HEALTHAre You Emotionally Stunted?

Are You Emotionally Stunted?

We’re all adults here, aren’t we? Or are we? Do you sometimes think your partner behaves like a spoiled child? Might they describe you the same way? Do arguments that start small quickly escalate to shouting matches, crying and stony silences? 

Are you frustrated because no matter how loudly you make your point, no one ever hears what you’re trying to say? When things go off the rails, are you quick to assign blame? Do you or your partner often have to apologize for cruel things said in the heat of the moment or do you bully others to get your way? Do you feel bullied by your partner or your colleagues? 

Are you always trying to be the strongest, the smartest, or the most successful in any group, even if that makes others uncomfortable or resentful? 

If any, or all, of these examples seem familiar to you, you’ll be surprised to learn that this entire can of psychological worms may be attributed to a single, surprising cause: emotional stunting, the technical term for the failure to achieve an adult-level of maturity. Like a plant deprived of the space, nutrients, water or sunlight that it needs to grow, an emotionally-stunted personality reaches a certain stage and then stops, unable to finish the maturation process. Emotional stunting can be the result of seemingly contradictory factors that range from smothering parents who refuse to allow independence, to neglectful parents who withdraw love and support at critical developmental stages. Sometimes, emotional stunting is the result of traumatic events so painful and damaging that normal emotional development is derailed. Whatever the cause, the outcome is often dysfunctional relationships and difficulty living, working and dealing with others.

Are you the strong, silent type?

Our culture has an unhealthy tendency to glorify heroes who seem emotionless and  immune to grief, anguish or sadness – but while they make great movie characters, they’re terrible friends or partners.  Emotions are embedded in our higher brain functions and suppressing them is next to impossible and won’t make them go away. Often, emotionally stunted people refuse to allow themselves to grieve after a significant loss or trauma, such as a serious injury or illness, or the death of a loved one – and that’s an unfortunate mistake.  

Let’s get growing

If emotional stunting is an issue in your life, what are your options? Can growth still be fostered? Can emotional maturity be reached? It can – but it won’t be easy. As is the case with so many issues in our lives, the first step is identifying and admitting that there is a problem…and that can be tough. Take an honest look at the examples of emotionally stunted behavior at the beginning of this article. Recognize any?

If the behaviors are yours, acknowledging them is an important step. Congratulations! Next step? Planning positive alternatives. If your automatic response to any frustrating situation is to lose your temper, shout, or slam doors, plan an alternative now – while you’re calm and rational. Will any of this be easy? No.  But making positive change never is.  In happier days to come, you might look back and call these strategies taking the high road, or tapping into your better self…or you might just call it becoming an adult.

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