Maturity can be described in a thousand different ways. There are several characteristics and traits that are attributed to mature people. But in this list of qualities, one characteristic inextricably linked to psychological maturity stands out: self-affirmation.
Thanks to self-affirmation, we acquire the security and serenity necessary to take charge of our life, accepting what we like and rejecting everything that harms us. For some, developing that level of self-knowledge and self-determination can take a lifetime.
The straitjacket of social pressure
There is a time in life when we either free ourselves from fears and social pressures, or we end up living by their rules allowing them to dictate our decisions. The social pressures - implicit and explicit - are many and come from everywhere.
While they usually originate in the society we belong to and the culture we grew up in, they perpetuate and pressure us through those around us, from our neighbors and colleagues to our friends, parents or partners.
Sometimes these pressures push us towards paths we would never have chosen freely. They bind us with phrases like "you can't" or "you mustn't". Those messages, repeated day after day, end up breaking through us. We internalize them and they become norms that govern our behavior. We start repeating to ourselves "I can't" or "I don't have to".
Thus we begin to stifle our most authentic desires and impulses, for fear of being upset or even rejected. We adapt to the social roles we have to play to avoid the disappointments on the faces of others. However, by adapting so much to their standards and expectations, we could end up invalidating ourselves. We can silence our inner voice or even deprive ourselves of the essential psychological oxygen to breathe.
Starting to remove all the layers we have built to fit into the universe of "others" involves hard work of self-discovery. The path is full of obstacles, but it is also extremely liberating.
Embrace what we like and feel at ease, finally
Most of us grew up in a culture that leads to extreme "breakdown". Continuously seeking external approval to validate ourselves implies devoting an enormous amount of psychological energy to interpreting all these social roles, so we end up exhausted and distant from our "self".
Only when we begin to distance ourselves from these social roles and get rid of the "must" can we reconnect with our deepest "I" and discover what we really want. This new maturity is deeply liberating, it allows us to realize that we don't need to prove anything to anyone but ourselves. We understand that when we say "enough," we are actually respecting our wishes and honoring our aspirations. Then we can say "yes" without fear and "no" without guilt.
But this process of personal rediscovery can have a “dark” side if we don't know how to manage it correctly. Some people, when they discover the life of "social submission" they have led, may react by becoming angry and harboring a grudge towards "others". These feelings can take them to the other extreme, moving from extreme complacency to selfishness.
The key to saying "no" without feeling guilty is being able to assert yourself without attacking. It means defending our assertive rights while respecting the rights of others. It means preserving empathy, but saying no to manipulation.
The reaffirmation of our goals, aspirations or desires has nothing to do with selfishness, it is an act of personal dignity. It is an exercise in psychological survival and well-being. In fact, research in psychology has found that assertive people not only experience less stress, but enjoy better health and less prejudice towards others.
We need to understand that saying "no" when others expect a "yes" is not an act of betrayal for which we must feel guilty, but an act of personal reaffirmation. Those who love us will know how to respect those limits and will be happy for us. Those who feel betrayed and hurt would like us to continue to put their needs and desires above ours.
When we meet ourselves again, we will finally become aware of all the superfluous things that choked us. The mental noise that kept us from thinking clearly. The obstacles we set ourselves to prevent ourselves from flying. Then we can spread our wings and say "yes" to what we really want and "no" to anything that harms us. Fearless. Without guilt. Without any regrets.