Growing up in an Indian family and conservative culture, I learned unhealthy emotional habits. As a young man, I learned to suppress my feelings, to be a tough guy, a stoic, a soldier. We encourage this way of being, so we raise men who are emotionally divided from everyone else in their lives. They are incapable of vulnerability and intimacy, which perpetuates our culture of commitment-phobia and the death of the nuclear family.
The good news? It doesn't have to be this way. You can change. You can become emotionally stronger. You can be more open and vulnerable.
Here are 13 signs of emotional maturity (and goals to aim for if you want to reach it):
1. Acceptance of feelings.
Emotionally mature men don’t hide from, resist, or suppress their feelings. Instead, they welcome their feelings, which ebb and flow naturally. Discomfort is a great teacher. Once you’ve fully experienced the intensity of uncomfortable feelings like pain or sadness, they will naturally ebb. Your feelings won’t kill you. But running from them will cause your discomfort to endure even longer.
2. Awareness of harmful patterns.
When life events trigger an undesirable emotional response in you, you can acknowledge and deal with the response or try to ignore it, which tends to result in anger (fight) or self-protective distancing (flight). Accepting discomfort as a natural state is how you begin to uncover self-sabotaging patterns and learn to manage your responses to triggering situations.
3. Striving to become more emotionally mature.
If you’re reading this article, you’re open to self-reflection on some level. If you're curious about this world of emotions and feelings, you’re moving toward emotional maturity with intention. You have to be willing to move into the unknown, into vulnerability. Instead of avoiding feelings or running away from them, commit to welcoming them, feeling them, and working through them.
4. Openness to learning and growth.
If you choose to remain in your old patterns once you recognize that they're unhealthy, you will continue to experience the same problems. If, instead, you see this as a way to become a better person, you can begin to take the necessary risk of being more open to feelings and emotions. This leads to increased maturity, stronger relationships, and a more fulfilling life.
5. Open communication of their feelings.
Once you accept and invite your feelings in, you might not know what to do with them. It can be overwhelming. Try journaling or discussing your feelings with someone you trust. If that doesn't put you at ease enough to continue through the feelings, consider talking to a therapist or counselor. Communicating your feelings helps you label and appropriately deal with them.
6. Willingness to have difficult conversations.
An ability to discuss your feelings openly in a safe space is followed by open communication in romantic relationships. Having vulnerable and emotional conversations is hard for everyone but especially people who are sensitive or inexperienced in the language of emotion. The way to learn, as with everything, is to practice. Maintain some ground rules — keep any arguments on the topic of the current disagreement and always speak respectfully to one another. Setting the intention to have a difficult conversation with these parameters is the first step.
Men have a difficult time talking about their emotions because they aren't at ease with vulnerability or interpret it as weakness in themselves. Part of emotional maturity is the understanding that vulnerability requires strength. It's okay to be seen in fear or fright. You must be willing to break through the ego and get comfortable with being a beginner.
7. Surrounding themselves with emotionally mature men.
Men hear that they shouldn’t cry or share their emotions on the sports field or in the workplace, so most of them don’t. But there are almost certainly a handful of emotionally mature men in your life. Look to them for guidance.
8. Creating space for their partners.
Practicing emotional maturity means creating space for a partner. Being present, available, and open to conversation. It means staying put when you want to run. It means not judging or being emotionally ungenerous when someone needs you.
9. Respecting boundaries.
Emotionally mature men know not to hurt someone or violate their privacy.
10. Listening without fixing.
None of us are therapists – unless, of course, you are one. You don’t have to fix someone’s emotional issues or strong feelings. You don’t have to do anything when others are hurt or suffering except listen in love.
11. Sharing without hiding.
Emotional maturity requires sharing feelings that might initially make you feel ashamed, bringing up the hidden feelings you'd rather not bring up. It's trusting someone else enough not to hurt you and trusting yourself to be able to recover if you do get hurt.
12. Being compassionate and empathetic.
Emotional maturity means trying to understand someone else's feelings. It means shifting your perspective so you put conflict resolution above your desire to be right, and not attacking her when she expresses emotions that may frighten you. It's practicing tolerance and patience.
13. Emotional generosity.
You realize that your role is to be there for support. You are there to uplift rather than to “win” at all costs. Experiencing fear or pain or self-consciousness doesn't mean you're losing and shouldn't trigger aggression. Humanity means experiencing these things. This isn’t a game and you’re not losing. Being emotionally mature means that you’re caring and comforting. It means you can nurture a great relationship. That's already a win.
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