snap at someone’s offensive remark, you may determine that it’s time to move on from an unhealthy friendship.
Follow someone else’s lead
Finding a reliable role model can go a long way in helping us develop a greater level of emotional maturity.
When we see someone we admire handling a setback smoothly, we’re much more likely to model their behavior.
They allow us to see that there’s a better way to manage our emotions and how we can respond to distressing events.
Becoming self-aware of our own worth as well as the worth of others is what helps us lead a happier and more fulfilling life.
Apologizing to those around us, admitting when we need help, and seeking support are all ways to develop our own personal growth.
The more we’re willing to take charge of our behavior, the more we find connection and true belonging.
In short, maturity is a choice we can all make little by little, day by day.
Cindy Lamothe is a freelance journalist based in Guatemala. She writes often about the intersections between health, wellness, and the science of human behavior. She’s written for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, Quartz, The Washington Post, and many more. Find her at cindylamothe.com.