10 classic signs of an emotionally immature adult, according to psychology

Emotional maturity is not a given. It’s not something that magically appears once we hit a certain age. No, it’s a skill that needs to be developed, nurtured and honed over time.

Psychology gives us a pretty clear roadmap when it comes to identifying emotionally immature adults.

They’re the ones who can’t manage their feelings, who struggle to think before they act, who find it hard to empathize with others.

And guess what? There are some classic signs that help us spot these individuals. 

Let’s get started. 

1) Difficulty controlling emotions

Emotional maturity involves being able to manage and regulate your emotions. But for emotionally immature adults, this can be a real challenge.

Often, these individuals are ruled by their emotions. They react impulsively, letting their feelings dictate their actions without a moment’s pause for thought.

As the world-renowned expert in emotional intelligence Travis Bradberry once said, “Emotional self-control is the result of hard work, not an inherent skill.”

And for emotionally immature adults, that hard work seems to have been bypassed.

Their inability to control their emotions can lead to outbursts of anger, fits of jealousy, or uncontrollable crying. It’s like they are on an emotional roller coaster, with highs and lows that are unpredictable and extreme.

If you see someone struggling to keep their emotions in check, it could be a sign of emotional immaturity.

And remember, it’s not just about negative emotions – excessive excitement or joy can also be indicators.

2) Struggle with empathy

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a friend a few years back. She was going through a tough time, and I was trying to provide some comfort.

But rather than listening, another friend of ours kept interrupting with stories about his own problems. It was as if he couldn’t understand that someone else might be in pain.

That’s a classic sign of emotional immaturity – the inability to empathize with others.

Empathy requires us to step outside of our own experiences and imagine what someone else might be feeling. But emotionally immature adults often struggle with this.

Marshall B. Rosenberg once said, “Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.”

But for someone who is emotionally immature, that respectful understanding can be hard to come by.

If you notice someone who always turns the conversation back to themselves, or who seems unable to grasp the feelings of others, it could be a sign of emotional immaturity.

3) Fear of commitment

Let’s get real here. Commitment can be terrifying, especially for those who are emotionally immature. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a career choice, or even deciding on a dinner menu, the thought of sticking to one choice can send them into a tailspin.

Why? Because commitment means taking responsibility. It involves making a choice and accepting the consequences of that choice. And that’s something emotionally immature adults tend to avoid.

Legendary psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud said, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”

If you come across someone who shirks responsibility and fears commitment, chances are you’re dealing with emotional immaturity.

They’d rather keep their options open than make a decision, even if it leaves others hanging.

4) Avoidance of difficult conversations

I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of communication. Sure, it can be uncomfortable, especially when the topic is a difficult one. But it’s necessary for growth.

Unfortunately, emotionally immature adults often go out of their way to avoid these tough conversations. They would rather bury their heads in the sand than face a potentially uncomfortable situation.

New York times best selling author Cheryl Richardson once said, “If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself.”

And that’s exactly what happens when emotionally immature individuals dodge those difficult dialogues.

It’s not just about avoiding confrontation. It’s also about the reluctance to express their emotions openly and honestly.

If you notice someone consistently avoiding hard conversations and suppressing their feelings, it could be a sign of emotional immaturity.

5) Over-reliance on others

Independence is often seen as a sign of maturity. But here’s a counterintuitive thought: too much dependence on others can also be an indicator of emotional immaturity.

It’s not about needing help or support from time to time – that’s perfectly normal. It’s about leaning on others to an extent where they can’t make decisions or solve problems on their own.

Famous psychologist Albert Bandura said it best when he said that “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” But for emotionally immature adults, that sense of self-efficacy is often lacking.

They tend to rely heavily on others for emotional support, decision-making, and problem-solving. So if you notice someone who always needs others to make their decisions or solve their problems, it could be a sign of emotional immaturity.

6) Lack of self-awareness

Self-awareness is key to emotional maturity. It’s about knowing oneself, understanding one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and triggers. However, emotionally immature adults often lack this crucial trait.

Without self-awareness, they may not understand why they react the way they do or how their actions affect others. They may blame others for their problems and take little responsibility for their actions.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman explains, “Self-awareness is not an attention that gets carried away by distractions.

It can be redirected at will, and it is distinct from the habitual workings of the mind.” For emotionally immature adults, this redirection and understanding are usually missing.

If you find someone who is constantly surprised by how others react to their behavior or who seems oblivious to the impact of their actions, you might be dealing with an emotionally immature adult.

7) Inability to handle criticism

I remember once giving some constructive feedback to a colleague. Instead of taking it on board, he got defensive, even angry. It left me puzzled until I realized – it was a classic sign of emotional immaturity.

Emotionally immature adults often struggle to handle criticism, however constructive it may be. They tend to take it personally and may respond with anger or defensiveness.

Debbie Millman said it beautifully when she said, “If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve.”

Criticism, when taken in the right spirit, can help us grow and improve. But emotionally immature people often see it as a personal attack rather than an opportunity for growth.

If you notice someone who gets defensive or hostile when faced with criticism, it could be a sign of emotional immaturity.

8) Holding grudges

Let’s be brutally honest here. We’ve all been hurt or wronged at some point in our lives. It stings, it’s unfair, and it can be hard to let go.

But holding onto grudges is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It’s a clear sign of emotional immaturity.

Emotionally immature adults often cling to past hurts and slights. They struggle to forgive and let go, allowing old wounds to dictate their present and future actions.

Buddha said it best when he said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

If you encounter someone who can’t let go of past grievances, who continually brings up old arguments, or who seems consumed by revenge, you’re likely dealing with emotional immaturity.

9) Overly self-centered

Here’s a counterintuitive thought: Being self-centered isn’t always about ego or arrogance. In fact, it’s often a sign of emotional immaturity.

Emotionally immature adults tend to focus excessively on their own needs and feelings. They struggle to consider the perspectives or needs of others, and this lack of reciprocity can strain relationships.

Individuals with higher levels of emotional immaturity were more likely to display self-centered behavior.

If you’re dealing with someone who seems to always prioritize their needs over others, or who struggles to see things from another’s point of view, you might just be dealing with emotional immaturity.

10) Difficulty expressing emotions

I remember a time when a close friend of mine seemed unusually quiet. When I asked him what was wrong, he shrugged it off. “I’m fine,” he insisted. But I knew something was off. Turns out, he was struggling with something personal but found it hard to express his feelings.

It’s a common trait in emotionally immature adults – the difficulty in expressing emotions. They often hide their feelings or struggle to put them into words, leading to misunderstandings or frustrations.

Famous psychologist Carl Jung once said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Expressing emotions, particularly the negative ones, can be tough, but it’s crucial for emotional maturity.

So if you notice someone who consistently fails to express their feelings or emotions, it could be a sign of emotional immaturity.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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