Psychological maturity: The art of living peacefully with what we cannot change

Who I am
Louise Hay

Author and references

Psychological maturity can be defined in many ways, Scottish writer MJ Croan summed up this concept perfectly: “maturity is when your world opens up and you realize that you are not the center of it”.

Psychological maturity does not necessarily come with the passage of time, it is necessary to do a deep inner work that involves the deconstruction of our thought patterns and ways of seeing the world. We are no longer mature because the years pass, we are more mature because life experiences are better exploited to understand and understand the world.

What psychological maturity is and what it is not

Psychological maturity does not just involve knowing yourself well, but being aware that we are not the center of the universe and that we need to coexist with a reality that is often contrary to our wishes.

To mature means to leave behind our self-centered vision to understand that there is a larger and more complex world, a world that tests us and that will not always satisfy our expectations, illusions and needs.

Despite this - or perhaps thanks to it - as we mature, we are able to live in peace in that world, accepting all that we don't like but cannot change. This phrase by Max Stirner sums up this idea well: "the mature man distinguishes himself from the young because he accepts the world as it is, without seeing everywhere evils to correct, wrongs to straighten, and without trying to mold it according to his ideal" .

Therefore, psychological maturity does not simply mean adapting to the environment, culture and society - this would be exactly the opposite of maturity - but finding ways to be authentic by considering the environment, culture and society in which we live.

Denying reality: an immature and maladaptive coping mechanism

Denial is a defense mechanism that implies fervently denying reality, even if evidence and facts show us otherwise. Generally this mechanism is set in motion for two reasons: 1. Because we cling to rigid ideas that we don't want to change or, 2. Because we don't have the psychological mechanisms necessary to deal with the situation.

In both cases, denying reality serves to reduce anxiety in a situation that our emotional brain has already cataloged as particularly disturbing or even threatening. The problem is that reality always wins the game. We cannot eternally hide from reality.

If an attacker approaches us we do not close our eyes by mentally repeating: "this is not happening!" We understand that we are in danger and we run away or ask for help. However, we don't react the same way in many other situations in our life. When we don't like something, we are disappointed or sad, we usually activate the mechanism of denial.

Vehemently denying the facts will not change them. On the contrary, it will lead us to make less adaptive decisions that could cause us more harm. We must be clear that in order to adapt to reality, change it or take advantage of it, the first step is to accept it.

The person who has already reached a certain degree of psychological maturity accepts reality, not with resignation but with intelligence. In this sense, the German psychiatrist Fritz Kunkel stated that "being mature means facing, not avoiding, every new crisis that comes".

Emotional maturity: the art of finding balance in adversity

“Once upon a time there was a man who was so troubled by seeing his own shadow and loathed his footsteps so much that he decided to get rid of it. 

“An idea came to him: to flee. So he got up and ran away, but every time he put his foot on the ground there was another footprint, as his shadow reached him without the slightest difficulty. 

“He attributed the failure to not being able to run fast enough. He then ran faster and faster, without stopping, until he fell dead. 

"He did not understand that it would be enough for him to put himself in a shady place so that his shadow would vanish and that, if he sat and remained motionless, there would be no other footprints."

This parable of Zhuangzi is reminiscent of a phrase by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Maturity is the age in which one no longer allows oneself to be deceived". The writer was referring to the moment when we are fully aware of the psychological mechanisms we put in place to face reality and protect our "I", when we realize that reality can be difficult but that our attitude and perspective are two essential variables in this equation.

For this reason, emotional maturity inevitably passes through self-knowledge, it means knowing the mental weights that we set ourselves in order not to advance, the mechanisms we use to escape from reality and the erroneous beliefs that keep us tied to thoughts and attitudes that do not bring us. nothing or even harm us.

This knowledge is essential to face the problems and obstacles that life throws at us. Unfortunately, there are people who, like man in history, never reach that level of self-knowledge and end up creating more confusion and problems, fueling unhappiness and inner chaos. After all, we can escape from many things, but we cannot escape from ourselves. And if we don't resolve our internal conflicts, we will reproduce them wherever we are.

Achieving psychological maturity does not mean passively accepting reality by assuming a resigned attitude more like the sad surrender of learned helplessness than serenity, but being able to look at what happens with new eyes, taking advantage of the situation to strengthen our resilience. , get to know each other better and even grow.

True emotional maturity comes when we practice radical acceptance, when we look reality in the eye and, instead of collapsing, we ask ourselves: "what is the next step?". It means that, although reality can be painful, we don't get stuck in the role of victims who suffer in vain, but protect our sanity by adopting a proactive attitude.

How to develop psychological maturity? Start by laughing at yourself

William Arthur Ward said: “Making mistakes is human and falling is common; true maturity is being able to laugh at yourself ". Being able to laugh at our old fears because they now seem grotesque to us, at our “insurmountable” worries and obstacles that actually weren't, is a clear symptom of growth.

A study developed at the University of North Carolina revealed that a sense of humor is linked to resilience and psychological well-being. But not all humor is valid, only humor directed at ourselves, at our life experiences is linked to psychological maturity and has a huge impact on our negative emotional states, relieving anxiety. In fact, several studies have shown that a sense of humor is a key element in recovering from adversity.

Laughing at our old attitudes, beliefs and reactions does not just mean that they are part of the past, but that they have ceased to have an emotional influence on us. The ability to laugh at ourselves also allows us to take a more detached attitude and to accustom our ego to the ravages of life, so that it is not so susceptible and stops perceiving everything as a danger against which it is necessary to protect ourselves.

After all, psychological maturity is a process of continuous growth that involves, on the one hand, the discovery of the transcendental self and, on the other, opening up to the world. Only then do we become full people who have found the meaning of their lives.

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