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9-14-17      Self-Awareness     (click here to read)


Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.  7-10

“Maturity” is a quality that we identify with persons who have certain attributes, the most important of which are supporting oneself, honesty, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, good judgment, self-control (including good management of one’s emotions), constancy (including willingness to endure discomfort in order to reach goals), positive relationships with others, and general appropriateness of behavior.  These attributes result in mature persons fulfilling their various roles (parent, worker, leader, etc.) in a praiseworthy and effective way and result in them contributing more than others to the essential tasks of society—raising children to be productive members of the community, sustaining life, and building and sustaining the community itself.

The requisite basic skills for maturity are (1) a reasonably accurate understanding of self, others, and the world (including an accurate sense of likely consequences of various behaviors), (2) reasonably good ability to manage one’s emotions (not letting them distort one’s sense of reality and not letting them push one to violent and impulsive behaviors that harm self or others); (3) a basically positive attitude toward others, so that one is oriented toward cooperating and helping others; and (4) enough empathy to enable one to understand others and their needs and feelings reasonably well.  If a person has these skills, it is quite likely that he or she will develop the hallmarks of maturity over the course of time—material self-support, honesty, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, good judgment, self-control, constancy, positive relationships with others, and general appropriateness of behavior.  The more of each of these qualities a person has, the more “mature” he or she would be.  Having significant amounts of all of them would cause others to identify him or her as a “really mature” person.

Maturity and wisdom are perhaps the most beneficial and complex qualities that human beings can develop–beneficial both for those who are mature and/or wise and for those around them.  Maturity is focused on those behaviors in relation to others that make for effective action and harmonious and productive communities, while wisdom is focused more on higher degrees of certain types of knowledge.  Maturity is seen in how the behavior of the mature person helps self and others to function better and feel better, while wisdom is evident when the understanding and insight of the wise person are used to assist self and others to make better choices and/or to become wiser and/or more mature themselves.  The wise person may be somewhat apart from others, for the solitude that serious thinking requires, while the mature person is usually fully involved in interactions with others aimed at solving life’s problems and doing what needs to be done in daily life.

The aspects of maturity that are most highly prized may vary among cultures, but maturity is a quality recognized universally by the mature person’s material self-support, honesty, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, good judgment, self-control, constancy, positive relationships with others, and general appropriateness of behavior.

(1) The mature person has a reasonably good understanding of self, others, and the world (including an accurate sense of likely consequences of various behaviors).  The mature person sees reality clearly and generally does not distort reality in order to feel better or to reduce emotional pain or conflict.  He has a better sense of “the big picture” than others and a long-term view of options. He is able to perceive other peoples’ emotions and beliefs and accept that they are different from his own.  When another person claims to have been insulted by him, the mature person does not automatically assume that he is blameless and the other person is “wrong,” and before reacting he examines how his behavior might have been involved and what the other person’s point of view is likely to have been that might have led (correctly or incorrectly) to the feeling of insult.  Or, when his team scores a touchdown to win the game, he is able to see that the player was out of bounds and the team should not have gotten the score, even though it would mean not winning the game.  The immature person typically blames others and would react instantly with anger, unwilling to see how he contributed to the perceived insult, and he would “see” his player to be in bounds, actually distorting his own visual input in order to have the pleasure of winning.

The mature person can see the good and the bad about a person without condemning that person, tolerate complex situations without having to oversimplify them, recognize that what one has been taught is not necessarily true or right (and that each individual and each group has its own version of “truth”), recognize that how one feels about something does not necessarily embody the truth about it, and recognize how one tends to color reality to make it what one wants it to be (and is also able to correct for these errors).  He sees his own frailties and limitations clearly, without having to pretend otherwise, and accepts himself and the limitations of existence with good grace.

The mature person recognizes that many group beliefs (religious, moral, political) are relatively unsupported by evidence or irrational and could just as well have turned out differently in other times or other cultures.  This makes it possible for the mature person to operate from a higher moral/ethical level (e.g., doing what is best for all concerned) rather than simply conforming to one set of rules and traditions.  This insight allows the mature person to be relatively independent of others in maintaining his conclusions about reality (i.e., he does not need to change his conclusions to be like those of others just to please them or to feel more secure), and he is able to comfortably say “no” when necessary, reject harmful people and behavior, be by himself, stand alone when needed, and know what is good for himself.

