Mental Maturity and Adult Behavior

Mental Maturity

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by Jayaram V

Source: This essay was originally published in the book “Think Success, Essays on Self-help” by Jayaram V under the title, “Mental Maturity and Adult Behavior," and reproduced with publisher's permission.

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Sally is a mother of two grown up children. She is well mannered and presents herself nicely in parties and social gatherings. However, her husband Vivian believes that she is immature and does not really act like an adult when they talk about important matters. He feels that she has frozen a part of her childhood memories and stuck in that, which makes her easily emotional, insecure, and irrational. He says that whenever she sees her parents or close relations, she becomes a different person, as if something came over her, and acts like a child in their presence. He believes that when they are around she becomes a child and relives her past. Sally is a perfect example of how some people do not grow up mentally with age. They remain immature in some aspects of their thinking and behavior, which can often lead to problems to themselves and others.

Immaturity is not confined to individuals alone. Often groups and even nations act immaturely, which results in misery and suffering to millions of people. It happened several times in the past, and it is still happening today in some parts of the world, causing a lot of agony and bloodshed to millions of people. Frankly, many leaders and celebrity figures, who are the icons and role models of our civilization, are immature. They hide it behind a façade of pomp and power, but betray their immature behavior through their actions and emotions.

We see or hear about incidents where public figures display immature behavior in front of others rather inadvertently while playing games, giving interviews to the press, debating with political opponents, participating in compe-titions, or attending meetings and public forums organized by government bodies and even the UN Security Council and general assembly. Immaturity shows itself in the way people react to things and situations, the movies they watch, the words they use, the lifestyle choices they make, the emotions they express, the causes they support, and the way they manage their health, relationships and finances. Truly speaking on a cosmic scale ours is still an immature civilization. We are not yet fully in control of our thinking and behavior. We may need at least a few more centuries to think and act with objectivity and maturity and cope with our emotions and conflicts in healthier ways.

Physical and mental growth

From physical appearance and the telltale signs of the body, we can discern whether a person has physically matured and reached adulthood. By just looking at a person, we can estimate his or her approximate age. Almost everyone attains physical maturity after a certain age, with minor variations. However, mental growth does not happen in the same manner. Some people attain mental maturity at an early age, while some take time. Due to various internal and external factors, a few may not mentally grow up even after they reach middle age. Potentially we can keep growing mentally until the end, depending upon our interests, and personal habits. Our brain cells do stop multiplying after a certain age, but it does not arrest our mental growth. In the short span of life that we live here, it is not possible to know everything. However, even in that limited short span, practically there is no limit to what you can learn and choose to learn. You can keep learning as long as you care, and as long as you keep learning you can keep growing mentally.

Mental growth and mental maturity are not the same. Hence, mental growth by itself does not guarantee mental maturity. A person may have a lot of knowledge and solve many complex problems and riddles, but in his personal life may show lack of maturity and childish behavior. Mental growth refers to an all-round development of various mental faculties, whereas maturity refers to the use of reason, objectivity and commonsense in thinking and behavior. It also refers to self-control, rationality, and emotional maturity. Maturity comes from using the higher faculties of the mind and having control over the baser instincts of human behavior.

Some people attain mental maturity at an early age, while some remain predominantly immature even after they become adults. It is difficult to find people who are always mature and fully mature. Occasionally, everyone regresses into childish or childlike behavior. Depending upon their upbringing and other factors, people display different levels of maturity at different times. For example, the same person who displays a lot of maturity in his thinking and behavior before his coworkers at workplace may act like an adolescent in the presence of his friends and family as he opens up in their presence and feels comfortable with his hidden nature. Because of social pressures, a number of people mask their true nature in public and act differently. Thus, it is difficult to quantify a person's level of maturity and know when and whether he has reached the threshold of mental maturity.

What is maturity?

Maturity does not necessarily increase with age. It arises from thinking, knowing, perception, understanding, analysis, discretion and being practical and realistic. A matured person depends upon his own perceptions and experience in evaluating truth and situations. He keeps his mind free from illusions, unrealistic assumptions and irrational beliefs. Maturity develops to the extent we organize our consciousness, according to our experiences and perceptions, and to the extent we keep our minds free from irrational thoughts, beliefs, prejudices, notions and emotions, which we accumulate due to the mental filters we create. There is also no consistent correlation between physical growth and mental maturity. Sometimes a young adult may show more maturity than a grown-up person. Two people in the same age group may also have different levels of maturity. It is because, mental maturity arises from many factors such as age, awareness, intelligence, education and upbringing. Since they vary from individual to individual, people differ in their levels of maturity.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘maturity’ in the following words, "deliberateness of action, mature consideration, due deliberation, fullness or perfection of natural develop-ment, ripeness, due promptness, the state of being complete, perfect, ready," and so on. This is the literary definition. In a general sense, maturity means complete, physical and mental growth, or the state of adulthood. It is the ability to act rationally and realistically, rather than emotionally and irrationally. From a behavioral perspe-ctive, to be mature means the following.

