Exploring Emotional Maturity
with Richard Kieninger
Q:†††† What is emotional maturity? The first thing that comes to my mind when discussing emotional maturity versus immaturity is that the mature person is sociocentric and the immature person is egocentric. For me that is a very simplistic way to sum it up.
RK:† Again we always get back to my favorite subject of self-esteem. There are many childish behaviors which undermine a sense of self-worth, and that tends to be a vicious cycle where you do the things that undermine self-esteem and then because you donít have much self-esteem you continue to do those things which undermine self-esteem.
Q:†††† Does pride correlate in some way with emotional immaturity? That is, being proud?
RK:† There is nothing so fiercely prideful as a nine-year-old boy. Some people retain that level of pridefulness as they get older, and it always seems to be out of place as an adult. I think pridefulness is generated when a person doesnít have anything going for him as yet; therefore he has to uphold face by various kinds of pasturing. Nine-year-old boys are very good at finding things to gain distinction or some little feat of prowessólike being able to spit on a crack at ten feet away. It is very important to them, to their manhood or boyhood, to be able to accomplish feats of that sort because thatís all they have.
countries where machismo is prevalent, the population lives more toward the
poverty end of the scale in their standard of living. Many of the countries
around the Mediterranean basin have been on a pretty low rung of the economic
ladder for many centuries, and a man literally didnít have anything that he
could point to and say that this is mine, this is a home I own, this is what
I have accumulated. The nobility and a few rich individuals managed to
control everything, and they could get anything they wanted because they had
the power of wealth. The average man had nothing except his pride; therefore,
anything that could possibly offend his pride, in any way, he had to defend
even to the death because that is really all he had. If he lost his manly
pride, then he had nothing, and the whole society of men demanded that he
uphold his manhood, represented by strength, bravery and sexual prowess. That
is probably why
Q:†††† Do you think that one of the definitions of emotional maturity is being more or less able to choose the emotion or emotions that you feel in a given situation? In other words, would the emotionally mature person be able to choose to be angry when he wishes to be and choose not to be angry when he doesnít want to be?
RK:† Well, generally speaking, emotions arise in a way which are not a thing that you are in control of. How severely you act in response to a given situation is something else. If you think, for instance, of Christ when he scourged the money changers at the temple, He likely felt a true righteous anger, but what a person decides to actually do in a similar circum≠stance is totally in his control. Emotions are not something that you turn on or off at will. They are automatic responses. As one learns to have better control of his environment, he has fewer fear responses. As one learns that some challenges truly are unimportant, he has less anger responses. As one learns how to achieve more of his goals, he experiences more joyful responses.
You can cultivate an emotion and decultivate one, but an emotion is. Each emotion gives rise to a specific series of muscle responses called feelings. Emotions are Egoic, and feelings are physiological. An emotion doesnít become a feeling until it gets translated through the physical body, so the Ego who is decarnate knows when he is experiencing an emotion and senses it, but he canít know it as a feeling because he doesnít have a body giving characteristic muscle responses.
Q:†††† In line with that, I think you can be conditioned to respond emotionally to things which are totally immatureónationalism as an exampleóand this kind of thing has been used much to our detriment.
RK:† I donít know that I would classify nationalism as an emotion.
Q:†††† No, itís not. But we have been conditioned like Pavlovís dogs. Weíve been conditioned by all kinds of rewards. Nazi Germany is the obvious glaring example of that. If you donít respond favorably to what the leader is saying, then you will be punished. It is that simple.
RK:† There was national pride involved in that too. The Germans were a people who had been subjugated, were paying huge reparations, and being prevented by treaty from taking their place among the nations of the world. This generated wounded pride because much of oneís personhood is an extension of your community.
Q:†††† But emotions can arise because you have been conditioned or trained to emote a certain way to some stimulus, and the conditioning is often for immature goals. That is, to achieve ends which are not for the greater good of those being condi≠tioned but rather to enhance the power of the conditioner.
RK:† If you belong to any kind of mass movement, which is something greater than yourself, you identify with that greatness and thus your own smallness is uplifted in some measure by your association with it. The problem is that most mass movements are motivated by being against something or to contribute toward a personality cult. Mass movements almost never improve anybody or uplift them in any psychological way. However, such movements may improve their membersí political power or economics.