The recognition that beliefs and customs are not sacred and do not represent “truth” can be threatening to those who need such beliefs and customs in order to control insecurity and bolster self-esteem, but the compassion and understanding of the mature person make it possible to recognize these things about one’s culture and one’s fellow citizens without having to challenge them openly.  The mature person is consulted by others, if they want unbiased feedback or advice, because they know that he has a balanced and comprehensive view of things.

(2) The mature person has reasonably good ability to manage his emotions.  She is able to tolerate, without resorting to cognitive distortions, the emotions that can arise from unpleasant reality (seeing that your team has lost the game, your father cheats his customers, or your priest is sexually aroused by little boys), and she does not let emotions push her to violent and impulsive behaviors that harm self or others and disrupt the orderliness and predictability in our social environment that are essential for feeling comfortable and maintaining hope that our efforts will produce desired results.    She knows that how she feels does not necessarily represent reality and is able to pause before acting in order to allow emotions and their implications to be clarified.  The immature person does not attempt to manage her feelings, allows them to distort her view of reality, and expects others to adjust to her feelings, no matter what the cost to them.

(3) The mature person has a basically positive attitude toward others, so that he is oriented toward cooperating and helping others rather than opposing and competing with them.  The mature person has basic care and concern for others–i.e., wishes others well in general.  Persons who view others hostilely, as competitors only, can sometimes perceive the benefit for themselves of sharing, taking turns, and cooperating, but this purely rational view of social action is usually insufficient motivation for the person to also wish to benefit others–e.g., to forego personal success or pleasure for a time so that others may have success or pleasure.  Only a person with basic care and concern for others can happily wish good for all other human beings and choose his own behaviors to that end.  He acts so as to benefit others whether or not this is known to others.  This underlying wish of good for all underlies the staunch morality of the mature.  The immature person’s feelings toward others change with his changing self-interest, and he expects to be able to benefit from all interactions with others regardless of the outcomes for others.

(4) The mature person has enough empathy to enable her to understand others and their needs and feelings reasonably well.  She empathically appreciates the difficulties, pain, and striving of all human beings.  This makes possible accepting others as they are, and it also makes possible (but is not sufficient for) choosing as one’s behaviors those that do not harm others and behaviors that benefit both oneself and others.  (Without this empathic appreciation of others’ subjective experience, reason easily gets off course.)  The immature person is unable to appreciate the feelings and experience of others and seeks only her own benefit.

(5) The mature person uses the cognitive and emotional skills above, together with real-world physical skills, to obtain food, clothing, and shelter—i.e., to provide for his own maintenance, as well as for that of others who are legitimately dependent on him.  He knows that the community benefits from each person supporting himself or herself, and he values the independence that self-support provides.  Being positively motivated to live life so as to benefit others as well as himself, he will endure whatever pain is involved in being self-supporting.  As an aspect of self-support, the mature person tries to take care of his own feelings as well as his needs.  The immature person shrinks from responsibility and from the effort and pain of self-support and tries to find ways to have others support him and take care of his unpleasant feelings. 

(6) The mature person has observed that honesty leads to more comfortable relationships and more productive joint actions, while lying or distorting the truth lead to conflicts and roadblocks to effective action.  He therefore chooses to be honest with himself and with those around him.  He is strong enough to tolerate unpleasant truths, and when the content is unpleasant or hurtful to others, he exercises discretion while not losing sight of what is true.  The immature person is not interested in what is true and communicates with others using distortions aimed at benefiting himself.

