What is emotional immaturity and how can it impact relationships?

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on May 11, 2023

Person sat on a pebble beach

Do you feel like you're walking on eggshells in your relationship? Does your friend or family member talk over you? You could be dealing with an emotionally immature person

Someone who is thought to be emotionally mature is able to understand and manage their emotions, regardless of the circumstances. It’s the ability to process feelings, acknowledge why they may be feeling that way and communicate this to others in a healthy manner.

Emotional maturity is often characterised by people taking responsibility for their feelings, rather than blaming others. They can often own their mistakes, are willing to share their personal struggles and can recognise when they need help.

As we move through life, however, our various life experiences may alter our outlook and the way we view certain situations. Growing up with insecure attachments, a past trauma, an unsupported mental health condition or a lack of self-awareness are some of the reasons why someone may lack emotional maturity.

What is emotional immaturity?

An emotionally immature person is someone who expresses their emotions “disproportionately” to the situation. We all view life differently and it’s unlikely that two people will experience an event in the same way, but an emotionally immature person is often unable to deal with reality. They may then alter their perception of reality to suit their needs and, as a result, can struggle to navigate their circumstances appropriately.

How do I recognise emotional immaturity?

Perhaps you feel as though someone in your life, whether a friend, work colleague, parent or partner, is emotionally immature. You may even recognise these behaviours in yourself. Recognising emotional immaturity is a helpful step in dealing with it effectively.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not list emotional immaturity as a mental health condition, though it has been associated with narcissistic personality disorder. This does not mean, however, that an emotionally immature person is a narcissist. We would always advise speaking with your GP if you suspect a diagnosis. 

Some characteristics of an emotionally immature person include:

  • Thinking of themselves first.
  • Show little to no empathy — they are unable to see other people’s perspectives.
  • They may have impulsive tendencies.
  • They don’t like to compromise.
  • Appear to be ‘closed off’ and struggle to talk about their feelings.
  • Living in the present — they find it hard to talk or think about the future.
  • Getting defensive — they may have an out-of-balanced reaction to even the smallest criticism.

How can emotional immaturity affect relationships?

Being with or being involved with an emotionally immature person can be challenging. It can even lead the person to question their own sense of self or revert to regressive behaviours. In more complex situations, the other person in the relationship may develop mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.

It can often feel difficult to make things work with an emotionally immature partner. The anger and frustration that they may experience might make it harder for you to find a deeper connection with them. You may feel as if you’re ‘walking on eggshells’ in the relationship to avoid a potential trigger.

This impact of emotional immaturity is not limited to romantic relationships. Some people may recognise this in a parent, a work colleague or a friend. Perhaps conversations feel one-sided, or they talk over you when you have something to tell them.

You may have found that you pick up the emotional work in the familial relationship. This can often bring about a sense of frustration and even loneliness. Though your parent is physically there, you may feel emotionally detached from them.

It’s very common to feel confused, exhausted and even ‘drained’ as your feelings may be dismissed or ignored. Recognising that the difficulties experienced are affecting your relationship is the first step towards building a healthy connection.

How do I deal with emotional immaturity?


Talk honestly, but sensitively, about their behaviour. Try to keep the conversation simple and let them know how their behaviour is affecting you. Use “I” statements, for example, “I feel…”. If the emotionally immature person is finding it difficult to communicate back, try to offer solutions that you can discuss together.

Develop healthy boundaries

Recognising what makes you feel uncomfortable can help you identify what you will and won’t tolerate in the relationship. Communicate this with the emotionally immature person and try to stick to the boundaries that you set.

Offer support

Encourage a supportive environment for the emotionally immature person and reassure them that you are there for them.

Seek professional support

If the person is wanting to develop ways to become more emotionally mature, working with a qualified therapist can help them to attain healthy coping mechanisms. What’s more, working with a relationship therapist can help both parties to find ways to support each other.

Practice self-care

Encourage your partner to practice some self-care. This could look like journaling or practising mindfulness. Incorporating self-care into day-to-day life can help them ease any potential anxiety or stress. It’s also important to look after your mental wellbeing when dealing with an emotionally immature person, so be sure to take some time for yourself, too.

Spend time together

Try to put some time aside to do activities that both you and your partner love. This can help build emotional intimacy.

Can a person learn to become emotionally mature?

It’s entirely possible for a person to build emotional maturity, especially with a strong support system in place. Here are a few ways an emotionally immature person can become more mature:

  • Accept the importance of emotions — Emotions can’t be swept under the carpet. Try to recognise that showing emotion isn’t a sign of weakness and work with your support network to understand what you’re feeling and why this might be.
  • Choose a growth mindset — Rather than assuming everything is set in stone, believe that you can develop as a person. Learn to build self-awareness and try to challenge the way you think.
  • Learn empathy — Being empathetic is essential when it comes to emotional maturity. Try to see things from a different perspective and understand other people’s points of view, non-judgementally. Be curious bout what others have to say.
  • Grow healthy relationships — Emotional maturity is the foundation of healthy relationships with parents, work colleagues, friends and partners. Consider who you feel safe with and don’t be afraid to open yourself up to them. Communicating your needs and setting boundaries will help your relationships flourish.
  • Be gentle with yourself — Take your time. Mastering the traits of an emotionally mature person won’t happen overnight. We are all human, and we’re constantly growing and developing. It’s normal to experience feelings of anger or frustration but by cultivating new ways to deal with these feelings in a healthy manner, we can all develop emotional maturity.

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