What does it mean to be mature? According to Merriam-Webster, mature is defined as having completed natural growth and development. That is, being fully grown, complete, ready.

I do not believe that we arrive at a state of complete emotional maturity with no further need for growth and development. Rather, emotional maturity is a life-long process. We continually grow in our experience of love, acceptance, stability, adaption, and so forth.

Following is the list (underlined) of Criteria of Emotional Maturity by William C. Menninger, psychiatrist and co-founder of the Menninger Clinic along with some of my thoughts and comments. As we grow and develop in the following areas, we become more emotionally mature with greater mental and emotional stability, healthier relationships, and improved lives.

1. The ability to deal constructively with reality

To deal with reality in a constructive manner, we must face truth, the facts, rather than deny them. Running from problems or hoping they do not exist does not make them go away. Regardless of how unpleasant they may be at times, facing the facts is the first step to dealing with any situation. When people have difficulty facing reality, they resort to all sorts of unhealthy ways to deal with the unpleasant feelings and pain. They try to soothe themselves with alcohol, drugs, or any other way that temporarily masks their reality and pain. There are healthy and constructive ways to cope that lead to greater emotional maturity and growth. It may not be the easiest path to take, but it leads to healing, lasting comfort and hope.

Set up as an ideal the facing of reality as honestly and as cheerfully as possible. ~Karl Menninger

2. The capacity to adapt to change

Change is not always easy. It can turn our world upside down at times and cause a great deal of stress. Whether the change is minor, like having to change our plans for the day, or more significant, such as moving to a new home, changing jobs, getting married or divorced, adapting to change is to make necessary adjustments. Sometimes the most important adjustment is in our attitude. Change can annoy us as it disrupts our routine and expectations, but we can choose to accept it and allow ourselves time to get comfortable with change.

3. A relative freedom from symptoms that are produced by tensions and anxieties

The symptoms produced from tensions and anxieties can include physical distress (headaches, stomach problems, rapid heart rate) and emotional distress (worry, restlessness, panic). Anxiety is a major mental health problem affecting millions of people every day. It negatively affects all levels of people's lives--their mental and physical health, relationships, work. To live free of its destructive symptoms and consequences is to cope with life stress in a healthy manner, learn to relax, release worries, and develop inner peace.

4. The capacity to find more satisfaction in giving than receiving

People who give of themselves--their time, attention, help, finances, or what they are able-- are generally more fulfilled and happy than those who do not. People who are primarily takers are more likely to use others for their own personal gain and are often considered selfish, stingy, and/or greedy. Like the old scrooge, they end up miserable. Givers, on the other hand, want to contribute and make a positive difference in this world. It is healthy to give cheerfully and willingly as it contributes to our sense of purpose and helps us connect with others and our society.

5. The capacity to relate to other people in a consistent manner with mutual satisfaction and helpfulness

Like I always say, life is all about relationships. We relate to others every single day--whether it is a relative, co-worker, neighbor, or stranger, our lives are intertwined with others. Love and respect are two key factors to relating successfully to others. Unlike dysfunctional relationships, healthy relationships are stable and provide deep satisfaction and joy. I share much more about this in my book, The 10 Keys to Happy and Loving Relationships.

6. The capacity to sublimate, to direct one's instinctive hostile energy into creative and constructive outlets

If we were to release all our frustrations and anger on the world, we would have a hostile existence. Instead, we can take that energy and direct it into something good and productive. It has long been said that sports is a great outlet of extra energy. Anything that is positive, constructive and creative can redirect our energies and put them to good use. A basketball player once told me that the court is where all his angry energy was released. He redirected his hostile energy in an acceptable way within specific guidelines and limits. It gave him a constructive outlet and helped him to really enjoy what he was doing without hurting others and/or himself.

7. The capacity to love

Love is the greatest power in the world. As humans, we are born with the capacity to love. The greatest differences between us are how we communicate our love. In my book, The 10 Keys to Happy and Loving Relationships, I share the most effective ways to communicate love that will improve relationships and help you grow in the power and capacity to love.

Love cures people - both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it. ~Karl Menninger

One does not fall in love; one grows into love, and love grows in him. ~Karl Menninger

Self-love is not opposed to the love of other people. You cannot really love yourself and do yourself a favor without doing people a favor, and vise versa. ~Karl Menninger

Experience is not what happens to you, it's how you interpret what happens to you. ~Aldous Huxley

Maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had, and what you've learned from them, and less to do with how many birthdays you've celebrated. ~unknown

In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships. ~John Gottman (from Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child)

Let's not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it. ~Vincent Van Gogh

Copyright © 2010 Krystal Kuehn, New Day Counseling. All Rights Reserved.
Criteria of Emotional Maturity by William C. Menninger, MD (1899-1966), Co-founder of The Menninger Clinic, Copyright © 1966 The Menninger Clinic

Author's Bio: 

Krystal Kuehn, MA, LPC, LLP, NCC is a psychotherapist, author, teacher & musician. She is the cofounder of New Day Counseling, a family couples counseling, children therapy and teenage counseling center, BeHappy4Life.com, an award-winning, self-help and inspirational site where you can find hundreds of free resources, insights & words of inspiration to change your life, and Baby-Poems.com where you can find beautiful baby poems, baby quotes, cute sayings & baby videos that will touch your heart & increase your joy & gratitude for the children you love & enjoy! Krystal is author of several blogs and books including,The 10 Keys to Happy and Loving Relationships.