Are You A Mature, Emotionally Healthy Adult?

Hint…Not As Many Of Us Are As We Think.

image by Barrett Ward from

We tend to assume that once someone physically looks the part of an adult, that is it. They are a grown-up.

Not quite. Consider the adults you know personally (there might be just one or two, or potentially even more) who are emotionally chaotic, who have significant character flaws that impact their life and relationships (not the minor and usual ones we all have. Instead, I am talking about traits and behaviors that majorly impact one’s life negatively), those “adults” who just cannot seem to get their lives together, and those who experience frequently turbulent relationships.

We all know people like this, and usually, they are “adults.” Meaning, they look like adults on the outside. However, in the article following, you will learn that in actuality, they are still children emotionally.

These are people who have failed to grow up. Who, while they may embody the physical appearance and age of an adult, are not adults in their minds and emotions. And it shows in the lives they lead.

I will describe several traits of “adults” who are actually children in a grown-up’s body.

What's helpful about this article is that:

1. It can help with identifying those around you who are still essentially children, both mentally and emotionally (even though they may appear physically, to be an adult). And thus, can assist in your dealing with and better understanding them (whether a colleague, family member, or other).

2. If you have one, a few, or even several of these traits yourself, the only way one can grow and change is through insightful admittance and recognition of areas in which you can stand to grow. Therefore, both seeing and admitting such within yourself, and then attempting to actively change your thinking and behavior towards growing and taking back your sense of adulthood can change your life radically for the better.

Here is what happens (and how it negatively impacts our lives) when we fail to grow up:

Inordinate Need for Approval. People who struggle to grow up emotionally often cannot function well independently of the opinion of others (this can be from their parents, romantic partner, friends, or even people they aren’t especially close with). They strive constantly to gain the approval of others.

This kind of approval is different from the wish to do well and be recognized for such. That is a normal wish and desire. This is, instead, a hungering for and hinging on the need for approval from others. And difficulty behaving in ways that involve striking out on one's own and even at times, having to disappoint people (a given in all emotionally close, healthy, and mature relationships).

Fear of Disapproval. This goes along with a need for approval. Often, people who have failed to grow up emotionally feel quite anxious when an authority figure is around. Their anxiety tends to interfere with their ability to do a job well. Every time their work is evaluated, their fear is activated.

Guilt. This is a component of the loss of parental approval. Part of growing up means separating from your parents, and this will at times mean disappointing them. This is ok, normal, and part of forging your own path. If one is living emotionally as an adult and to the beat of their own drum, it’s inevitable that you will, at times, disappoint others when you don’t act in accordance with their opinions or wishes (including your parents).

This is part of having the courage to live your own life, which is integral to both your happiness as well as growing up. People who still harbor guilt over this type of thing continue to feel “under” the parental voice.

Sexual Difficulty. People who feel one-down to authority more often than not have sexual difficulty. Why? They have not gone through the adolescent passage of disagreeing with their parents and therefore, overcoming guilt and repression. Sexuality is still a “no-no” to them because psychologically, they are still children who “shouldn’t think about things like that.”

Need for Permission. Adults who have not actually grown up emotionally struggle with an inordinate need for permission. Frequently feeling as though they need clearance from someone before proceeding with decisions in their lives. They may often ask, “could I say something?” In the middle of a conversation, when it's unnecessary to ask for permission to speak.

They hesitate to test the limits of any system or organization, always giving in to restrictions and rules, even if those restrictions or rules might be nonsensical or even bad. They haven’t thrown off their parent's restrictions and found their own.

“You Can't Do That” Syndrome. Authority bound people tend to stifle creativity. Someone may come up with a new way of doing something and an authority bound person will react, “you can't do that,” or, “it’ll never work.”

They appear to have prison bars around anything creative or new. This is because they overidentify with their limiting and putative parent- ever giving restrictions, rules, and attempted control. They haven’t yet thrown off their parent's restrictions and found their own.

Feelings of inferiority. Often, people with this issue have parents who have not treated them with respect in their own right as people. So invariably, they look up to others and feel “below” them. They tend to think that someone else is always better than them in some way. They rarely to never feel equal.

Competitiveness. People who have never established equality with one or both parents tend to act out unresolved competitive issues, often with people of the same sex. They cannot stand for anyone to “win” over them, because it puts them in a “one down” position. Instead of saying or thinking, “I lost the game,” they feel “I am an inferior person.”

Loss of Power. Those who haven’t become an adult either repeatedly give away their power in relationships, or, feel that they are losing power. These people especially have trouble with controlling, domineering people, routinely deferring to them in what they perceive to be a lack of power or right from their own end.

