ERP 410: What Are The Signs Of Emotional Immaturity In Relationship?

By Posted in - Podcast February 6th, 2024 0 Comments

In a previous episode, discussions surrounding emotional immaturity and its genderized portrayal sparked significant interest and feedback from listeners. Responding to this engagement, today’s episode marks the beginning of a comprehensive multi-part series, committed to exploring emotional immaturity in depth. The series aims to shed light on this topic without resorting to labels or diagnoses, acknowledging emotional immaturity as a developmental facet existing on a continuum.

This particular episode focuses on unraveling the concept of emotional immaturity, shedding light on its definition and key characteristics. Dr. Jessica Higgins underscores the significance of cultivating awareness as a tool for establishing realistic expectations and effectively navigating the challenges that emotional immaturity may pose in relationships.

In this Episode

8:50 Defining emotional immaturity: Recognizing patterns and understanding the continuum.

9:59 Challenges in emotion regulation and stress management.

15:53 Navigating emotional impulsivity and reactivity: Outward expressions and consequences.

24:04 Exploring low frustration tolerance and rigidity in thinking.

26:24 Navigating emotional blind spots: Understanding the lack of self-awareness and empathy.

28:59 Navigating self-centric patterns.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Cultivate self-awareness by engaging in regular self-reflection to understand your emotional responses and behaviors.
  • Recognize and address patterns of emotional immaturity, focusing on consistent behaviors rather than isolated incidents.
  • Develop emotional regulation skills to manage stress effectively and avoid disproportionate emotional reactions.
  • Enhance self-soothing techniques to navigate nervous system activation, promoting a more composed and thoughtful response in challenging situations.
  • Embrace open communication about emotions, fostering a healthier understanding and expression of feelings within relationships.
  • Practice patience and empathy, actively seeking to understand your partner’s perspective and emotional experiences.
  • Build flexibility in thinking to avoid rigid, black-and-white thought patterns that hinder effective problem-solving.
  • Prioritize collaboration over self-centeredness, fostering an environment where compromise and mutual understanding can flourish in relationships.

Mentioned

The Gottman Institute

ERP 390: How to Recognize Emotional Immaturity & Abuse in Relationship — An Interview with Dr. David Hawkins

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About Today’s Show

Before we begin in today’s episode, I would love to take a moment and center with you. Often I like to start our time together with a simple inhale, and a simple exhale. Just taking these moments to drop into the more present experience gives us greater opportunity to be aware of what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling. This can be easier said than done, as we’re going to be talking about in today’s episode. Having this awareness does really provide more access to increase our relational skills as we engage with another. So often in modern-day living, we are moving from one thing to the next, and perhaps don’t even realize what we’re feeling or what we’re experiencing. Perhaps, at the end of the day, we’re exhausted. Or at the end of the day, we’re holding a lot that we haven’t really given attention to. And this does have an impact. 

The episodes on the Empowered Relationship Podcast are intended to support you in feeling more skillful, more mindful in the ways that your negotiating relationship. This is in service of co-creating a relationship that feels fulfilling, feels genuine, authentic, that feels intimate, that feels safe and secure, that feels lasting, and it is growthful. Again, this is setting us up for long-term success in relationships. There are many aspects to healthy relating. As I’ve been podcasting since 2015, and I feel as though there are so many more things that I want to address here on the Empowered Relationship Podcast. This is an evolving, developing process. I talk often about how being engaged in intimate relationship will ask us to grow individually, and it will also support our growth relationally, grow our relationship. Again, you can find so many more resources ways to engage in deeper practice with these principles on Dr. JessicaHiggins.com

Let’s get started in today’s episode. Several months ago, I had a guest on the show addressing the topic of emotional immaturity in relationship. I will make sure to put the link to that episode on today’s show notes, if you want to reference that episode. In the interview, he used terms “emotional immaturity” and “emotional abuse” interchangeably, and he also heavily genderized this topic. After I released the episode, I received several responses from listeners. Some listeners took great issue with his delivery and his gender rising stance. Other listeners expressed feeling incredibly validated, as though the guest were talking about their relationship and their experience.

