All human beings share the primitive instinct that familiarity means safety and security, according to John Bowlby, the pioneering psychiatrist of attachment theory. Therefore, those children who were raised in families with an emotionally immature parent, will often be attracted subconsciously to an emotionally immature, egocentric partner, when they are older and start dating. Many girls may be attracted to ‘bad boys’ because the nice guys, who are considerate, seem a little boring. The same is true of guys who pursue the ‘wild girls’ because the nice girls were just not that fun. The intense familiarity that feels like strong chemistry, may set them on a roller coaster relationship that can eventually become emotionally or physically abusive. When you ask someone in an abusive adult relationship, to recall their dating period, they distinctly remember an event when they realized how self-centred their partner was. The instant chemistry they felt probably awakened the familiar experience of the emotionally immature parent, but it was not true secure love.
In previous articles, I have written about the challenges of being raised by an emotionally immature parent. I explained how to recognize whether this was your experience and what to do about it, in Healing From Emotionally Immature Parents . I wrote about the ways that children learn to cope with emotionally immature parents and how these childhood coping skills are ineffective, and sometimes harmful, when used in adult relationships. See How Children Cope With Emotionally Immature Parents .
Because adults raised by an emotionally immature parent are especially vulnerable to becoming involved with an emotionally immature partner, it is important for them to be able to know the characteristics emotional maturity. When we can distinguish the difference, we can make better choices of who we want to be with. If we are already in a relationship with one, we can learn how deal with them better.
Knowing how to distinguish between emotionally immature and mature adults, is not just useful for those who were raised by an emotionally immature parent. It can be helpful to all of us. Every one of us have family members, friends, co-workers or a boss who can be challenging to have a relationship with because they are emotionally immature.
Characteristics of an Emotionally Mature Adult
According to Lindsay Gibson, psychologist and author of Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, the following are characteristics of emotionally mature people. By using this as a checklist you can determine whether the person you are with can give you the kind of relationship you want.
Realistic and Reliable
- They work with reality rather than fighting it by adjusting their expectations.
- They can feel and think at the same time keeping each in balance.
- Their consistency makes them reliable across situations.
- They are not easily offended, don’t take everything personally and can laugh at their own foibles.
Respectful and Reciprocal
- They respect your boundaries and your individuality and don’t intrude or control.
- They give back because the fair and even reciprocity of giving is normal in a relationship for them.
- They are flexible and compromise well so each feel it is fair.
- They are even tempered and know how to calm down and don’t feed their anger.
- They are willing to be influenced because of their secure sense of self.
- They tell the truth.
- They apologize and make amends which are heartfelt and sincere.
- Their empathy makes you feel safe.
- They make you feel seen and understood.
- They like to comfort and be comforted.
- They reflect on their actions and try to change.
- They can laugh and be playful.
- They’re enjoyable to be around.
The more of these qualities a person has, the more likely it is that the two of you can forge a satisfying and genuine connection.
So, if we all want relationships that are safe and secure, as John Bowlby suggests, then we need to demonstrate our own emotional maturity as well as support the other to do the same. When they can’t or won’t, we need to find ways to protect ourselves, maintain a safe distance or end the relationship. Sometimes professional help may be required to accomplish this.