Q: ††† I think maturity depends on the ability to be empathetic. That is just one part of it, but that is a very important part of it. In being empathetic, I think you are motivated to try to communicate better and be willing to be responsible for communicating.
RK:† What Iím hearing you say is that the sociocentric person feels the other person; so he is able to empathize in putting himself in that other personís place and is considerate of that other personís rights and feelings. Whereas an egocentric individual only sees himself and the things which are important to him; so people are things to be manipulated to his own ends.
Adults are all responsible to help uplift those who are less able so that they are more able to fully take part in the greater human condition. The mature person is kind to those who are weak and uplifts those who are ill and educates those who are ignorant rather than lording it over them and feeling heís above those people. Otherwise you start playing one-upmanship, and that is upholding pride or is purely manipulative and not empathetic.
A further thought on machismo and everyday problems that most men experience with their conditioning to it. Women just canít understand it, and most men are unconscious of how they have been undermined by it. From the time they were infants and up through their whole lives men are constantly being told in subtle ways that they are warrior killersóthe destroyers of lifeórapers of the planetóthe users and abusers of women. From the time they are tiny tots, men are reminded they are ones who go to war and their industry pollutes the land. This painful psychological dichotomy between the image of male activities as opposed to womenís bringing life into the world and nurturance of all life is depressing to all concerned.
Even my grandmother detracted from my self-image when I was a little kid. She taught me that boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails, and that disturbed me for a very long period of time. I cared even less for the corollary that girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. That must have had a negative impact on just about every boy that has ever heard that. There is a whole line of subtle things which contribute to the perception that men are destroyers whereas women are creators and the nurturers of life.
The heroic, macho man is aggressive, ruthless, unfeeling, and brave to a fault. This amounts to a massive guilting of the male half of the whole human race. That image permeates just about everything that men think about because they have been so thoroughly imbued with it. Men hear this constantly; and it is subtle because it is so all-pervading that they donít consciously hear it anymore. This constant mental bombardment of males is really mythological, but we all try to live the image. There is nothing basically or inherently in the male half of the race that says that they are destructive or non-nurturing. But they have been made to believe that they are, and that is where the difficulties come in. It poisons all male/female relationships.
Q:†††† Itís amazing that men and women have gotten along as well as we have.
RK:† I agree, but we need to learn how to improve
marital relations so theyíre much better, and I think this has to begin with
youngsters. The image of toughness is very important among boys, and anything
that can prove that toughness is pursued by them. I remember that I obtained
most of my scars as a youngster proving that I was just as tough as the rest
of the kids. And I didnít even want to! I didnít want to climb power poles
and mix it up with high voltage electric lines and things like that, but one
had to. If you didnít take a dare, you lost face. I donít know how many
people are killed playing chicken because itís easier to die than to be
labeled a chicken by all your peers. Many a Mexican man has received a few
slices with a knife because it was easier to go through a knife fight with a
challenger than to be literally ostracized from normal social acceptance. In
Puerto Rico I know that is the big thing, and
Q:†††† Nevertheless, those cultures have had a strong influence in our country.
RK:† Well, their emigrants helped build the
Q:†††† Youíve been saying there are forms of that in Western society. Does that mean that Eastern societies have grown past that?
RK:† Talking about Eastern societies is too
remote for most of us, but they have their own problems. It is important for
us to realize that most of those countries are strongly patriarchal.
Q:†††† On an individual level of feelings like jealousy or inadequacyóthose types of thingsóis there ever any justification for feeling that way?
RK:† Not in the overall view of things, no. But so far as your training by everybody around you is concerned, you could hardly respond any other way. It has been so thoroughly bred into you.
Q:†††† Are there specific conditioning events that can be gotten in touch with by an individual in order to decondition himself? In other words, do those feelings have a root in some specific events?
