Somewhere along the line, I feel like the expectations around emotions and maturity got muddled up. In the middle of seeing a kid throwing a complete hysterical fit (laughter or tears), you can see adults judging all around. Each gaze spells ‘I’d never do that anymore. That’s a foolish outburst of emotion.’ You see impatience, frustration and sometimes a complete bewilderment. But the point is, we all still feel like doing it sometimes. I don’t know one person who hasn’t, at some point in their adult life, just wanted to be a ball of pure emotional expression. But we feel we can’t.
I wish I could remember where I saw this but I love this analogy so I share. There are three perspectives people tend to adopt:
The microscope – translates as ‘let’s just focus in on this thing that is causing so much pain/ anger/ frustration/ happiness / fear /rapture at the expense of all else. Let’s focus in so hard that we forget that anything else exists. Let that single moment within a life define you and your path as you see it, from this point on.
The telescope – trying to look ahead always, anticipate the next thing to bob up on the horizon and how it will make you feel, affect you, change you or desert you. Gaze past all that is now, after all, it’ll all change once we get to where that fixed gaze is ahead.
The kaleidoscope – oh I used to be good at this one?! Focus in on the heart of the matter and then twist and turn it so you pull everything in your environs into the mix. Yep, life isn’t hard enough until you try to make the present emotion relevant to all that your living breathing existence is.
Emotional maturity isn’t about naturally assuming more control over what we feel and when. It’s only about how we handle our emotions. Its what we do in those moments and about how much self-awareness we can reinstate as soon as possible. Being an adult isn’t about feeling less. It’s about allowing yourself to feel whatever you are feeling whilst understanding the perspective from which you are approaching it. It’s about not making decisions on based on any transitory state of mind, positive or negative. It’s about accepting that sometimes tears are appropriate, through laughter or pain. But it’s also about understanding how emotions cause you, in your own unique way, to see the world at the time. And to contain that projection.
When I was a teacher, I spent the first lesson with each class establishing ground rules for everyone. Me included. And one that I always insisted on having was one about people in bad moods. The deal was always this. You quietly declared that it was a bad day: the student to me or me to the class. There was then an understanding that that person would be left to be quiet in that class – not called on for anything major (them), not harangued by people acting up (me). It would mean that we would have time to find our feet in that hour and then join in when we could. In 6 years of teaching, no one ever argued against that rule. And in 6 years of teaching, no student ever evoked it and I only did once. It’s not that we didn’t ever have bad days. But I do believe that it allowed a couple of major reassurances:
– that assimilation time was granted from the outset, time just to work out why you felt so bad… Isn’t that that most important bit?
– knowledge that that was part of life and therefore okay
– that no bad mood would be used to create grounds for more conflict as long as it was dealt with quietly and respectfully for everyone else
– that everyone was always welcome to join back in, with no emotional hangover to deal with.
We don’t ever get class time to set ground rules with those in our lives. We talk about values and principles and other such lofty things but not about the nitty gritty of what we’re like in the throes and depths of passion or depression. Most people still may not know. And I think the first step towards emotional maturity is not compassion or empathy towards others. It’s understanding if you’re a microscope, telescope or kaleidoscope and what that means for you in your world and the souls that share it. Because, in truth, perhaps the only difference between us and that hysterical toddler is the life experience to see how a life of single moments impacts those who we love.