9 signs you’re dealing with an emotionally immature person, according to psychology

Being an adult is hard. We’ve got to pay bills, hold jobs we hate sometimes, deal with infuriating people…

And smile while we’re at it! 

But we do it because we’re supposed to be wise and mature the older we get. We’re supposed to get a handle on our emotions so we can be respectful, functioning members of society. 

Unfortunately, some people didn’t get the memo. And oftentimes, they didn’t choose to “get” it. They may simply have been raised in a way that didn’t nurture emotional intelligence. 

So, they’re stuck in an emotionally stunted phase, and they grow up to be emotionally immature even as adults. 

How do you know if you’re dealing with an emotionally immature person? Here are 9 signs you are, according to psychology: 

1) They refuse to listen

Cue an image of a person with his fingers in his ears and singing “lalalala…” while someone speaks to them…

Not all emotionally immature adults do this (although I’ve encountered a few who did!) – this behavior is usually associated with sassy and headstrong teenagers. 

So, if they’re well past that teenage phase and they’re still doing it – or the more subtle adult version like rolling eyes or refusing to make eye contact…you can conclude that they’re emotionally immature

Emotional maturity means you understand how important listening is in relationships. 

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD explains, “Active listening requires de-centering from one’s fixed position to be fully present with another. It helps people feel more understood and strengthens relationships as it signals a willingness to sit with the other’s perspective and empathy for their situation instead of singular focus on oneself.”

2) They have outbursts when frustrated

Aside from not listening, they may lash out or fly off the handle when frustrated. 

That’s because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop emotion regulation. Which is, let’s be real, a huge part of being a mature adult and a decent member of society. 

Otherwise, we’d all be yelling at one another, maybe even throwing things and hitting. We’d all be having meltdowns everywhere, and nothing productive would ever get done.

It would just be a world full of extremely tall and old children! 

3) They get down and dirty during arguments

Speaking of emotion regulation, one thing emotionally immature people do is to go low during conflicts. 

I’m talking about nasty behavior like:

  • Name-calling and insults
  • Mocking or sarcastic comments
  • Bringing up past mistakes
  • Refusing to listen or interrupting constantly
  • Gaslighting or manipulating the facts
  • Stonewalling or giving the silent treatment
  • Using guilt as a weapon
  • Threatening or using ultimatums
  • Playing the victim to deflect blame

It’s next to impossible trying to get them to see your point. It can feel a lot like reasoning with a toddler – all emotions and no logic. 

4) They can get manipulative to get what they want

As you can see from the list earlier, they aren’t above manipulative tactics to wrangle you into giving them what they want. 

Basically, what it shows is that they have a problem with respecting other people’s choices. That’s the exact opposite of being emotionally mature.

Psychiatrist Dr. Sonal Anand says, “Those who are emotionally immature are unable to deal with challenging emotions and may instead turn to childish play strategies to get their way. This destructive behavior can destroy a lovely connection or relationship.”

I’ve been in a relationship with such a person, and I admit that it took me a while to recognize the cajoling, wheedling, and guilt-tripping as manipulative tactics. 

But eventually, the veil was lifted and I could see clearly how my boundaries were constantly being disrespected. 

5) They are impulsive

Since they can’t handle their emotions, immature people engage in impulsive behavior a lot. They have this need for instant gratification…doesn’t that sound very much like a child? 

What does this look like in an adult? 

  • Overindulging (e.g. eating, drinking, substance abuse, binge-watching, shopping, etc.) to deal with stress
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Making big life decisions on a whim
  • Frequent stopping and starting over

Don’t get me wrong, overindulging from time to time is completely normal. I myself have spent many weekends bingeing on show after show. 

But if it’s a pattern of impulsive, thoughtless behavior, that’s more than just the occasional “I don’t want to do adulting today” behavior we all engage in. 