RK:† The answer to that is yes. You were conditioned by everybody that you have come in contact with. Practically everyone will tell a kid that little boys canít cry because good little soldiers never cry, even though the doctor is sewing up the gap in his leg that takes ten stitches. He canít cry in front of the nurse, and the doctor doesnít want to put up with howling. What eventually happens is that you cut yourself off from your own natural emotional responses in order to inure yourself against fear and pain. The end result of feeling guilty about natural emotions is that you end up being rigid and stoic and unfeeling. Itís then hard to be empathetic with someoneís fear and pain where youíre trying to suppress and deny those very feelings in yourself. The logical conclusion of these self-denials is to become as insensitive as possible to all of the things that little girls are permitted to experience. If a little girl scrapes her knee, then she is expected to cry and she is comforted as she cries. Little boys, on the other hand, are likely to be scolded for such natural responses, and they are shamed into silence. Fathers are likely to be embarrassed by a son who cries, and he might well tell his son, ďStop it! Youíre acting just like a girl.Ē
Q:†††† So girls are allowed to reach out for emotional support?
RK:† Well, everyone needs emotional support during rough times. People who grow up without emotional support grow up to be non-human, literally. Do you have any argument with that?
Q: ††† No, I agree. But I have been reading a book that kind of explains that when you reach out for emotional support that means you donít feel well enough in yourself to give yourself emotional support.
RK:† I canít go along with that. That is just a
continuation of the very thing that I am talking about. That book implies
that you are less of a person if you turn to anybody for assistance. That is
why men donít go to doctors; they may suffer from lung disease and cancer and
heart trouble but wonít seek professional assistance because that would be an
admission of not being in control of yourself. To depend on some other person
implies being a weakling. That really isnít so. But a man tends to believe
that inside his own head because it is a logical extension from all of the
things he was told he mustnít do as a little boy if he hoped to grow up and
be a real man. The kind of things that you have to do to save face as a
teen-ager are incredible. One of the reasons that I grew separate from my
peers in High School is that I already had some basic infor≠mation from Dr.
Q:†††† Your credibility broke down?
RK: Right, and so I didnít answer the dares any longer, but that put me outside of that level of society. But I found 5 or six other guys in my school who believed the same way that I did, and we got along great and didnít have any problem with one another.
Q:†††† Refugees from the pits?
RK:† That was very well put. Because that is what we really were. We were on top of the heap, but we werenít even sure of that at the time because we realized that we were not posturing in all the super masculine kinds of things that we were otherwise expected to do. That is where all the lying arises between teen-agers about how many girls they are making out with. ďWho have you had lately?Ē And if you canít come up with a girlís name, your own name is mud for a week. Itís silly, isnít it? Now, as you look back at it, some of the things you were obliged to put up with in High School were simply ridiculous. But you didnít know that at the time you were so earnestly trying to comply with what was expected of you.
Q:†††† I would have sold out a long time ago if somebody would have bought me. What happened in my case was that each different clique or group wasnít sure that I was quite all right.
RK:† Not belonging is very hurtful. No matter how you try to tell yourself that such rejection is really okay, it nevertheless bothers you.
Q:†††† Maybe what you were saying about men a while back, about their having this burden of being the destroyers, is what Mexican men mean when they say that they need a woman as consolation for their pain in the world. What pain do they have when the women do all of the work in the fields and then come home and work, cook and take care of the children. On the surface, what could be such a manís problem? I havenít heard anyone say what the pain is that these men have to bear. Maybe itís the pain of having the feeling of being destroyers and the struggle to maintain an image of machismo.
RK:† Itís exhausting being guilted by their society. They have become convinced they are one of the destroyers, and that puts them out of touch with the church. The church is telling them about the Savior (who is regarded as somewhat matriarchal) and all of the things that one has to do to be a good person, and all the while their society is telling them they are evil. Thatís a kind of no-win stand-off.
Q:†††† A man in my Puerto Rican culture can beat his wife with license any time, but that has to give guilt. Boys are brought up with total permission to be as bad as they want and do just about anything.