  • To be realistic, to be in touch with reality and guided by facts.
  • To accept responsibility for one's own actions and behavior.
  • To be willing to analyze and verify one’s beliefs, prejudices and assumptions against facts and one’s own experiences, and change one’s thinking, awareness, judgment, behavior and understanding accor-dingly,
  • Being guided by reason rather than emotions, with the ability to distinguish the difference between the two and at the same time accommodate one’s feelings and emotions appropriately and intelli-gently in one's life.
  • To be assertive, without being aggressive; to be friendly without being self-centered; to disagree, without being insensitive; to ask, without the fear of rejection; and to act, without fear or anxiety.
  • To be flexible and open-minded, instead of being rigid and judgmental; to be receptive to new expe-riences and new people; and to be willing to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge.
  • To be curios, inquisitive and exploratory, seeking answers, gathering information, and weighing the options, before arriving at conclusions.
  • To be open minded, free from mental conditioning, and act spontaneously according to the reality of the situation, without prejudice and preconceived notions, without the compulsion to be perfect or correct and without indulging in habitual actions and responses.
  • To be in touch with the current reality or the present moment and learn from it.
  • To know what is possible and achievable according to the circumstances, and accept the limitations.

Who is a mature person?

Here is a brief description of a mature person, and how he thinks and acts.

  • Is concerned with facts.
  • Goes by personal experience rather than beliefs.
  • Relies upon reason rather than emotions.
  • Thinks before acting.
  • Uses resources wisely, according to the realistic needs and demands of the situation
  • Weighs each situation carefully, before drawing conclusions
  • Lives in the present.
  • Is open-minded, willing to learn and explore other possibilities, view points and alternatives.
  • knows the limitations
  • Is flexible.
  • Is spontaneous.
  • Has a healthy self-image and sense of self.
  • Takes practical decisions, according to the situation.
  • Knows how to deal with anxiety, fear and worries.
  • Believes in human dignity. Respects self and others.
  • Listens, pays attention and learns from experience.

Suggestions to practice adult thinking

Maturity is accepting what is, willing to change what can be and letting go of what cannot be. It is to make peace with yourself, by agreeing to follow reason, acknowledge emo-tions and rely upon your own experience. Mature people free themselves from the compulsions of their past and the anxieties of future, staying in the present and acting spontaneously. They cultivate a balanced view of life by detaching their minds from things and expectations and enjoying life as it happens. Here are some useful ways by which you can make mental maturity as the guiding force of your life.

1. Be Realistic

A matured person's mind is exploratory, unassuming, and rooted in reality. To develop your mind in that mold, you have to be sensitive and responsive to the reality around you. You may daydream, have plans and goals that are difficult to attain, may be driven by idealism in some aspects of your life rather than the pragmatism, and may even accept few assumptions about you or your life as the basis for your beliefs and actions. All of it is acceptable as long as you rationally know what you can and cannot, and know the difference between reality and illusions. In other words, you should rely primarily upon reason, and facts, rather than assumptions and beliefs. When you have to go by your assumptions because do not have facts or correct information, you may do so, but with the understanding that your conclusions may not be final. Most importantly, you have to focus upon facts and think rationally. By staying in touch with reality and controlling your thoughts and emotions, you will keep the adult in you active, responsive and in charge, and control your immature responses and reactions in critical situations.

2. Control your emotions and irrational thinking

 You might have noticed from experience that knowledge and education in themselves do not guarantee mental or emotional maturity. Whether you are educated or not, occasionally you are bound to experience emotional and mental instability. When you are emotionally disturbed, you are bound to lose control over your thinking, actions, and reactions. One of the practical ways to overcome your emotional and irrational behavior is to examine your past beliefs and assumptions, in the context of your current knowledge and experiences and discard those that do not stand the test. You can do it by preparing a list of your beliefs, biases and assumptions and validate them against facts. You can dig deep into your unexamined past and challenge the cultural beliefs and assumptions you might have inherited from your parents and peers to free yourself from the conditioning to which you were subject as a child.

Other important ways to develop rationality are, not to accept any opinion blindly, finding logical fallacies in your thinking, looking for evidence and validation, asking questions, challenging opinions, not falling for surface opinions, using experience, being yourself, seeking informa-tion, and challenging your beliefs and assumptions underlying your decisions and conclusions.

3. Be curious and open minded

Apart from the child, we also have a parent component embedded in our consciousness. It is a remnant of the past, inherited by us from our parents and authority figures. When you were a child it might have helped you to make sense of the world, and guide your actions and behavior in socially acceptable ways and find approval and appreciation. However, since most people in their childhood accept their parental commands without questioning them, it becomes the unexamined part of your consciousness and your inner parent. Since it is created from your childhood memories, your inner parent prefers controlling and dictating rather than listening. As it regulates your thinking and behavior from inside, you become judgmental and opinionated in your thinking and act according to your deep-rooted beliefs and prejudices rather than your current reality. In some cases, the inner parent pushes the adult into the background and assumes control whereby they become rigid and inflexible and develop the-know-all attitude.