Particularly in response to the listeners that took issue with the episode, I had corresponded and agreed to address the topic of emotional immaturity in relationship. I’m so grateful that I did, as I’ve been learning a lot, and recognizing how pervasive emotional immaturity is in relationship and for people. One of the articles that I referenced went as far as to say that emotional immaturity is an epidemic. As with most podcast episodes, it’s limited around the amount of information that I can cover on a podcast episode, and I am intending to address many questions. So likely this is going to be a several-part series around emotional immaturity. 

I intend to address the following questions. One: what is emotional immaturity. Two: what are the characteristics of emotional immaturity? Three: how does emotional immaturity develop? Four: what is the experience of a partner who is in relationship with someone who is emotionally immature? Five: what is the difference between emotional immaturity and emotional abuse? Six: can I move forward with a partner that exhibits signs of emotional immaturity, and how do I decide if I should move forward? Seven: what steps can I take to address the concern of emotional immaturity in relationship? Eight: how do I overcome emotional immaturity? Nine: how do I build emotional maturity in relationship? 

Today, we’re going to be focusing on what is emotional immaturity, and what are the signs of emotional immaturity, like the characteristics? Before we get started here, I want to disclaim that the intention of this episode is to build awareness. It’s not to assign labels or categorize or attempt to “diagnose,” even though emotional maturity is not a mental illness, or a pathology. It’s under development. It exists on a continuum. When we have more understanding of the traits of emotional immaturity, we can start to identify, organize, set realistic expectations, start to deal with and handle situations more appropriately. If we don’t even understand that emotional maturity is lacking, we may be experiencing a tremendous amount of challenge, and not even understand what’s at play. It’s incredibly difficult to deal with a situation when we do not know what’s happening or what’s at play. It can be incredibly frustrating, confusing, and disorienting. 

What is emotional immaturity? 

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“Emotional immaturity refers to a lack of emotional development. It’s the lack of ability to effectively manage and respond to emotions in a mature and healthy way.”

According to the American Psychological Associations’ dictionary, emotional immaturity leads to expressing emotions without restraint, or disproportionately to the situation. It’s the lack of being able to control one’s emotions in a manner that’s appropriate for their age.

As I mentioned, emotional maturity can be seen on a continuum. Pretty much everyone displays some emotionally immature behaviors from time to time. So when we’re looking at these characteristics, we want to look at patterns of behavior. Because when there’s a pattern of behavior of emotional immaturity, this is where it becomes challenging and maybe even problematic. 

What are the characteristics of emotional immaturity? So while these behaviors that we’re going to be discussing here are in separate categories, I have nine. That these characteristics and signs, they overlap, they interact, they’re related. So they’re not completely isolated and unrelated. However, it’s helpful to identify them and distinguish them as separate categories, so that you can, again, begin to build awareness around these qualities and characteristics. 

The first category is: difficulty regulating emotions and handling stress. So one that hasn’t developed emotionally, the emotional maturity, often has trouble managing and controlling emotions in an age-appropriate way. Now, when we say age-appropriate way, it’s normal to expect an adult to be able to have some level of containment, and that they’re not going to have an emotional outburst or tantrum, in a work setting, or in a family gathering. Like, having a tantrum like you would maybe see a four-year-old or a five-year-old. So that’s what we’re talking about there. Also, there’s a poor ability to self-soothe, to have calming ways of regulating the nervous system. So we all, in a given day, are going to feel activation in our nervous system; we might hear a siren or a loud noise and feel startled, or we might notice the heart rate increase or just that arousal. We all have ways, consciously or unconsciously, of regulating and soothing the nervous system. Again, as I said, this is on a continuum. For people that struggle with emotional maturity, have difficulty with regulation and self-soothing. So there can be a degree of agitation. 

As I’m going to be talking about in an upcoming category here of low levels of frustration tolerance, and also in this category, difficulty handling stress. Part of this difficulty regulating is also having a negative attitude towards emotional intelligence and emotional health. Thus, one may turn away from and typically not engage in emotional topics for themselves or others. So it’s almost as though they are neglecting their emotional state, and not turning towards it, or even turning towards others for that matter, which we’re also going to be talking about. 

