Have you ever had the awkward moment when you’re talking to a person that looks like an adult, you know their chronological age to be past 18 years old and yet this person is behaving in a way that makes you wonder just how old they really are? It is at these moments that we are able to see the other person’s emotional age.
Emotional ages vary greatly among people and are influenced by a variety of factors. There are those folks who act much older than their chronological age and those, unfortunately, that act much younger. It is the younger ones that this blog is about.
I have had counseling clients who are married to, work with or have some other regular interactions with a person who is significantly emotionally younger than their age. The universal experience is that it is annoying. Dealing with a man-teenager or woman-teenager is the stuff that sheer aggravation is made of and can lead to all kinds of breakdowns in relationships.
People have described the man who is in his thirties or forties but speaks, acts and/or dresses as if he is still a 15 year old. This man may interact with his spouse and children like he is a surly teenager; with selfishness being the leading character trait. Women who are emotionally behind their age often are not able to develop an independent self-identity and use guilt and manipulation as tools of getting what they want out of others to meet their needs. These are just two examples but there are hundreds of others that fittingly describe an adult not functioning at their true chronological age.
Men and women who are emotionally immature for their age arrive at this condition in different ways. Some folks have sadly experienced trauma in their younger years and they developmentally never really matured past the point of the trauma. Other people started using drugs or alcohol as a coping skill and they also never moved along the maturing spectrum. Then there are the folks who just like being emotionally immature because it somehow works within their life paradigm and so they stay stuck at an emotional age younger than their years; to the detriment of those around them. Regardless of how an adult comes to be emotionally immature, it is their responsibility to work through the issues so that they can function at a higher level of development.
Now, I should say that having a fun personality, being silly or playful does NOT describe an emotionally immature person. The differences are very clear. One is able to have mature relationships and the other isn’t. So next time you find yourself aggravated by behaviors that seem unfitting for an adult, ask yourself what age it feels like you’re dealing with and you probably have pin-pointed the other person’s emotional age.