Monday, 30 January 2017

Emotional maturity seems a topical subject.

There has been a change in the rota for contributors to York Press and my next column isn't due until February.  I thought a reminder of the contents of my book would be timely, as over recent days and weeks, there have been many mentions of emotional maturity in the media. 

As I have been writing about emotional maturity for ten years, it seems timely to 'cut and paste' some relevant parts of the book, the title of which is, "Are you Chasing Rainbows - a personal and practical insight into emotional maturity and why adults sometimes behave like children.' I started collecting examples of such behaviour years ago and used many in the book and on the website.  Over the last few days, I have been overwhelmed at the examples available. I could comment and write something up-to-date, but I will leave readers to make up their own minds.

From the Introduction in the book

Have you ever looked at an adult and thought, “Oh grow up”? Perhaps you have uttered those precise words. I am sure you have – in fact, I should be astonished if you have not. The person may be someone well-known to you, or a complete stranger. It makes no difference to the fact that at that precise moment, their behaviour in some way resembles that of a child, and you are feeling a sense of despair and frustration.

If this person is someone who you have to live or work with, then it could be helpful to understand a little of what may be happening in their brain. Of course, in the unlikely event that those words have ever been said or thought about you, then it might be helpful to know what may be happening in your brain.

However, it is not only the expression “Oh, grow up!” that is commonly used. There are all sorts of words and phrases that suggest the speaker is observing some behaviour that they find irritating and exasperating.

“You’re acting like a child/two-year-old.” 
“Why can’t you act your age?” 
“Stop being so childish.”
“You’re behaving like a spoilt brat.” 
“She’s daddy’s little princess.”
“He’s a mummy’s boy.” 
“It’s playground behaviour.” 

“Your child acts older than you do.” 
Then there are descriptions of immature behaviour:

“They threw their toys out of the pram.” 
“They spat the dummy out.”
“She’s daddy’s little princess.”
“He’s a mummy’s boy.”

“He’s a Peter Pan.”
“It’s playground behaviour.”

The type of immature behaviours that can be observed include:
  • having tantrums
  • sulking
  • pouting
  • slamming doors
  • throwing things in a temper
  • not facing the speaker
  • blocking ears
  • sucking a thumb or sleeve

    In the context of this book, this is about when these expressions and descriptions are of adult behaviour. They are not complimentary, and they are used in a critical way: the implication is that the person allegedly behaving like a child is, in fact, an adult.
    What precisely is being described in such a negative way? The criticism may be directed at the whole person, but really it is only a part of them that appears to be a little underdeveloped at times. Physically, they should be at their fully grown height and weight, so their build is not childish. Chronologically, they have grown to be the age shown on their birth certificate: the age of an adult. Intellectual growth may have some development to go,
       In the context of this book, this is about when these expressions and descriptions are of adult behaviour. They are not complimentary, and they are used in a critical way: the implication is that the person allegedly behaving like a child is, in fact, an adult. 

Generally, the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is appropriate for the adult’s age. Immature behaviour can appear quite incomprehensible at times if the adult we are observing is highly intelligent. So, what we are left with is emotional development (EQ or Emotional Intelligence). Could it be that while the person looks and works like an adult, at times they feel like a child and their behaviour reflects their feelings? Perhaps some of their emotions are well past their sell-by date. If some of the following statements, which have been said to me by people with emotional health problems, are true, then I suggest they are: 

“I behave like a stroppy teenager.”
“My mother makes me feel like a child of six.” 
“My father treats me like a nine-year-old.” 
“I’m forty-five going on five.”
Think anger in children, think of a tantrum. Think adult throwing a tantrum, think child.
After some years of seeing clients who were able to recognise their own infantile behaviours, there was one question that interested me: why do adults behave like children? What is the point? What do they gain? It doesn’t seem to make anyone happy, so why do it?
I should state here that if there is a tacit agreement between adults that childish behaviour will be tolerated, then there may be no problem to address. If people in relationships are tolerant and supporting of behaviour that is carried on behind closed doors and does not upset anyone else, then this is not a criticism of them. After all, there are different strokes for different folks (Chapter 9).

Childish, or childlike? 

“There’s nothing wrong with being childish. It’s fun.” I have heard this many times from people disagreeing with my views, but they tend to be mixing up childish with childlike. The difference between childish and childlike is important and needs to be highlighted from the beginning, as the difference is not always appreciated. 
Enjoying childlike moments of joy, fun, wonderment, innocent curiosity and simple pleasures is to be recommended and encouraged until the day we die. We can still behave as an adult and remain in control, and it is not boring. It can be delightful, uplifting, fun and enjoyable for all. I definitely recognise and enjoy childlike moments in my life. Some examples are: 
visiting the seaside 
receiving gifts 
playing games with children 
having harmless fun 
What certainly is boring and a pain for everyone involved is childish behaviour. Someone behaving in a childish way appears to have had their emotions hijacked, their thoughts and actions taken over (‘hijack’ is a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence; see Bibliography). The results can be extremely damaging and long-lasting. For example:
  • sleep problems
  • complaining of feeling unwell – whether real or imagined
  • bed-wettingpage28image976
  • head-banging and other self-harming actions
  • eating problems
  • not wanting to go to school or go out to play 
The type of immature behaviours that can be observed include: 

•having tantrums
• slamming doors
• throwing things in a temper
•not facing the speaker
•blocking ears
•sucking a thumb or sleeve
From Chapter 1
As stated, if a baby is failing to thrive it will show distress physically. A child’s physical and emotional distress will show in wider behaviour problems:
  • attention-seeking behaviour
  • the use of old comforting behaviours
  • outbursts of emotion – crying or temper
  • irritation
  • lying
  • sulking
  • hitting
  • biting
  • throwing
  • sleep problems
  • complaining of feeling unwell – whether real or

    After a workshop I was giving, a man approached me. He said, "Looking at that list of behaviours, I've just realised that my six year old child is troubled. What should I do? " We talked about the options available.