Since processing emotion in healthy ways is a difficult thing. this can pose for a decreased ability to manage stress, and this is inherent in everyday life. So they may react poorly, because they don’t know how to manage stress. This might seem like things that are everyday occurrences that one, so-called “should be” able to deal with, and then they’re having an overreaction and perhaps getting angry, yelling, name-calling, or just having some overreaction, which we’re also going to be talking about. Again, these are all interrelated. But this difficulty of managing stress, and this relates to, again, having challenges regulating. 

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“When confronted with a situation that triggers more emotional, more vulnerable feelings, it can bring up insecurities, inadequacies, or even feeling overwhelmed.”

Even for many, I’m going to reference in examples, composites of clients, so I’m not going to be talking about specific clients. But that often I have heard this shame response, this sense of self-loathing even, not being good enough. So when confronted with stresses or vulnerable emotions, one can be confronted with these difficult feelings. But combined with not wanting to turn towards them, and then feeling a lack of competency, a lack of feeling effective, and thus judging that in a really significant way. Again, this shame that can feel really toxic.

They can even appear to be closed off and struggle to talk about their feelings. Again, this is a turning away, and thus not working with processing the emotions and having that difficulty regulating. Just having an overall limited capacity of dealing with emotions, which often lead to discomfort and reaction. So for example, if we look at the nervous system, the flight, freeze, and fight response, changing the subject is a form of flight; getting away from, diverting attention. The shutting down or not engaging can also be the freeze response. Just clamping down looking like a deer in headlights, not knowing what to say, feeling just blank. I’ve had many clients tell me they just draw a blank, and they just have no access to language in these triggering moments. Or being aggressive, acting aggressive, and that’s more of that fight tendency.

The second category is emotional impulsivity and reactivity. So this relates to, number one, the difficulty of regulating emotions and handling stress. The number two here of emotional impulsivity and reactivity is looking at the outward expression of the behavior. 

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“With impulsivity, there can be this tendency of acting from feeling more than the full system, which includes thinking and the rational and the regulation. Often, we want to address issues when we’re in a calmer state.”

We probably all have the experience at some time in our life where we’ve done or said something that we regretted because we didn’t give ourselves the time to reflect or think or consider, and we just impulsively reacted. 

One may also act on their emotions without considering the consequences. Many times people have said: “I don’t even understand what happened. I saw Red. I just said and did things that I didn’t really mean.” This is where guilt and shame can also play a role, in that one might contend with things that they did or said in the moment without considering the consequences, and then really been faced with the damage. 

For someone who is dealing with a level of emotional immaturity, may have difficulty with engaging in a conversation without getting emotional. So they may even have temper tantrums, and this may also trigger a high level of reactivity, escalation, volatility. They may overreact to situations. Having strong emotions that seem, again, disproportionate to the situation. Like, you might even observe and think: “I don’t even understand what’s happening right now. How did we get from where we were to where we are right now? Or I had no inkling that you would have such a strong reaction.” It just seems surprising in observing and noticing the other. 

Mood swings can also be an indicator here, where someone, again, if they’re having difficulty regulating, then what it’s going to look like on the outside is really big mood swings. Like, they might seem super depressed or moody, or just seem really stymie. Or they might seem fine and having a good time, but it’s hard to predict and it’s difficult to track. Or perhaps even, they will have outbursts of anger, again, saying hurtful things. Or perhaps they may shut down using silent treatment, or even leaving. The Gottman Institute talks a lot about the stonewalling research. So someone who stonewalls, it looks as though they are super walled-off, not experiencing a lot of emotion, shut down and disengaged, and seem like they don’t even care. Well, when one is hooked up to all the measuring of the heart rate and the different ways of tracking the nervous system responses, research shows that they’re actually having a more pronounced reaction than someone who is talking about their emotions or expressing their emotions. That it’s likely they’re even feeling flooded, unable or overwhelmed with what they’re feeling. 

Another behavior, again, on the outside, it might look like emotional dumping. 

