Making Up for Unsuccessful Growth: Filling in Maturity Gaps
This is part 3 of a blog series on psychological maturity. Psychological maturity is the result of the natural and healthy process that an individual goes through when their needs are met at various developmental levels. Part 1 and 2 focused on defining psychological maturity and what successful versus unsuccessful maturity looks like. This article will offer the hopeful message that maturity gaps can be filled in! The human brain is the most incredible gift given to each of us. The brain, like the body, can recover from malfunctions. We have an amazing opportunity to grow beyond the negative things that happened to us (1).
The reality is that there is a true, best self inside you. No matter what happened to you in your past, or what happened to someone else by your actions, there is a part of you that is meant to be loving, kind, and selfless. Even if you have committed the most awful crime, or you are self-absorbed and living to meet your own needs/desires, it is my belief that you have a core self that was intended to be different. My clients experience this shift toward their truest self in our sessions; it is an amazing transformation to witness!
Let’s start at the beginning. When the right things (i.e., relational and self-regulatory skills) are taught to us at an early age, each of us has the opportunity to grow into a mature, healthy self who has a positive self-image. We then give back to the community and offer positive, life-giving energy to all of our relationships. If the wrong things happen early in life (i.e., our caregivers don’t offer basic physical and emotional needs consistently), we live out behaviors that impact others in the opposite way of our intended human design. Unfortunately, far too many people are not given the right things at an early age. The saying “many people grow old, but few grow up” (2) helps us understand this concept. In fact, it is estimated that 75% of individuals in our society have experienced significant gaps in maturity development (3).
When someone has “grown up” as Coursey (3) discusses in his book Transforming Fellowship, it is easy to feel safe, protected, inspired and motivated in their presence because they are acting in a mature and selfless way. The opposite is true when spending time with an individual who is the chronological age of an adult but the emotional age of an infant or child. This person leaves others feeling dissatisfied, discouraged, and in certain situations, terrified because adults who are emotional infants are often abusive to others (4).
So what if you are a person who has at least minor (if not significant) maturity gaps? If you had a less-than-optimal childhood, which most of us have, you might be asking the question, “What can I do about this? How can I grow up emotionally even though I am fully grown physically?” Dr Jim Wilder (5) in his book, The Complete Guide to Living With Men, breaks down the maturity tasks for each developmental stage. He offers a checklist of needed experiences and patterns for psychological growth from immaturity to full maturity. Below is an example of the types of completed tasks an individual who successfully passed through infant maturity will have experienced or will be able to do. As you read through this list, think about whether or not you learned to accomplish these things between your birth and present day. Have you:
- Experienced a healthy bond with a mother/woman
- Experienced a healthy bond with a father/man
- Had others give to you without asking
- Had others emotionally care for You
- Experienced your nervous system remaining calm even in the presence of others
- Had the important people in your life see your true self even when your behavior is immature
- Given and received in relationships without feeling guilty or shameful
- Had empathy for others emotions
- Had a person/people in your life who I look up to as a model(s)
- Regulated and quieted all types of negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear, shame, disgust and despair)
- Made relationships bigger than problems
- Acted like the same person consistently
- Known how to rest physically and emotionally
Many of us have at least a few areas from this checklist that need some help…meaning we still have infant-level maturity gaps. The interesting thing about this list is that not all of these things can be accomplished by a person on their own. We actually need others in our lives who are more mature than us to offer help and model health. This is why community isn’t just important, it is imperative for growth. Role models are not an option! We actually need each other to mature.
I’ve only included the infant-level checklist in this article, but there is a checklist for each of the five stages of maturity (infant, child, adult, parent, and elder). Each stage requires a host of positive life and relational experiences. The content of every checklist is beyond the scope of this article. If you want to learn more, refer to the resource list at the end of this article. See the list below where I offer additional insight in regard to a plan for filling in maturity gaps if that is your desire. Like I stated above, it’s not easy, but it’s pretty amazing that it is possible. Also, there is no more worthwhile endeavor than growing in maturity.
Here are some helpful suggestions that will propel you in your journey toward filling in maturity gaps:
- Identify a person or a group of people who has/have surpassed you in psychological maturity.
- Position yourself to be in relationships and learn from more mature individual(s). Join a small group or enter into a mentoring relationship.
- Assess your ability to quiet your body and your mind through meditation and relaxation and seek therapeutic help if this is a problem.
- Assess your ability to return to joy from negative emotion in a short period of time and seek therapeutic help if you are not successful in this area.
- Read all of the Life Model curriculum and listen to the Joy Streams podcasts to learn more about what you need to do to grow in maturity (a short list of curriculum options are listed below).
Here is a good way to test your own maturity growth. Do you believe that people are valuable because they are people, not because they are mature, no matter their age? Mature people aren’t annoyed with those who are less mature, but they are able to love well in any situation. Believing and acting out the belief that all people are valuable and worthy of love/respect is a sign of your own personal maturity. Many people believe this, but few can act it out repeatedly.
I hope this blog series has been helpful for you. I invite you to join me and many others in this valiant venture into maturity growth. I believe it is a personal responsibility for all of us to position ourselves to fill in our maturity gaps. The world will be a better place when mature individuals are caring not just for the needs of their own family but also of the community. It’s not beyond reach! We can change the world…filling in one gap at a time.
Life Model Curriculum Resource Guide
- Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You by Dr Jim Wilder and colleagues (This is a good place to start for overall understanding. There is a chapter dedicated to the concept of maturity.)
- Joyful Journey by Dr Jim Wilder and colleagues (This books offers a great for understanding how to live in Immanuel presence and experiential practice of healing the brain with Jesus)
- Joy Starts Here by Dr Jim Wilder and colleagues (This book focuses on joyful belonging and includes a lot of information in regard to attachment in relationships.)
- Transforming Fellowship by Chris Coursey (This book breaks down the 19 brain relational skills that are near extinction in our society and includes a chapter on maturity.)
- The Pandora Problem by Dr Jim Wilder (This book focuses on healing narcissism with group belonging.)
- The Complete Guide to Living with Men by Dr Jim WIlder (This book is out of print, but it is a gem. If you can get a hold of a copy, you will learn so much about maturity, growth and development.)
- Joy Stream – Life Model Podcasts https://joystream.lifemodelworks.org (This is an audio teaching library on a wide range of neurotheology information including maturity growth.)
- Mouer, Monica. Psychological Maturity: Part 1. Defining Psychological Maturity. https://www.familytransformation.com/2021/06/05/psychological-maturity-part-1-defining-psychological-maturity/
- Wilder, Jim. Pointing the Way Toward Maturity: The 5-Step Process of Growing up. Joy Streams Podcast.
- Coursey, C. M. (2016). Transforming Fellowship: 19 Brain Skills That Build Joyful Community. East Peoria, IL: Shepherd’s House, Inc.
- Mouer, Monica. Psychological Maturity: Part 2. Successful and Unsuccessful Maturity Growth.https://www.familytransformation.com/2021/06/21/psychological-maturity-part-2-successful-and-unsuccessful-maturity-growth/
- Wilder, Jim. (2004). The Complete Guide to Living with Men. Pasadena: Shepherd’s House, Inc.