September 17, 2023

Dealing with Emotionally Immature People (Theresa E. Viera)

Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Safety, and Emotional Maturity

“She’s crazy!” “He’s a narcissist!” “No one is listening to me!” These are but a few comments I hear when my clients are completely frustrated with their “soon-to-be” ex or the other parent of their child. The unfortunate reality in family law is that you will have to deal with an “opposing party” that you would much rather cut completely out of your life. Regardless of the circumstance or reason for the failed relationship, dealing with an opposing party out of necessity instead of desire is daunting. 

Part of the difficulty in dealing with the opposing party in complex family dynamics could stem from various issues: mental health issues, substance abuse, adultery, narcissism, laziness, or a multitude of other reasons. Some of these issues may appear on your internet history as you try to learn more about these issues via social media or “Google.” However, one area that tends to be overlooked from my perspective is Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Safety, and Emotional Immaturity.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability and capacity to understand and manage our own emotions while also understanding the impact and influence we have on the emotions of the people around us. Emotional Intelligence not only allows us to regulate our responses and thought-processes, especially when confronted with an uncomfortable or threatening situation, but it also allows us to keep our emotions from taking “control of the wheel.” Those with high emotional intelligence or emotional maturity limit the influence of emotions to allow their reason and logic to respond in a more appropriate manner. Have you ever reflected on a moment and realized, “oh, I could have responded better in that situation” or “wow, I actually kept my cool when dealing with that person.” These reflections stem from your personal emotional intelligence. The goal in being more emotionally intelligent is that you have more positive reflections than negative repercussions due to your behavior and interactions with other people.  

Emotional Safety is related to the environment that can foster or stunt growth and maturity of a person’s emotional intelligence. The level of emotional safety a person “feels” is reflected in a person’s comfort level to discuss intimate issues with another person. Friendly encouragement, patience, and engaged attention generally foster feelings of emotional safety. When a person feels safe, they are more likely to open up and confront difficult issues or topics. On the flipside, if a person does not feel safe, then they are less likely to be open about their emotions or things that may be affecting them. This can create a ripple effect of “bottling up” emotions and issues, which has been shown to negatively affect a multitude of other challenges people face, such as mental health, physical health, and social connections.

Children are at risk of being stunted in the growth of their emotional intelligence if their environment does not create an emotional safe space. Lack of emotional safety for children can then have long-term effects that last into adulthood. A child’s nervous system can read an emotionally unengaged parent as rejection and disappointment. Instead of a child reaching out for help in a calm and open manner, the child will learn to engage in a hesitant, defensive, and possibly even explosive manner because their emotional needs are not being met.

Emotional Maturity is one line of development of a child or adult, to be differentiated from a person’s physical development, social development, and intellectual development. A person’s emotional maturity or immaturity is exposed most often when the person is under severe stress or engaging in an emotionally intimate relationship. For example: a person could be a high performing professional in the workplace because of their social and intellectual development, but then get into a lot of arguments with their significant other because of their emotional immaturity. An emotionally immature person generally displays the following characteristics:

  • Ego-centric and self-preoccupied. They focus on how everything affects them, and they do not have an appreciation that another person’s feelings and emotions are real.
  • Poor empathy. It is hard for them to relate and feel what others may be feeling. They are unable to “walk in the shoes” of another person.
  •  Poor self-reflection. They externalize and project blame when an issue arises instead of determining how their involvement may have impacted the situation.
  • Afraid or nervous of emotional intimacy or “deep” connections and interactions.
  • Interpret reality according to how they feel. For example: if an emotionally immature person feels that they are not liked, then it is a “fact” that they are not liked; even if an objective analysis of the situation would show how much they are “liked.”
  • Adjust reality so that “reality” does not upset them. They will deny, dismiss, or distort things they do not want to deal with. They will act and believe a “reality” that is more in line with what makes them feel better.

Narcissism should be differentiated from the above characteristics, as narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by the love of an inflated, grandiose, and fictitious image of themselves. By definition, a narcissist is an emotionally immature person, but not all emotionally immature people are narcissists. Narcissists are not only self-preoccupied, but they are also “perfect” in their own eyes. Narcissists not only have poor empathy, but they will thoughtfully manipulate others because the other person’s emotions are “wrong.” Narcissists are extremely sensitive and negatively react in an explosive manner if they feel anything is working against them or if “reality” does not suit them. 

How do you deal with an emotionally immature person?

  • Set healthy boundaries.
  • Redirect interactions and conversations toward productive growth.
  • Remain steadfast in your goal.
  • Give yourself breaks from interactions with this person.
  • Distance yourself from the emotionally immature person. This may not mean disconnecting with the person completely, but rather it could be creating distance from the emotionally immature person, either geographically, limiting exposure, or reducing time.
  • Seek professional help. This could be seeking the assistance of a therapist or mental health professional but it could also mean finding the right family law attorney that can help you assert your legal rights and boundaries in an emotional intimate relationship. 
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