Emotional Immaturity: 9 Signs To Worry About (and What To Do About It)

Emotional Immaturity: 9 Signs To Worry About (and What To Do About It)

By Gideon, 20 Sep 2021


If having a healthy, happy, and intimate relationship is something you’d like to have at some point in your life, there are certain things you need to look out for and avoid if you can. Emotional immaturity is one such thing. It’s a character trait that might be lead to fun and all kinds of excitement in the beginning, but that joy eventually runs out.

Here are 9 signs to look out for and what to do about it if your partner is emotionally immature.

emotional immaturity

According to PsychologyToday.com, an emotionally immature adult is essentially one that refuses to grow up.

It is sometimes also referred to as “Little Prince or Princess Syndrome” and when it occurs in adulthood, is also known asPeter Pan Syndrome.”

(I)t is a common condition, one which often results from an overly protective mother (or father)—a helicopter mom, or a parent who gives their son or daughter free range, and too much praise and attention, during childhood and adolescence. Such parental behavior is also sometimes referred to as emotional incest.

The writer of the article goes on to say that,

Little Princes and Princesses,  are grown men or women who act as if they are selfish children, narcissistic teenagers, or irresponsible young adults, and feel entitled to behave as they see fit.

Now, why would it be fun in the beginning when dating someone like this?

According to an article in the Huffington Post on the Peter Pan Syndrome,

Now, just to be clear, emotional immaturity applies to both men and women.

Some women (“Little Princesses”) also never seem to (want to) grow up and expect someone to take care of them indefinitely.

The point is that it is very difficult to create a lasting relationship with an emotionally immature person, let alone a healthy, happy, intimate one that will stand the test of time.

So, depending on what you’re looking for, perhaps it’s a good idea to know what emotional immaturity looks like and what to do about it should you currently be in (or be thinking about) a relationship with “Peter Pan” or “My Little Princess.”

The following characteristics are just some of the possible traits we’ve come to expect to see in people who are emotionally immature.

However, everything needs to be viewed in context before jumping to conclusions.

Just because someone makes a decision at some point where they prioritise their own wellbeing does NOT necessarily mean they’re selfish and, therefore, by definition emotionally immature.

The same could be said for someone liking their “toys” or having hobbies.

I know plenty of grown men who race around in Go-Karts and grown women playing video games, but that doesn’t make them emotionally immature – in fact, quite the contrary.

So, please view the following signs in the context of a greater whole and use common sense before jumping to conclusions.

Selfish

Men and women who are emotionally immature, typically aren’t able to, or just don’t focus on anyone else but themselves.

Not really and for the most part.

Life is ultimately about them; their needs and wants.

It’s about what they can get rather than give and every relationship will be in service of themselves.

Being in a relationship with someone like this will most likely become very frustrating, draining, and definitely be filled with disappointment.

Emotionally immature people are often emotionally unavailable.

Although it can come across the same as being selfish, there is a subtle difference.

What we’re referring to here is emotional unavailability due to “emotional detachment.”

According to Wikipedia,

In psychologyemotional detachment is the avoidance of emotional connections. It may be a temporary reaction to highly emotional circumstances or a chronic condition such as a depersonalization disorder. Depersonalization is described as feeling disconnected or detached from one’s self. Individuals experiencing depersonalization may report feeling as if they are an outside observer of their own thoughts or body, and often report feeling a loss of control over their thoughts or actions.

People who are emotionally unavailable due to emotional detachment can get help through therapy, while people who are strictly selfish can typically make a decision to act differently.

Regardless, however, dating or being in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable doesn’t have any likely probability to develop into something serious.

Emotionally immature people love their toys.

They spend money on items that aren’t necessary like cars, games, nights out, electronics, high-end phones, computers, and so on.

Now, this is a tricky one because I actually highly encourage couples to have their individual interests, hobbies, and outlets.

So, how do should you think about this one as a possible sign of emotional immaturity?

I think that it comes down to 1) purpose and 2) cost.

“Purpose” for me is a question of  “in service of what?”

Do the toys or hobbies serve the purpose of enjoyment and outlet, OR are they functioning as ways to feel validated, important, significant, successful, or just generally “OK with self.”

Because in that case, chances are that buying new toys will have a central role in that person’s life as a means to feel better about themselves in relation to others.

‘Cost” is a question of impact and effect.

If toys or hobbies start costing a relationship its happiness and health or outweighing any possible benefits, that should raise some red flags.

But, again, an emotionally immature person who NEEDS their toys or hobbies as an extension of their own worth, is only looking out for Number One with very little regard for the wellbeing of the relationship or the person they’re with.

More guys than women who are emotionally immature are adrenaline junkies.

A lot of emotionally immature men love the rush of fear and adrenaline that runs through their veins as they experiment with extreme sports, fast driving or anything else that gets their blood pumping.

However, as I’ve said before, this needs to be viewed in context.

It is still an interesting trait to take note of though, as a love for extreme experiences can very often hide the reality of emotional immaturity, a guy’s level of readiness to commit, or his inability to navigate a healthy love relationship, just yet.

It could be a case of general maturity lacking in some cases due to a guy’s obsession with adrenaline and conquest, and the fact that a guy just needs to gain more life experience about people and relationships outside of “life in the fast line” – a reorganising of values and priorities if you will.