No Equal Differences. People who live in a one-up, one-down world rarely consider differences acceptable. If someone believes or thinks something different, that person is “wrong.” There is no such thing as a difference of opinion or agreeing to disagree.

Black and White Thinking. People who can only see the world in this way, black or white, right or wrong, are stuck in their pre-adult way of thinking. They are thinking like an eleven-year-old. They are unable to think in terms of gray. There are no tough moral dilemmas. Everything is simple. “If the rule says it, I do it.”

Judgementalism. Judgemental people fuse with the parental, legal position and look down on others. These people deny the badness within themselves (as bad and negative exist in all of us) and instead act like they are “above” others.

Anxiety Attacks. Anxious people fear disapproval, both internally and externally. Generalized anxiety signals something dangerous about to emerge in a person’s consciousness. People who suffer anxiety attacks fear this.

Impulsiveness and Inhibition. Both come from authority problems.

On the one hand, some people are so angry at authority that they deny any rules or standards and live lawlessly. These people are often impulsive and do as they wish. These out-of-control adolescents have done away with authority.

On the other hand, legalists are so bound up with guilt, they aren’t even aware of their own impulses. They are often very shy and inhibited. Their friends often say, “let your hair down sometimes, relax.”

Parenting others. Some people who have never grown up think they know what others “should” do. They are unable to realize their own limited knowledge of a person’s situation, as well as the other person's responsibility to deal with his or her own problems.

(Side note: I am going to slightly disagree with the concept of “parenting others” as being automatic evidence of oneself not having grown up emotionally. There is a caveat here.

Yes, if you are often regarding others in a manner of “I know best and you don’t,” this is a problem. It’s condescension of the highest order, as well as arrogance and misplaced self-righteousness.

However, there are exceptions to this.

Sometimes, we can see a situation more clearly with regards to someone we love than they do.

For instance, numerous studies have shown that the few nearest and dearest to someone (say, their best friend(s), a romantic partner, or maybe a family member to whom they are quite close) tend to be able to see this person’s issues better than the person themselves can.

This is a case in which yes, others sometimes do know better than you.

This is, of course, assuming that these said loved ones are reasonable, emotionally mature, clear-thinking, and well-meaning individuals themselves.

Therefore, there will absolutely be times throughout your life, when either you love someone and do “know better” (aka, see more clearly) than they do at that moment, that maybe they are venturing down a bad path, are causing hurt to others, or are hurt themselves. As well as, there will be times when people may point these things out to you. When they see you making choices that they can see clearly are not likely to be in your best interest, that may hurt you or someone else.

This is not one and the same as “parenting” others. Instead, it’s love, support, and offering caring honesty where you see it is needed toward someone you love. This is what loving relationships are. They dare to speak honestly, even when it may be hard to hear.

Now, back to what happens when we fail to become adults emotionally.

Superiority. The opposite of inferiority, some people always find a way to see themselves as better than everyone else. It can look like narcissism or idealism, but really, it is one-upmanship.

Depression. This stems from a “bad me” self-critical attitude. People who are criticized by their internal parent feel bad or guilty, which can lead to depression.

Dependency. Some people actively avoid taking responsibility for themselves and find someone else to parent them. For example, it is not unusual for people to marry out of dependency and then resent their partner for “treating them like children.” They tend to give executive power of their life to others.

Idealism of Authority. The perception that someone in authority knows best or is perfect pre-supposes a one-down position because people who have identified with the authority (and are mature adults themselves) know that the authority is a person just like them, warts and all.

Here are several distorted ways of thinking that tend to show up frequently in the minds of people who have not yet become adults emotionally:

-I am less than others.
-I am bad if they don't approve of me.
-I must please others to be liked.
-I am bad if a disagree.
-My opinions are not as good.
-I must get permission from others.
-I am bad if I fail.
-I shouldn’t feel so sexual.
-Sexual feelings are bad.
-My plans will never succeed.
-If I differ, I am wrong.
-I am better than they are.
-My group is the right group.
-Our belief system or ministry is the only real one.
-I know what’s best for them.
-I know better than them.
-They never fail like I do.
-They are never this afraid, or mad, or sad, or stressed, or…
-They will like me better if I am compliant.
-They will hate me for standing up to them.

In order to live a life that is your best one possible, this entails the necessary passage of both growing up physically, as well as emotionally.

All of us grow into and become adults physically. Many of us do not grow into adults emotionally though, instead, remaining stuck or stagnant as children mentally. And the majority of people stuck emotionally as children do not even know it.

Becoming aware of certain behaviors or ways of thinking in yourself which are still emotionally immature is the only way of changing and growing, and thus, the only path toward fully maturing emotionally into a true and capable healthy adult.

This is the route towards living your strongest, happiest, most emotionally healthy and fulfilling life.

Originally published at

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author.

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