Have you ever seen a foal, or a calf being born? If you have not seen it in person, maybe you have seen it on the Discovery Channel. It usually takes place in an open field or a stable. The mother does not go to the hospital so that her baby can be born in the hands of a doctor. She does not have an operation table when she gives birth, nobody helps her, and she manages to give birth just through her instincts. Almost immediately, when the creature is born, it struggles to stand on all fours. Its legs shake, but it manages to continue. No one teaches it how to walk and it does not have to wait a whole year in order to learn how to do it. It just happens minutes right after being born. No one teaches it where it must go to get food or how to survive either. It all happens by instinct.
When we were born, it was all very different. How I would have liked to run just right after being born! How I would have liked to know how to defend myself without depending on my mother! How I would have liked to learn how to relate to others without my parents’ help! None of this happened the way it does in the life of many animals. But animals do not have what we have, a mind. That mind we have contains 100 billion neurons and the ability to store information as no other computer in the world. But there is a problem, the future use of a child’s mind will depend on his/her development. The child needs to learn throughout his/her life how to use his/her mind and how to develop it. And, through his/her parents and school’s influence, that child will grow to use the most important organ of the human body in a powerful way. Each time the child memorizes something, new neurons are formed.
The mind controls humans in our totality. All of our actions, whether good or bad, have their origin in the mind. Is the mind who worships God and bonds us with heavenly beings… All of the physical organs are servants of the mind, and nerves are the messengers who transmit orders to every part of the body, in order to direct the movements of the living machine…
(Mind, Character and Personality, p. 409)
One of the main functions of the mind is emotion management. Emotions are cognitive, physiological and psychological reactions to different experiences we have in life. The same way the mind is developed and grows, the human being must learn how to manage emotions so that later emotional maturity can be reached. The problem is that emotional maturity is not always in correspondence with the chronological age of the human being (Chronological age is a way to measure the time a person has lived). I am 52 years old, and that is my chronological age. My chronological and emotional age could not be at the same level. I could be 52 years old but be an emotional child, since chronological and emotional age do not always go together. And if being my age I have not grown emotionally, then, I can be an emotionally ill adult.
The emotionally ill adult
I like how Peter Scazzero develops this concept in his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader. He asks, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about an emotionally ill adult?
– Emotional and spiritual deficit that causes an impact in all the aspects in his/her life. Those emotional deficits are mainly manifested through a generalized lack of sensibility.
– Ill adults are involved in more activities than their spiritual, physical and emotional reserves combined are able to support. They give more than they receive.
Characteristics of an emotionally ill adult
It is said that an emotionally ill adult is when he/she:
- Has low levels of self-awareness
- Does not pay attention to the emotions his/her body might be sending him/her
- Does not pay attention to his/her family of origin
- Is unable to reed his/her emotional world and those of the others
- Gives priority to work, studies, tasks, etc., rather than marriage and singleness
- Does not have a vision of his/her marriage or singleness as the greatest gift he/she has
- Makes decisions without thinking their impact on his/her marriage or singleness
- Overflows chronically by always being occupied in God´s service or serving others and neglect his/her relationship with them
- Lives without boundaries
- Lacks rhythm between his/her job and resting
Emotional development of the adult
Emotional maturity is not something that comes automatically through the years; it is not something you learn in school. It is something learnt in our own homes, even before turning one year old. The emotional dynamics you have in your life is the same one that has run in your family for generations. You might be in the same level of emotional maturity your parents were. Probably, you could not grow beyond the point your parents reached because they were the first role models and instructors you had in order to learn how to express your emotions, unless you have managed to break the emotional pattern that existed in your family.
Adults whose level of emotional maturity is very low are called “emotional babies” and have the following characteristics:
- They seek others who can take care of them
- They find it very difficult to enter other people’s world
- They are driven by the need of gratification
- They use others as objects in order to meet their own needs
Adults whose level of emotional maturity is low are called “emotional children” and have the following characteristics:
- Their true emotional maturity level is shown quickly when being under pressure, disappointment and in trouble
- They interpret disagreements as personal offenses. They feel hurt very easily
- They complain, withdraw, manipulate, take revenge and are sarcastic when they do not get what they want
- They find it very difficult to talk calmly, nicely and in a mature way about their needs and things they desire.
There are also adults whose level of emotional maturity is medium, and they are called “emotional teenagers” and have the following characteristics:
- They tend to show defensiveness
- They keep score of what they are given so that later they can get something in return
- They deal poorly with conflicts, generally blaming it on others, appeasing, going to a third person, frowning their faces or ignoring the topic completely
- They care only about themselves
- They find it difficult to truly listen to the pain, disappointment or needs of those around them
- They are critical and judgmental
When people reach a high level of emotional maturity, they are called “emotional adults”, since they have achieved full emotional maturity. Their characteristics are:
- They are able to ask what they need, want or prefer in a clear, direct and honest way
- They acknowledge, control and assume accountability for their own thoughts and feelings
- They can, even under pressure, affirm their own beliefs and values without being adverse
- They respect others without changing them
- They give people room for mistakes and recognize they are not perfect
- They appreciate people just the way they are, good and bad people, and not for what they receive in exchange
- They evaluate their own limits, strengths and weaknesses with precision and are capable of discussing them freely with others
- They are satisfied and happy when they receive what they want
- They are deeply in harmony with their own emotional world and are capable of entering other people’s feelings, needs and concerns without losing themselves
- They are able to solve a conflict in a mature way and negotiate solutions that consider other people’s perspectives
So far, I have proved that our emotional maturity is not linked to our chronological age, but it must be connected to our spiritual maturity.
I was unaware of this reality for many years. I thought that my emotional maturity had nothing to do with my spiritual maturity and that I could grow spiritually without having to consider my emotions. I also thought that emotions were merely a part of the human body and that there was nothing we could do to learn how to express them correctly.
When I started to develop as a church leader, I remember that I tried to stay connected with God, to build my intimacy with Him. But, when it came to express my emotions and relate to others, I had serious problems. I expected people to have the same level of commitment I had. If people did not fulfill the commitments they had acquired, they would have had to listen to my reprimand. I put them on my blacklist and disconnected from that person. I almost got an ulcer for living this way. Until God showed me how wrong I had been throughout my whole life.
We cannot walk through life being emotional babies or teenagers who are upset about everything that happens around them or other people’s actions. We must grow in our emotional maturity, which will also lead us to reach spiritual maturity with the help of the Holy Spirit. If we reach the maturity of an “emotional adult”, we can have a full and happy life, with relationships based on respect and consideration for others; a life full of empathy for others.
I invite you today to take the initiative to walk the path to emotional and spiritual maturity. Make the decision to see others through the eyes of love, respect, thoughtfulness and empathy. But do not forget to see yourself through those same eyes, because we tend to neglect our own inner world. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you keep growing emotionally and spiritually. Read God’s Word and you will find many life lessons that will enrich your inner world.
Do you know some other ways to move forward in the path to emotional maturity? Share it with us in the comments session so we can help others keep growing emotionally and spiritually.