The emotional maturity can be defined in many ways, but the Scottish writer M. J. Croan summed up this concept perfectly: “Maturity is when your world opens and you realize that you are not the center of it.”
Getting mature means to leave our egocentric vision to understand that there is a larger and more complex world out there, a world that often will put us to the test and will not always satisfy our expectations, illusions and needs. And yet, when we mature we are able to live in peace in that world, accepting everything that we do not like but we cannot change.
Denying reality: An immature and unsuitable coping mechanism
Denial is a coping mechanism that involves denying fervently the reality, despite the facts. Generally this mechanism is set in motion for two reasons: 1. Because we cling to rigid ideas that we do not want to change or, 2. Because we do not have the psychological mechanisms necessary to face the situation.
In both cases, denying reality allows us to reduce anxiety in a situation that our emotional brain has already cataloged as particularly disturbing or even threatening. The problem is that reality always wins.
If a stalker approaches us in the middle of the street, we do not close our eyes repeating mentally: “This is not happening!” We understand that we are in danger and we run or ask for help. However, we do not react in the same way to the rest of the situations in our life. When we do not like something, we are disappointed or saddened, we implement the mechanism of denial.
Denying the facts vehemently will not make them change. On the contrary, it will lead us to make less adaptive decisions that may end up causing us more harm. The mature person, on the contrary, accepts reality, not with resignation but with intelligence. In fact, the German psychiatrist Fritz Kunkel said that “To be mature means to face, not to evade, each new crisis that comes”.
The art of finding balance in adversity
“Once upon a time there was a man who was so disturbed by seeing his own shadow and disliked his own footsteps so much that he decided to get rid of them.
“He came up with a method: run away. So he got up and ran, but every time he put one foot on the ground there was another step, while his shadow reached him without the slightest difficulty.
“He attributed failure to not running fast enough. He ran faster and faster, without stopping, until he fell dead.
“He did not understand that it would have been enough for him to put himself in a shady place so that his shadow would fade and that if he would sit and remain immobile, there would be no more footfalls.”
This parable of Zhuangzi reminds us of said Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Maturity is the age when one is no longer fooled by oneself”. The writer referred to that moment in which we are fully aware of the psychological mechanisms that we put in place to deal with reality and protect our “ego”, that moment when we realize that reality may be difficult but our attitude and perspective are two essential variables in that equation.
For that reason, emotional maturity inevitably comes through self-knowledge, it means knowing the mental blocks that we place on the road to avoid go on, the mechanisms we use to evade reality and the erroneous beliefs that keep us tied.
This knowledge is basic to deal with the problems and obstacles that life creates. Unfortunately, there are people who, like the man in the story, never reach that level of self-knowledge and end up creating more confusion and problems, fueling unhappiness and inner chaos.
Reaching emotional maturity does not imply passively accepting the reality, assuming a resigned position, but be able to look with other eyes at what is happening, taking advantage of that situation to consolidate our resilience, to know ourselves better and grow.
William Arthur Ward said: “Making mistakes is human and tripping is common; true maturity is being able to laugh at yourself”. To be able to laugh at our old fears because now they seem grotesque to us, of our magnified preoccupations and those “insurmountable” obstacles that really were not, is a huge symptom of growth. Laughing about our old attitudes and beliefs not only means that they are part of the past, but that no longer have any emotional influence on us.
The real emotional maturity comes when we practice radical acceptance, when we look reality at the eyes and, instead of coming down, we ask ourselves: “What is the next step?” It means that, although reality can be painful, we do not get stuck in the role of victims suffering in vain, but we protect our emotional balance by adopting a proactive attitude.