6 classic signs of a emotionally immature person, according to psychology

Whenever I hear a person tell someone else to “grow up and act like an adult,” I can’t help but question the validity of the statement. 

Sure, I know what they might technically mean. 

But in reality, being an “adult” shouldn’t automatically equate to being a picture of maturity and emotional intelligence. 

I think it’s no secret that we live in a world where there are countless “adults” in existence who have the emotional maturity of middle schoolers–perhaps even kindergarteners. 

I mean, have you seen politicians argue lately? 

In this article, I’ll walk you through the classic signs of an emotionally immature person, according to psychology. 

Let’s get to it!

1) They lack empathy 

An emotionally immature person often tends to lack a general awareness of the world around them

Their energy is typically directed inward, which means a more selfish way of going about life–something that is, in a sense, a rather juvenile quality. 

People who have truly experienced life, who have dealt with a diverse demographic of groups over time, or learned positive behaviors from parents or role models, generally have a greater sense of empathy. 

This is not the case with emotionally immature individuals

They often struggle to understand or share the feelings of others; sometimes appearing indifferent or dismissive towards people’s emotions, and almost always putting themselves first. 

They neglect to have empathy because, in their minds, it doesn’t provide them with the instant ego-pleasing gratification they crave. 

The truth is that being empathetic will benefit you tremendously in the long run–in your career, relationships, and life in general. 

Psychologist Daniel Goleman says of empathy: “In a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive, and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding.”

2) They have difficulty committing 

Do you know wishy-washy people? People who might say one thing but never follow through? 

Once an emotionally mature person gives you their word, they tend to stick to it, something that earns people’s collective respect in the process. 

Emotionally immature folks, on the other hand, often avoid making commitments–or struggle to stick to them. 

Perhaps they’ll agree to a request but disappear when the time comes to make good on that promise. 

This behavior ultimately alienates them from other people, whether romantic partners, colleagues, family, etc. 

“In a world filled with flaky people, those that honor commitments and do what they say stand out. Integrity is currency,” remarks Dr. Matthew Loop of unreliable people. 

3) They behave impulsively  

Truly mature people tend to think methodically, weighing their decisions carefully, consider all potential repercussions, and act accordingly. 

Acting impulsively without considering the consequences is a primary hallmark of an emotionally immature person and a practice that often leads to reckless or risky behavior. 

The latter is behavior relatively common among children, teenagers, and even younger adults. 

I remember when I was in my teens, I’d frequently make impulsive decisions like getting drunk or stoned on school nights or playing hooky because I was too lazy to go to class, behaviors that led to ample disciplinary action, like suspensions, regular detention, and strained relationships with family and friends. 

While impulsivity can have its appeal on occasion, as a general rule, we should think before we act, particularly when the consequences can potentially be dire. 

According to Harleytherapy.co.uk:  “Impulsive behavior can trigger you to say things without thinking, hurting and pushing away the ones you love who might find your behavior baffling and hard to accept. This can leave you very lonely, and suffering from feelings of low self-worth and shame.”

4) They avoid responsibility

One of the foremost qualities of a true leader? 

Taking responsibility for their actions; and sometimes, even taking responsibility when they are not directly at fault. 

This takes fortitude and courage. 

When you’re emotionally immature, however, rather than take accountability, you tend to feel compelled to shift blame to others for your shortcomings. 

Rather than own their mistakes and learn from them, you might prefer to see yourself as a victim of circumstance. 

In a similar vein, when it comes to constructive criticism, you might react defensively to helpful albeit less-than-glowing feedback, perceiving it as a personal attack rather than taking it in stride, as an opportunity for further growth. 

When I was a young, inexperienced, fledging business owner, I’d often react aggressively towards any negative review, however constructive it was. 

It would be my gut reaction to look for an excuse, for someone else to blame, rather than take it as a prospect for improvement. 

I was so emotionally immature that I would take constructive feedback personally. 

Looking back, I can only cringe at my former behavior–and be thankful that I grew out of it. 

Andrea M. Darcy of Harleytherapy.co.uk states: “Whether you are using blame to be superior or a victim, both come from a lack of self-esteem. The question to ask might even be not so much ‘Why am I blaming’, as ‘Why do I feel so bad about myself that I have to blame others to feel better?”


5) They are overreliant on others for self-esteem 

The genuine adults in the room know that true contentment comes from within–and that everything else is just noise. 

Yes, external validation may be nice for most people, maybe even healthy in moderate doses, but objectively speaking, it’s not exactly a necessity. 

The latter perspective is a stark contrast to the person who lacks emotional maturity

They tend to derive self-worth and meaning from the approval, validation, and attention of others, a pursuit that leads to dependence–and ultimately, a lack of self-confidence and self-assuredness. 

Psychcentral.com says of overreliance on others for self-esteem: “External validation may be needed for your well-being, but self-validation and instilling more positive and empowering beliefs can be important to cultivating and maintaining healthy self-esteem.”

6) They have difficulty handling stress

Ask yourself, do you remain collected and rational when you encounter stress? Or do you break down and panic? 

If it’s the latter, then you have a ways to go in terms of achieving emotional immaturity. 

When faced with stress or conflict, the emotionally immature person often reacts disproportionately, perhaps by lashing out and retreating rather than dealing with the issue constructively and systematically. 

They tend to have an underdeveloped temperament, one marked by extreme mood swings, difficulty expressing emotions, and handling stressful situations. 

So when faced with potentially difficult circumstances, rather than solve things step-by-step, they might break down mentally and emotionally, which only exacerbates the situation. 

“Stress is largely self-inflicted, so the ability to manage stress more effectively comes from managing oneself,” notes Michael Hetherington, a best-selling writer and health practitioner. 

Final thoughts 

If you have an emotionally immature person in your life, don’t be discouraged, not all is lost. 

Far from it. 

Their level of maturity is almost always due to environmental factors. 

So, with a bit of commitment and patience, the situation can be rectified. 

If you value them, then sit down, outlining your concerns gently and respectfully. 

Be constructive and solutions-oriented. 

Encourage them to seek professional help, if you both feel it to be necessary. Take it a step at a time. 

Sooner or later, they’ll get to where they want to be. They almost always do.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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