(7) The mature person chooses to be responsible (to always act as promised, as could be reasonably expected, and/or as appropriate), because she has observed that being responsible causes others to trust her and therefore to cooperate with her and relate more closely.  She sees that being responsible makes everything go more smoothly.  The mature person takes care of responsibilities on her own volition, without complaining or doing it only to avoid the criticism of others.  She truly sees them as responsibilities rather than as unfair and excessive demands.  She is also willing to tolerate considerable discomfort, pain, or disadvantage in order to be responsible.  The immature person puts off taking care of responsibilities as long as possible and fails to appreciate the impact that this may have on others.  She perceives responsibilities as extra demands, does not accept them as being her own, and makes no demands on herself.  She tries to get others to take care of her welfare and her painful feelings rather than being responsible for herself.

(8) The mature person chooses to act in trustworthy ways, since that promotes cooperation with others, induces others to be more trustworthy themselves, and fulfills explicit promises made as well as implicit elements of the general social contract.  He likes dealing with trustworthy persons and therefore is determined to be trustworthy himself.  The immature person does not see beyond immediate results and chooses whether or not to fulfill agreements based on perceived immediate benefit.

(9) The mature person treats others fairly, even when it means that he will not get exactly what he himself wants.  He empathizes with how others feel and refuses to feel better unfairly at the expense of others.  If a selling price is agreed upon, he does not try to change it if the going rate for his object or service suddenly increases.  He does not lie to others or omit important facts in order to get what he wants.  The immature person tries to get as much as he can from others, by means that are fair or unfair, and is unable to recognize the social contract of mutually appropriate behavior that benefits everyone in the long run.  He changes the rules or his morals whenever it seems to be to his immediate advantage.  The immature person always feels that unpleasant reality is unfair to him and lets everyone know about his unfair and terrible troubles and how difficult they are to tolerate.  He seeks compensation for difficulties through pretending to be ill or claiming the right to special treatment. 

(10) Because of her observant knowledge about the full consequences of various actions and her empathic appreciation for her impact on others, the mature person has what is regarded as good judgment, which involves taking all relevant information into account (including long-term as well as short-term results, and the impact of his behavior on others), appropriately balancing the desires and needs of others against his own, and doing what creates the greatest benefit for self and others.  The immature person typically ignores unwanted consequences of behavior and ignores his impact on others.

(11) Due to her good understanding of behavioral consequences and her empathic appreciation for her impact on others, the mature person has cultivated self-control through the years, since good judgment and acting responsibly sometimes require not acting, delaying action, and/or not doing what one would most like to do at the moment.  Due to ignoring unwanted behavioral consequences and refusing to see her impact on others, the immature person has no interest in self-control, unless it promises immediate reward.

(12) Tolerating needs and emotions well and seeing reality clearly make it possible for a mature person to be relatively constant in mood (since emotions are regulated and reasons for them are understood), relatively constant in viewpoint (from seeing the totality of the situation and from not getting pushed off center by emotion or circumstance), and relatively constant in behavior (since she is not unduly upset by momentary pain or unpleasantness).

The mature person tolerates whatever comes with relative ease, including the events in her life and her own emotional reactions.  The mature person can feel battered by external events or by her own strong emotions (such as shame, guilt, or disappointment) but through these experiences is able to stay relatively centered and on an even keel and does not vary significantly in how she views reality, treats others, or carries out responsibilities.  The mature person can be counted on by others in good times and bad times to be the same trustworthy, responsible, and caring person.  The immature person’s feelings, perceptions, and choices all flow from selfish self-interest, so her moods, viewpoints, and behavior have little consistency or continuity.

(13) The mature person acts empathically and compassionately in moral, appropriate, and helpful ways.  His concern about others, his perception that morality is basically reciprocal, his understanding of adaptive human relationships, and his belief that to act morally requires acting in ways that he would like others to act as well, result in a dependable moral compass.

The mature person knows what is right and appropriate and does not lose sight of this in changing circumstances or when his own involvement changes.  He will “do the right thing” even if it takes longer, is more difficult, or leads to his immediate disadvantage, because he places others’ interests on a par with his own, and he believes that consistently acting appropriately will bring more advantages to him in the long run than any other course of action.  The immature person always seeks his immediate advantage, does not value acting appropriately if it is not to his immediate advantage, and is not willing to share or allow others to get their way part of the time.

[For this definition as part of a more complete essay on maturity in society, see under “Human functioning and coping.”]