You can predict to a large extent someone’s age bracket merely by observing the person physically. The presence of facial hair in a man and a fully developed body in a woman shows that they must have crossed a certain age.

But spotting emotional maturity isn’t that easy. In fact, it often has nothing to do with age. You can be 25 and be as emotionally mature as a 30-year-old. You can also be 30, but because you’ve always shielded yourself from the chaos of life, you never grow emotionally.

The signs you’re dealing with an emotionally immature person aren’t usually apparent until you have a chance to meet and engage with that person. That said, here are some strong signs you might be dealing with an emotional infant.

1. Clinginess

We all received different kinds of care from our parents or guardians growing up. Some of us had a secure attachment to our parents because the nature of care we received was consistent.

Some were over pampered. Others received inconsistent care where a parent will be soft and loving one moment and distant the next. According to psychologist Robert Taibbi in Psychology Today, people who become clingy take the kind of care they received as children into adulthood. They don’t grow up emotionally.

For instance, a person who didn’t receive adequate attention from the parent might develop an anxious attachment to friends or partners. In Robert’s words,

“Your first couple of years of life are critical in establishing your view of a relationship…if the care you received was inconsistent, your brain may become predisposed for anxiety, developing an insecure, anxious attachment… this sometimes carries forward into adult life.”

This isn’t to take lightly the ordeal of those who faced attachment issues in childhood. However, growing entails leaving dead weights behind. And maturing emotionally entails growing up from those childhood experiences that are still defining our life experiences as adults.

2. Craves validation

In his Counsels and Maxims, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that “The more a man is himself, the less others will mean to him.”

In other words, the less you are in yourself, the more others will mean to you!

Emotionally mature people are self-sufficient. Emotional infants, on the other hand, always want approval. They are looking for that look from people that says “I like what you’re doing.” Any microexpression that signals disapproval destabilizes them.

Their need for validation stems partly from the fear of being responsible for the consequences of their decisions.

An emotionally immature person doesn’t think his or her judgment alone is good enough to make a good choice. They don’t feel the dress they are wearing is good enough until someone smiles at them and compliments them. They don’t feel they are good-looking enough until they have a partner who always tells them how good-looking they are every morning.

However, this doesn’t mean that an emotionally mature person will go around offending people because he or she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Some people still believe that we can live without caring at all about other people’s opinions, but this is impractical.

We are wired to care. We are social creatures. However, those who have healthy self-esteem, who are emotionally mature, don’t depend on how people perceive them to evaluate themselves. They care about what others think, but they also know that no one else understands them as they do. Their opinion about themselves means more to them than those of others.

3. Projection

Projection is just another strategy that people with fragile egos use to deflect their faults.

Someone who projects tends to see all the faults in everyone else besides themselves. Because they are not emotionally strong enough, they can’t bear accepting their flaws.

For instance, Rose likes to complain to her friend Judith about how a colleague at work likes to gossip about everyone at work, ignoring the fact that she didn’t just provide a listening ear for the gossip, she’s also gossiping someone at that moment.

People who project will always find a rational explanation for the things that they do, but will never extend the same gesture to others. They judge as if everyone in the world owes them perfection.

As psychologist Darlene Lancer explained in Psychology Today, people who project criticize others because they are unconsciously defending themselves against impulses or traits they don’t want to accept in themselves.

4. Inability to handle criticisms

One of the best markers of emotional maturity is a person’s ability to handle criticisms well.

We all grew up vulnerable, under our parents’ protection. They tried their best to take care of us and make sure we didn’t carry too much load emotionally. For those who were fortunate enough to have good guardians, whenever they did anything wrong, their guardians will find the best possible means to put it across in a way that isn’t emotionally damaging.

But the kind of treatment you received growing up as a child isn’t the same after you grow up and begin to explore the world. The world is unfair and can be brutal in criticism. Some people are just naturally disagreeable and will come against you just for the fun of it.

Only those who have left that safe world of delicate treatment they grew up in will not take things personally when they don’t get the same level of delicate care their parents gave them as children.

An emotionally mature person understands that the world doesn’t owe them any special treatment. They know that if they don’t perform well in their jobs, they will (or should) be criticized like any other person on the job. Criticisms don’t mean the world is against them alone, it simply means there’s something they’re not doing right.

5. Emotional Instability

There are a lot of reasons why an emotionally immature person will be emotionally unstable.

First of all, the mere fact that they look up to others for validation means their view of themselves is going to be at the mercy of others. They are going to oscillate between ecstasy and joy since they don’t have an internal locus of validation.

Secondly, their fragile ego and inability to handle criticisms will often make them feel down whenever someone tries to give negative feedback about anything they do. They’ll take negative views on their projects as personal attacks. They won’t be able to process criticism and grow from it. They’ll easily be broken by others.

6. Fragile Ego

Have you come across people who easily get offended by every little thing you say? When you’re with them, you have to choose your words carefully because they have a remarkable ability to over-analyze your words and come to the wrong conclusions.

People who have a fragile ego are easily offended. Jokes can easily come off as offensive with them. They easily become defended and threatened whenever you come close to disrupting a belief or value system that they hold important.

For instance, Mr. John believes in the existence of a God. However, in a casual conversation with his friend, Dr. Philip, he realizes that Philip doesn’t share his beliefs. Instead of Mr. John listening as Philip tries to explain his reasons for his ideology, Mr. John lashes out, feeling that there can never be a good enough explanation for Dr. Philip’s wrong beliefs.

Emotional fragility is often seen in arguments where one person suddenly flares up in a discussion that appears to be calm and easygoing. And this often happens because people who have fragile egos can’t handle being wrong.

Final Thoughts

The signs of emotional infancy may not be apparent by just looking at a person. But the moment you start engaging, a person’s level of emotional intelligence can be quite obvious.

If you’re not aware of the signs, you might be dragged into playing childish mind games with them. A fragile ego, for instance, can quickly lead to heated arguments over inconsequential topics.

Facial beards and a fully developed body aren’t enough to form an opinion about someone. Better to be aware of their level of emotional maturity so that you know how to handle them.

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