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“In relationship, it will seem like things are fine, and then something sets off the emotional response, and the person is unloading. There’s a tonne of built-up resentment or issues. It could seem like you’re feeling blindsided.”

Because you didn’t see it coming, there was no indication, there was no heads-up, there was no communication about it, and there’s all this difficulty that they’ve been having, and then it all comes boiling up. That can be really difficult to deal with. 

Another example of this reactivity is, when one is in that escalated emotional state, again, they may say and do something that they’ll regret, but it could look like threatening the relationship. I’m done with you! Breaking things off, again, without having a conversation. I’ve heard many clients really address the pain and the damage of this. That they’re, as a couple, trying to repair these incidences. Really, when we unpack it and look at what was happening for the person who broke up or threatened the relationship, in essence, it’s trying to indicate and signal: “I’m not okay. I need you to see me. I’m hurting. The current dynamic is not working for me. I feel so vulnerable, scared, and threatened, and it’s hard to handle. I don’t know how to go on in this current way of being.” Yet, that’s not what’s being said, if it’s a breaking up, or just completely being done without the communication. Again, this can be a blindside for the partner.

Another aspect of this emotional impulsivity and reactivity is anger outbursts. This is what I hear a lot of people talk about, which is taking their anger and frustrations out on the people close to them. This could be being grumpy or prickly with one’s partner. It’s lashing out. It’s raising the voice. It’s yelling with a lot of emotion. This can be startling to a loved one. This can be a rattle. It’s not a signal of, again: “I have issue and I want to talk about this, let’s work together.” It’s a lashing out. It can be even attacking, which can make it very difficult to have the sense of working together or the partner to respond. Because there is such a charge, there is such a volatility, that it can often feel unsafe. Especially when emotions are not owned, or there’s not a sense of taking responsibility for the emotion. So it can feel very disorienting. 

It’s interesting, when I think about some of the anger management support, often there’s a process of unpacking, identifying the accumulation of issues that do not get processed or dealt with. So it’s almost that analogy of the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s this accumulation, and over time, it reaches a threshold. Then it’s almost like all of it comes out, and there’s this outburst. But it’s really difficult to deal with. Again, the Gottman Institute helps us with their research. That when we’re trying to address issues, we want to really handle one. It’s hard to solve even one because of the emotions that are at play, and the sensitivity. So if we overload it with multiple grievances, it can feel easily unsolvable. 

The third sign and characteristic of emotional immaturity is a low frustration tolerance and a rigidity of thinking. 

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“Oftentimes, when people have difficulty processing emotions, they live in a more compartmentalized state. They have a limited range of existing, and thus often orchestrate or attempt to deal with reality within those confines.”

Some examples can be this black or white thinking, or perhaps in dialogue, claiming reality is a certain way and ignoring other evidence. So if you’re relating to someone and they seem stuck in a position, and they’re really having a difficult time being influenced or even listening, it can appear to be stubborn or set in that position, unable to take in new information. Unfortunately, this can be perpetuating for one that lives in more of this restricted place. Because they’ll tend to alter or perceive things through a lens that reinforces their narrative, in order to deal with a situation. 

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“Ambiguity and the grey area can be emotionally stressful and confronting, as some of the ways that we’ve already discussed. Thus, there can be a reliance on this rigid thinking black or white, almost dogma, that gives some support to negotiate all of the challenges.”

But again, this can be more difficult in the long-run. Because again, they’ll have that low frustration tolerance, find it challenging to cope with setbacks and conflicts. They may react strongly to these stressors and struggle to manage their emotions in the face of adversity. So when things don’t go their way, they might feel like it’s a really big deal, again, that it’s hard to deal with. They don’t have the skill set to maneuver in more of the unknown or have that flexibility. 

The fourth characteristic of emotional maturity is a lack of self-awareness, emotional depth, and empathy. As we’ve already identified, there’s a low degree of emotional intelligence, and even value of emotional health. Thus, there’s a lack of self-awareness. That one typically doesn’t engage in trying to understand why they feel the way they do, or maybe why they reacted the way that they did, or even understanding their emotional states. Typically, will not engage in self-reflection or doing emotional process work, and what goes along with this is the lack of emotional understanding. 