RK:† Well, I suppose the assumption is that the boys are naturally bad. Then the unspoken message all the time is, ďYou are just naturally bad. You are going to hell no matter what happens. Your Sainted mother is going to heaven, but you are going to the other place.Ē That kind of attitude of permissive≠ness toward males must eventually lead to the rebellion that women rightfully have begun. That machismo stuff belongs back in the Dark Ages. But there is danger that the current womenís rebellion can go overboard. When people finally get to the point where they should rebel, and they build up a head of steam to overcome the opposition they expect, they usually build up so much momentum that their rebellion goes past the point of best effectiveness. Then there is backlash; and so it goes, back and forth. As Martin Luther commented, ďMankind is like a drunk trying to get on his horse. He climbs up on one side and falls off the other side, then he climbs up from that other side and falls off again over the opposite side. He canít find the middle balance so he can go someplace on the horse.Ē
Q:†††† I have a conflict on how to handle some feelings. Say that you are in a situation where you feel anger at something or someone. On one side I get the sentiment that you should feel that anger and find a constructive outlet for the anger. I mean go home and beat on the bed with a tennis racket or go out in the cornfields and shout at the sky. So if you are angry at a co-worker or something, donít blister his ear but find a harmless outlet for it. On the other hand there is the sentiment that says transmute that anger. Say, ďYes, I am angry. That means that something is frustrating or threatening me. What is it that I want and what am I going to do to get what I want?Ē And thus rationalize yourself through the anger. Which way is right?
RK:† Both can work, depending upon where you happen to be at the moment in your thinking or feelings. They are just two techniques for helping to get over it. Anger rarely resolves anything, and the person who suffers the most from your anger is you. So you have to rationally decide if the anger is justifiable and what should be done about the cause. Do you straighten yourself out because it is not rational for you to be angry or do you point out his wrongful action to the other guy because he is causing that justifiable anger in you. You need to look clearly to penetrate what it is. But just sitting on anger and denying it is destructive. Continually stuffing down anger ends up as hypertension and ulcers and things of that sort, which means that you really didnít properly deal with it. You didnít discharge your anger, you just internalized it; and it is now attacking your body rather than somebody elseís.
Q:†††† In view of that, should we perhaps put thought or energy into constructive discharges of anger in addition to rational analysis and transmutation of it? In other words, give them both validity and both free expression for a given person in a given space?
RK:† I canít disagree with that. Whatever works for you.
Q:†††† I have found that I tended to use both, and I havenít found yet where the line is.
RK:† Well, I justified both for you. The question that most people should ask is why am I feeling this anger? Why is this situation pushing my buttons to such an extent that I am feeling anger? Letís say you are a corporation boss. You tell somebody that you want something done a certain way and he says, ďNo, I donít think that is the best way to do it.Ē Some bosses are going to think, ďGee, maybe this guy has a better idea. Letís hear what he has to say.Ē And other bosses may say, ďThis guy is challenging my authority.Ē Well, if you feel weak on authority, then you are going to get mad because he has now threatened your possible loss of face.
Q:†††† What about sadness or grief? Can this be dissipated through rational processing? Letís say, ďI am feeling sad. Why am I feeling sad? I am feeling sad because I lost something. What does that really mean to me?Ē And so on. Or should I cry it out to completion? Are both valid forms of moving through this?
RK:† The emotions which are not likely to result in destructive behavior are probably best just expressed. Just experience them through, and then be done with them. But when somebody gets to murderous feelings as a result of anger, obviously that is not socially acceptable. Itís important to find some way to transmute anger, even though it isnít easy. Of course, the ideal is to be so secure within yourself that nobody threatens you so much as to make you angry. Anger arises when you feel you have been threatened with something that makes you fearful or with something which causes you the possibility of losing face.
Q:†††† Speaking of fear, that emotion seems to be a little tougher to deal with than the other ones. A lot of times I experience angry feelings to cover my fear.
RK:† You can draw on your own inner strength by confronting what frightens you, and that involves the virtue of Courage in what is primarily an intellectual process. In other cases sometimes a thing to do is turn to another person for support and say, ďHelp me through this,Ē so that you donít have to go it alone. Both of those options are valid. A man in this country, however, is less likely to take the last alternative. He will try to deal with it through his own resources; and if those resources arenít really up to the situation, he may break under the stress rather than turning to somebody for assistance. Even if that support be his faith in God or Christ. You can see that sometimes we are programmed to not do things which are in our best interest. In even a simple, non-threatening situation, men are reluctant to ask for help. My father, for instance, would sooner drive fifty miles in a wandering search rather than stop and ask directions to a place he hasnít been before.