People, in whom the parental part is strong, live rigidly, and place a high value on obedience, loyalty, attention and respect from others. They prefer safety to risk and convention to freedom. They move in familiar circles, visit known places, deal with their own kind, and show great reluctance to forge new relationships or experiment with new ideas. They also tend to advice, rather than listen, and criticize, rather than appreciate. They resent criticism and avoid those who disagree with them. They are also offended by the ideas and people who may seem to threaten their very lifestyle and the values they stand for.

If you let your inner parent dominate your thinking, you will bring all its associated qualities into play and act like them. You will become judgmental, close minded, and opinionated in your thinking and attitude. Since your parent also makes your self-talk negative and unbearable, you suffer from guilt and low self-esteem. Hence, you cannot let the parent in you to control and regulate your life, unless you prefer reliving their lives and values and ignore your current reality. You may use some aspects of it, but you cannot give it full control. Instead, you should allow the adult to stay in charge and rule your life since the adult is open minded, inquisitive, and rational.

4. Understand your emotion

 Our emotions have a life of their own, or so it seems. Although we are rational, in difficult and critical situations we become emotional and even irrational. Emotions take time to subside, because of various, biological, and physiological factors and the changes they induce in our bodies. Suppressing them forcefully may also lead to many mental and emotional problems. Hence, when emotions arise, there is not much we can initially do other than trying to observe them and understand them. Emotions add color and drama to our lives, apart from helping us in our survival. They help us to perceive changes in our environment and make sense of the situations. Therefore, suppressing them is not a good strategy.

The best way to deal with your emotions is to pay them attention and become familiar with them, by knowing what causes them and how they rise and subside. Once you are familiar with their mechanism, you can let them express themselves without upsetting your inner balance. This is the matured way to manage your emotions and dissipate their destructive energy. Accept your emotions without feeling guilty and observe them to know their causes and underlying purpose so that you can manage them and control them.

5. Be in the present

Our lives are precious, and every moment counts. What appears to be a single continuum between birth and death is actually a series of moments, one following the other. The apparent continuity of time is an illusion. Each moment is separate and complete in itself, although we do not see it because of our beliefs and conditioning. If we remember it and stay in the moment we can control our emotions and think rationally. When we are lost in the thoughts of past and future, we become emotional and suffer from worries and anxieties. The present moment offers us a great opportunity to return to the reality and break free from such thoughts.

When we are caught in the momentum of life, we need to slow down, pause, take a deep breath and look around. In such moments, we can experience relief and regain our composure and inner balance. In such moments, we realize the importance of being and the feeling of being alive. As we become busier and stressed, we lose control over our emotions. Small things can weigh heavily in our minds and upset us. The best way to recover from it is to return to the moment and let the reality soak in.

We do not have be always immersed in the present moment because we have to catch up with the world and live our lives normally. However, you can return to it whenever you feel that you are lost in the drama of life and need to recharge yourself mentally and emotionally. When you are in the present, you experience peace and think rationally according to the situation. You see the world and people with clarity, respond to situations correctly, avoid making mistakes, and become efficient and effective. With your emotions under control, you also learn to evaluate problems and situations realistically, finding solutions to your problems based upon your observations, rather than your fears and hopes. Therefore, when you are performing critical tasks, stay with the moment and flow with the events. Watch your own emotions, thoughts and feelings as you perform your daily chores, opening your eyes to the reality of the present moment.

6. Practice detachment

Detachment means staying mentally free from people and things, without responding or reacting to their presence or absence. Much of our suffering in life arises from our attachments, which in turn cause attraction and aversion to things and people. You are happy when you are united with the things you love, and unhappy when you are separated from them. Thus, your attachments subject you to the duality of pleasure and pain. You cannot escape from them until you cultivate detachment.

By practicing detachment, you regain your inner freedom, overcome your sense of dependence upon things, and experience peace and inner stability, which in turn help you to deal with the world objectively and rationally. As you liberate your mind from the attractions and distractions of life, you accept things as they are, without judgment, emotion, and desire. Your awareness and understanding of the world and people improve, and so also your insight and intuition.

We are not only attached to worldly things, but also to the notion of success and failure. When we live with expectations and perform actions with an eye upon results, we are bound to experience disappointments and frustrations, since we do not have control over every aspect of our lives and we can keep nothing forever. If there is one strong justification to practice detachment, it is the imper-manence of the world. Hence, it is wiser to focus upon what you can control and do within your abilities, rather than what you may gain or lose out of them. In short, do not be troubled by the presence or absence of things, or gains and losses. Adapt yourself to circumstances and make the best out of whatever life offers to you. Aim for success, but be prepared to accept failure as a learning opportunity.

Bhagavadgita Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V Avaialbe in USA/UK/DE/FR/ES/IT/NL/PL/SC/JP/CA/AU

Suggestions for Further Reading

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