As someone who grew up in a protective household, I was always sheltered and barely had the confidence to make friends or hold a conversation with others. When I gradually started to open up in college, I was ill-equipped to handle my emotions. If something didn’t go my way or a friend joked with me, I would storm off in anger. On other occasions, I would sulk or exhibit passive aggressive behaviour.
With experience, exposure to people, and therapy, I became self-aware and rid myself of my old habits. Like many others, I, too, believed that age had everything to do with my personal growth.
But is it so?
Pallavi Singh, a Delhi-based trauma and grief-informed therapist at I Am Wellbeing clears the air. “Age can be a factor for some people as they get better at regulating their emotions. However, there are several other reasons including life experiences, supportive parents or caregivers and an emotionally available support system that helps us learn how to manage heavy emotions,” she adds.
Before we dive deep into other details, it’s important to understand what an emotionally mature individual really looks like.
Emotional maturity is all about being in touch, understanding and accepting one’s emotions, while responding to them in a healthy manner. Contrary to general perception, it isn’t about being calm all the time, reveals Preeta Ganguli, a Gurugram-based therapist and mental wellness consultant.
“An emotionally mature person will experience and be aware of the range of their emotions. They would be able to sit with them, understand them and take them into account in dealing with various situations. This doesn’t mean they will always be regulated; there may still be times one may react emotionally. But it is all about taking responsibility and making repairs,” she explains.
Being emotionally mature is not just being in tune with one’s own emotions but also having the willingness to understand another person’s thoughts and feelings, and holding space for them.
“Having empathy, being able to build healthy boundaries and accepting your needs and vulnerabilities are certain markers of an emotionally mature person,” says Singh.
Furthermore, the key elements of emotional maturity are self-awareness, self-management, empathy, social skills, motivation, and conflict management, shares Delhi-based counselling psychologist, Ruchi Ruuh.
“These are life skills that an individual can learn through various interactions with the world. Being emotionally mature is also about the desire to understand and grow out of patterns that are no longer helpful or detrimental,” says Ruuh.
Scientifically, the human brain completely matures by the age of 25, which explains why young people are more reactive and impulsive, says Ruuh. With age, most individuals ideally acquire social and occupational skills along with brain maturity.
“Children or adolescents who grow up in safe, emotionally regulated environments develop emotional maturity. It’s fair to say both nature and nurture play a significant role for healthy growth. We should ideally be more emotionally mature as we age. But after a certain age, it totally depends on how an individual keeps working on themselves,” she mentions.
Nitasha Karwal* (name changed), a 29-year-old Mumbai-based dermatologist feels that her 52-year-old mother doesn’t embody emotional maturity. Instead, any disagreement with her mother is followed by spells of silent treatment that trigger feelings of helplessness in Karwal.
“I have had a hard time speaking about this to anyone for the longest time. Our parent figures are assumed to be emotionally mature but it may not be true for everyone. While I empathise with my mother for having a difficult childhood, it isn’t very simple for me to deal with how she projects her emotions onto me,” she confesses.
This isn’t a rare scenario. There are several elderly figures who may lack the ability to feel their own emotions and have limiting beliefs or regressive values. Not everyone is ready to challenge them and evolve with time.
“Crying, experiencing anger, being scared or any such emotion has always been looked down upon, dismissed or villianised. This has left a lot of the older generation unwilling to accept and cope with their feelings. As a consequence of this, they are unable to understand the younger generation too,” quips Ganguli.
Interestingly, the younger generation of today is exposed to several resources such as social media that has brought to the forefront pertinent subjects like sexuality, mental health, career and more. This, in turn, has sensitised them to hold more space for their peers and practise mindful behaviour.
“With the proliferation of social media and schools being more receptive to emotional awareness programmes in their curriculum, things are certainly changing. Teachers and parents are also trying to become more conscious and (get) therapy. Alongside, therapy is far more accepted today,” reiterates Ganguli.
Ruuh has certain tips to help individuals become more emotionally mature and be in tune with their feelings. Here they are:
“Emotional maturity is a work in progress. Each generation has its exceptions as not all of us are the same, or were raised in the same way or in the same circumstances. But it is possible to make some amends, if someone is willing,” concludes Ganguli.
Geetika Sachdev is a writer and journalist