Updated: Sep 22, 2022
When talking about how someone manages their emotions two terms tend to come up, emotional intelligence and emotional maturity. These skills are both vital in creating and maintaining both personal and professional relationships.
What is the difference between emotional intelligence and emotional maturity? Emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) is the ability to identify and understand your and other people’s emotions. Emotional maturity is the ability to apply your emotional intelligence knowledge in an appropriate way based on the situation and people involved.
Emotional intelligence and maturity are each quite complex, changing as we grow and age and become exposed to a variety of environments. Being able to understand the difference and how to evaluate where we are at can form new pathways into how we create, maintain or salvage our relationships.
People start learning about their emotions from a very young age. Often parents and teachers work with children on labeling their emotions, giving each a name and working towards identifying these emotions in others.
By watching TV shows and movies geared towards children, we can see that characters often go through a variety of situations and experience a myriad of emotions, thus drawing people, including adults, into their stories.
My daughter, around two years of age, was watching a movie in which the main character’s father died. She was immediately upset and whimpered “Why did he die?” then told us that the baby was sad while she cried.
Another example of this came when she was invited to multiple parties that were to take place over the span of two weekends, on top of her regular activities. We jokingly told her that she needed fewer friends. To this, she responded, “but that would break their hearts”. Great emotional intelligence, but is still at the maturity we would expect from her as a child.
Emotionally intelligent individuals are able to identify and articulate their feelings. They can feel empathy towards others as they identify the emotions within themselves.
It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head–it is the unique intersection of both. -David Caruso
Those with high EQ/EI also have the ability to separate their past emotions from the present. If someone has hurt or angered you in the past, the emotionally intelligent person would be able to recognize that this occurred in the past and move forward leaving a large piece of the emotion in the past. This does not mean that they do not remember how they felt; it does mean that they do not allow the old emotion to dictate how they currently feel and allow it to control them.
This acceptance of emotions allows the individual to control their reactions, regulate the severity of the feeling, and process emotions in a way that is beneficial to their growth and development.
Having high emotional intelligence helps us relate to others and function within society. This is one of the reasons that convicted offenders typically score lower on the EQ/EI scale than the general population. This lack of awareness of their emotions and the emotions of others does not afford them the opportunity to see or acknowledge the impact their crimes have on others.
In order to have emotional maturity, one must first have emotional intelligence. Once this foundation is laid there is endless room for growth.
Emotional maturity takes intelligence one step further by expanding upon the emotions a person has. This becomes about understanding and evaluating each emotion.
Why are you having the emotion?
Where does the feeling stem from?
Why is it making you feel a certain way now?
What does it tell you about yourself?
Only as humans grow and mature are we able to answer and evaluate these questions. Without having the emotional fortitude necessary to undertake some of these questions, a person will remain emotionally immature, or possibly referred to as childish.
These questions help identify and evaluate our biases, triggers, hot button topics and unresolved issues that were formed in the past. Once you are able to break these down, you have the opportunity to decide how they will be allowed to impact your future.
This is not to say that once an emotion has been evaluated the person will never react the same way again. In fact, most of our emotional reactions have become habits as they have served a function up until this point in time. Instead when these emotions come up, and no matter our initial reaction, we are now given the opportunity to step back and decide if this emotion still serves us, at what severity it is appropriate and if not, what can be done instead.
Our emotional reactions and the maturity level expected will vary depending on a variety of factors, some of these include;
Cognitive age (cognitive impairment vs typical development)
Position within a company or organization
Position within society
Role within a relationship
When a person is older and in a position of authority, the expectation is that they do not convey their emotions in the same way that a six-year-old would. This, however, is not always the case. There are some very emotionally mature six-year-olds and some very emotionally immature executives. Age and position do not always correlate to maturity, the same way age does not always correlate to wisdom.
When people possess a high level of emotional maturity they are able to apply the right feelings, in the right way, at the right time. While doing this it is extremely important, that if the person is addressing an issue, they seek to fix the problem or behavior being addressed, not the individual who would be on the receiving end.
Each person involved in a situation has their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and stories about an event. For them, this is true, no matter what the other person may think or know for them-self to be true. This is why it is important to address behavior or the problem, you can not change a person, you can only share your experience and personal truth.
Experience is not what happens to you–it’s how you interpret what happens to you. -Aldous Huxley
What can be done is to try and objectively view what happened from the other person's perspective.
Do you need to accept any accountability for what they are saying?
Is their story true for you as well?
Can you see why they would think this way?
What is within your power and ability to create the most effective response, leading to your desired outcome?
These questions require the individual to face the reality of the situation and accept what part they may have played in the situation. Even if you do not agree with what a person has said, for them it is true. We are able to still act with empathy and care, even when we do not agree with their story or explanation of what happened.
Once you are able to act with emotional maturity, you are able to assist others in acting as their best selves within a situation. By accepting people where they are at, and utilizing our skills to relate to them and understand their emotional perspectives, we can manage our reactions and act accordingly.
Anyone can be angry–that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way–that is not easy. -Aristotle
Both Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Maturity can be improved upon. Though this may come easier to some than others, these abilities will have dramatic implications on our ability to function within relationships, the workplace, and society.