So again, if they’re not engaging in reflection, or attempting to bring awareness to what they’re experiencing, they will likely have a little understanding of what they’re feeling, as well as perhaps what their partners are feeling. So that can lead to having difficulty taking their partner’s perspective, putting themselves in their partner’s shoes. It’s almost as though, again, that restricted way of operating as it relates to emotions, that walled off disengagement, prevents them from really seeking to understand and gaining the understanding and insight of their partner’s experience, which leads to difficulty with empathy. If you don’t understand or you can engage in perspective-taking, it’s going to be difficult to really empathize. If we can’t pause and really be with someone, hear their experience, notice their emotion, be with them, have an emotional response with them, and be able to respond, that isn’t going to happen, because we’ve essentially made that off limits. 

Additionally, it can be difficult for one to recognize the emotional impact they have on others. They may not understand why people don’t respond to them more positively or don’t seem more likeable. Or perhaps they even struggle to be sensitive to other people’s feelings. Again, this low emotional intelligence, poor emotional regulation, mental rigidity, and as we’re going to be talking about in a moment, more of this self-centered tendencies makes it extremely difficult to have that relational skill. 

The fifth sign of emotional immaturity is that they will make it all about them. Their low discomfort tolerance leads them to focus on what they want, what’s best for them, perhaps without considering how that might impact their significant other. They may tend to avoid any sort of difficult, negative, overwhelming situation that may require them to think about someone else and what they’re feeling. As we’ve already discussed, that’s a difficult ask. It’s confronting. It brings up a lot. So that this is just, again, another area where they tend to not engage. 

With the rigid thinking and belief system that we already discussed, they will tend to reference enhance their position as they relate to others, which can make it, again, difficult to see other perspectives. Which, again, can feel as though they’re unwilling to move or be open, or consider other stances or other perspectives. Also, this can make it very difficult. Let’s say you’re in relationship with someone who exhibits some of these emotionally immature tendencies. If you bring a grievance to them, they may have a difficult time holding space, staying with you, giving room for your experience. Again, with that low frustration tolerance and low empathy, this can be incredibly confronting. Again, they might go into the inadequacy, the shame spiral, how they did it wrong, shift the focus to their experience, their feelings, which takes away from what you were seeking, which is to get attention around your concern. Or perhaps they even will take things personally. So even the smallest criticism might set them off and make it difficult for them to actually listen to what you have to say. Even if it’s valid and true, they may have a hard time taking a step back and really looking at the situation from other perspectives or a little bit more rationally. 

This can all make for a difficult time in compromising and working together. So if one is unwilling to meet someone in perspective-taking or consideration, or hear what the other person’s concern is, to work together, to find a win-win or compromise, or even to concede on anything. It can feel like there’s a great deal of stubbornness, and they’re stuck, and have their heels dug in. This, again, makes for meeting in the middle, any type of compromise or conversations about working together, non-starters. 

As we are identifying these signs and characteristics, I’ve covered five of the nine signs and characteristics that I want to share with you. I recognize that these are difficult characteristics and behaviors to engage in, and I’ve recognized that. Again, we all fall on the continuum here, and probably all can benefit from growing in our capacity of emotional maturity. I think this is becoming more important for us to look at and really recognize around how we can work towards developing that. That’s why I have a series to offer you. I hope you’ll stay tuned to all that I’m hoping to share with you. 

So for today’s conversation, I want to summarize the five that we’ve addressed here. The first is: difficulty regulating emotions and handling stress. Number two: emotional impulsivity and reactivity. Number three: low frustration tolerance and rigidity in thinking. Number four: lack of self-awareness, emotional depth, and empathy. Number five: make it all about them. 

I want to invite you. When I’m doing a series, there’s a little bit more time for me to get your input and feedback. If you have examples or if you have questions, as it relates to emotional immaturity, or even scenarios that you feel like would be helpful to share and you’re willing to share, I want to encourage you to reach out to me personally at DrJessicaHiggins.com. Please title the email “Emotional Immaturity,” and I’ll make sure to include or reference what you share with me in an upcoming episode in this series. 

Signing Off

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