It’s emotional immaturity. There’s a clear lack of foresight and an emphasis on doing what feels good in the moment. Which brings me to my next point…

6) They do what feels best

signs youre dealing with a really emotionally immature person according to psychology 9 signs you’re dealing with an emotionally immature person, according to psychology

Look, I’d be the first to say that sometimes I wish I could act on whatever feels good for me. I’d love to just sit on the couch and drink rosé all day, while gorging on chocolate-covered potato chips. 

I’d love to tell my next-door neighbor to take his booming stereo and stick it where the sun don’t shine. 

And oohhh, I would love to tell my smug cousin that ‘no one really cares about your endless opinions on our lives, Susan!’

See where I’m going with this? I’d love to do a lot of childish things, but I don’t because I try to be mature about it. Like I said earlier, if all of us went by how we feel and used zero logic, the world would be full of bickering adult children. 

That’s how you can tell someone’s emotionally immature – they make decisions based solely on what they feel, never mind if it doesn’t make sense. 

Researchers advocate decision-making with not just emotion or reason alone, but with a balance of the two. 

7) They can’t take responsibility for their mistakes

If you call emotionally immature people out on their bad behavior, guess what? It’s never their fault. 

The lack of accountability should tell you that they’re operating from a juvenile mindset. Part of being an adult is owning up to your mistakes. Understanding how your actions have a ripple effect – that they affect others just as much as yourself. 

I’ve been watching this Netflix show called “First and Last”, which is about inmates’ first and last days in an Atlanta prison. It’s quite the showcase of emotional immaturity as you can really see the lack of accountability. 

Some inmates see being put in jail as “unfair” and they “don’t understand it”. Clearly, they can’t make the connection between their actions and the consequences. 

And I remember thinking, well that doesn’t bode well for their future. Because once they get out of jail, they’d likely do the same thing again – if you don’t see what needs to be changed, how can you change it, right? 

As wholeness coach Alex Rood says in this post:

“Developing the skill of accountability empowers us to take control of our emotional responses. In this empowered state, we take responsibility for our emotions, gain the ability to regulate them effectively, and become less reactive and more intentional in how we express and manage those emotions.”

That’s what emotional maturity looks like. 

8) Empathy is hard for them

Psychology says that empathy is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence. That’s why emotionally immature people find it so hard to do. 

Empathy calls for an openness to others’ perspectives. Unfortunately, the emotionally immature are kinda preoccupied with themselves. 

There’s no room for other people – “it’s not about them, it’s about me!” 

This self-centered outlook makes it challenging for them to step outside of their own experiences and consider the feelings and situations of others. 

Instead of trying to understand where someone else is coming from, their focus is on how the situation affects them. So, their response can be insensitive or downright dismissive. 

For instance, I once had coffee with a friend, and the conversation turned to the current housing crisis. 

I was expressing my concerns about how more and more people were finding it hard to afford the rising rent prices with all the new developments going on. 

Her response was, “I’m sure it will be fine, they can move if they don’t like it then. At least they won’t have to bear with this constant construction and noise like I do!” 

Talk about tone-deaf, huh? 

9) Compromise is tough too

Given that self-centered attitude, you can see how compromising would be difficult for them as well. 

According to WebMD, immature people “dislike compromise and don’t want to take other people’s ideas into account.”

Remember, it’s always about them. They will likely only compromise if they see what’s in it for them, rather than seeing how it benefits the other person and the relationship as a whole. 

Final thoughts

Aside from these unpleasant behaviors, I would like to add that it’s also worth paying attention to how you feel around them. 

Do they make you feel uncomfortable? Frustrated? Do you find yourself feeling drained after interactions with them

These emotional responses can be telling signs that you’re dealing with someone who lacks emotional maturity. 

Dealing with them requires a balance of compassion and firm boundaries. Of course, it’s always good to understand where they’re coming from and be patient, but not if it comes at the expense of your own emotional health. 

Set clear boundaries and express your needs and expectations firmly. And step away if it becomes too much. 

It can feel a lot like dealing with a child, but remember, it’s not your job to fix them. 

Picture of Roselle Umlas

Roselle Umlas

I am a freelance writer with a lifelong interest in helping people become more reflective and self-aware so that they can communicate better and enjoy meaningful relationships.

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