The recent documentary on Netflix The Dawn Wall illustrates this very well of how a guy (master rock climber) lost his “first love” (first wife and fellow climber) because of his actual “true love” (rock climbing) only to eventually find “real love” and healing (second non-climber wife and son), and in the end, just climbing for the love of it again rather than a means to escape “failed love.”

Note: this amazing movie is about focus, discipline, skill, overcoming hardship, perseverance, achievement, and camaraderie – so go check it out. 

Sharing is a character trait that requires a strong degree of emotional maturity.

A person has to be willing to give up something of their own to give to someone else, without expecting anything in return.

Tony Robbins always talks about coming to a relationship to give rather than get.

But, individuals who are emotionally immature tend to want immediate gratification, so giving, serving, and sharing is most often out of the question.

Don’t hold your breath expecting an emotionally immature person to suddenly start meeting your needs and wants, as it’s not very likely to happen.

Struggles to let things go.

Have you had an argument with someone who then held a grudge for days or even weeks?

They don’t seem able to let go of what happened no matter who was right or wrong.

The reality of most relationships is that there will be arguments or disagreements because a relationship typically exists out of two completely unique and different individuals doing life together.

However, healthy couples and individuals tend to navigate these differences completely differently from unhealthy couples and emotionally immature individuals.

Emotional maturity tends to allow for those bumps in the road and work to straighten them out with their partner while emotional immaturity holds a grudge and makes sure that the other person knows they were wrong – even if they were right or even if the relationship is suffering because of it.

Immaturity creates a victim mentality in some people.

They believe that life isn’t turning out the way they want because the “universe” is against them.

Consequently, they tend to avoid taking ownership of their own actions or the fact that they must do something to get the results they want.

They very typically opt for the blame game as a means to get what they want or justify why they don’t have what they want.

Years ago my mum bought me a book that said the definition of maturity is “the acceptance of responsibility.”

That always stayed with me, and I still use it as a guiding principle.

Whenever there is a result I want in any area of life, but I either procrastinate or come up with all sorts of excuses why I either 1) don’t have it or 2) won’t get it, this definition holds me accountable.

I view myself as a mature individual and, therefore, need to take responsibility.

Emotional immaturity doesn’t do this.

And if you’re in a relationship with an emotionally immature person, chances are YOU will be blamed for many of their failures and lack of success.

Either because 1) you’re standing in their way or 2) no one can compete with you, so why even try.

Doesn’t have a great relationship track record.

People who are emotionally immature will have a history of short term relationships because they aren’t able to continue relationships for very long.

“I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of girl.”

In Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts talks about how she doesn’t have many plans in her life.

Her life had taken a turn down the wrong path but she wasn’t necessarily emotionally immature.

She did what was needed to survive. And I can appreciate that.

But, and I know it’s only a movie (one of my wife’s favourites), it also needs to be said that waiting for your “Richard Gere” to come and save you might never happen.

Sometimes, “just surviving” isn’t good enough. Not always, but sometimes.

Sometimes, if it is to be is up to me.

If I want a different life, I will have to find a different way.

If I want a different marriage, I might need to be the one that steps up and make some changes first.

YOU have to take responsibility if you want to change anything in life.

People who are emotionally immature, however, tend to dance through life without a real plan or a real job.

And if you end up in a relationship with them, you will pay for their ticket to the ball.

What To Do If Your Significant Other is Emotionally Immature

Now, what if you end up falling for someone who is emotionally immature and exhibits all the signs of being unable to connect long-term with you?

What are your options?

What should you do?

Well, firstly, it’s interesting to note that each of us has issues and challenges in our life.

Some of us are better at managing those obstacles than others and some of us seek out help to get better.

But many others are not equipped and don’t recognise that they are not managing well.

Ironically, however, when brought to their attention, the immature person might not respond very favourably at all and could have several reactions.

They may tell you that it’s your problem and not theirs or they can tell you that they are happy with who they are and either you are too, or you can leave.

If those are the reactions, and they make it very clear that they have not intention whatsoever to change, you will be left with a difficult decision indeed.

Chances are that in the end, the only choice you’ll be left with is to honour their wishes and leave.

At the end of the day, if a person doesn’t recognise that a change needs to be made, then they won’t change no matter how much you beg, ask or suggest.

And if you choose to stay you should count on their behaviour staying the same and not changing.

On the other hand, if your partner DOES recognise that there is an issue and is actually interested in getting help, there might be some hope for this relationship.

Where there’s a will there’s away, as the old saying goes.

Without it, however, no amount of pleading, asking, debating, arguing, ultimatums and so on will make any significant difference.

But you can work with willingness.

Unfortunately, however, people in love tend to look through rose coloured glasses.

They see everything in the best light possible, which is normal during the infatuation phase of a relationship and can be a good thing.

But, it won’t protect you long-term from unhelpful and toxic behaviour and people that will probably never change.

So, before you enter into any long-term or committed relationship, marriage for sure, be sure that your friends and family meet the person.

These are people who love you and want the best for you. Allow them to have a voice in the matter.

Remember, your family and good friends will be more objective than you can because they’re NOT in love.

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About the author 

Gideon

Gideon is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a top-50 relationship blog (2021) and top-100 marriage blog (2021) that gives healthy relationship advice about love and life. He trained and qualified as a professional counsellor and clinical hypnotherapist (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.) about ten years ago, but work as a relationship & dating blogger most of the time nowadays. He's been happily married for over fifteen years and is a dad of two.