Seven Steps To Emotional Maturity
By: Dr. Debra Moore, Ph.D.
First you must eliminate magical thinking. Magical thinking
is believing that something will happen without any real effort on your part. This is normal thinking in children, but self defeating in adults.
People often can get stuck in magical thinking if a significant event happened to reinforce it in childhood.
For a dramatic but not uncommon example, consider the child who's parent has a heart attack. If that child had been angry with the parent that day and though angry thoughts about them, they would probably magically think that they themselves had caused the heart attack.
That child as an adult may find it extremely difficult to confront others, especially others who are perceived as frail.
Second you must learn to tolerate your anxiety. Suppressing your anxiety causes it to continue - "what you resist, persists". Then you start fearing the anxiety, a state referred to as anticipatory anxiety.
It's sort of like working out with weights - when it is heavy and your arm gets tired, you're natural impulse is to put down the weight, but you know to strengthen your muscles, you continue. It's the same with anxiety. Your tendency is to avoid it and seek immediate relief. To become stronger emotionally, take the time to look at your anxiety, learn about it, and work with it.
Third, learn to recognize and appropriately express your anger. People who do not express their anger are usually afraid of what will happen if they do. They have distorted fantasies - fearing the floodgates and being out of control. They may have lacked family role models of appropriate anger expression. Discharging of anger by screaming or hitting pillows used to be recommended, even by therapists.
Now most professionals believe this just keeps the nervous system on alert and does nothing to address a constructive plan of action. Instead, learn to put your anger into words. If you're unsure how to do this, consider an assertiveness training course. It will teach you the difference between passive, assertive, and aggressive expression of anger.
Fourth, learn to cope with pain and hurt. Pain and hurt are natural consequences of life because of the simple fact that life involves change and loss.
To never feel hurt is to be dead ended. Our emotions are vulnerable but they are not fine china - overprotecting yourself leaves you vulnerable because you fail to develop strength and resiliency.
Moderate exposure to pain and loss is often what creates opportunities for developing coping skills.
Are you someone who thinks of themselves as a victim whenever you experience pain or loss? If so, what are you getting from this stance?
Fifth, is facing your guilty feelings. We all make mistakes and we all behave selfishly and meanly at times. Some guilt is based on reality and facing it helps us become better people. Rationalizing away this guilt is harmful, and leads you to make the same mistakes again. Take responsibility for mistakes, verbally express your regrets and take action to make amends.
Six, learn to live with your failures. You can't avoid
doing wrong, because perfection does not exist in humans! But forgiving yourself does not have to be limited to mental attitude. Action is what helps us live with our failures. Be of service to others, and have a positive attitude
Being useful to others and being part of the solution to problems around us is extremely therapeutic.
Finally the seventh step is to put your feelings in perspective. Strive to see that life is gray, not black and white. Tolerate ambiguity. Avoid words like never and always.
Realize that the world is a vast place that we can never completely understand and certainly never "master", whatever that means.
Feelings are messy, mistakes are made,
relationships are complex, and life is ever-changing. Any one feeling or event is but a piece of the big picture. And there's surely nothing you will ever experience and no pain you will ever feel, that has not been felt and survived by others.
If you doubt this, take a look around you and reach out.
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