spring afternoon some sixteen years ago, a staff psychologist
at a Nebraska mental hospital summoned me to his office
for a follow-up consultation about the battery of psychological
tests which I had taken as an incoming alcoholic patient.
I dreaded the interview, as I did almost any discussion
which focused on my personal shortcomings and problems.
the psychologist was tactful and knew how to present
an unpleasant truth in the most digestible form possible.
He told me some things which helped me understand why
I had been in trouble. Most important, he brought me
to see that I suffered deeply from emotional immaturity.
"You have a difficulty that is common to the majority
of Americans," he said, scanning my file folder. "Emotional
immaturity. Some people handle it differently than you
did and therefore have less grief with it. But they
have basically the same disturbance. In your case, emotional
immaturity externalized as a severe drinking problem.
This is not all to the bad, for it's at least an indication
that you were trying to resolve your conflicts."
method of explaining my problems took much of the sting
out of the term "emotional immaturity"--a designation
that I would have found frightening otherwise. I hated
any suggestion that I was somehow less adequate or less
mature than others. Ironically, much of my immature
and absurd behavior had actually been produced by a
frantic desire to prove that I was acceptable and equal
to others. But ever since my discussion with this psychologist,
I've never had much trouble accepting "emotional immaturity"
as a basic problem which I must constantly recognize
and overcome. Apparently many immature people are able
to live with considerable comfort and even happiness.
Alcoholics, however, are in the group of immature people
whose problems cause endless misery for themselves and
for others. Drinking problems and patterns may have
a lot of diversity, but the one common characteristic
of alcoholics, so say the experts, is emotional immaturity.
groping for methods and ideas that would aid me in my
own search for maturity, I've read books and articles
dealing with the subject. The best source of help, of
course, has been AA. After sixteen years of steady activity
in AA as well as constant outside reading and study,
I'm sure that I've made substantial progress. Yet I'm
often reminded that the journey has only begun, that
the goal of arriving at true maturity always lies somewhere
out in the future.
you can measure
towards that goal, however, is possible and measurable.
How do you know when you're arriving at a new level
in the growth towards maturity? I would define such
a realization as a deep conviction of personal freedom;
the individual becomes conscious of being free from
the limitations, uncertainty and anxiety that always
resulted from his own uncontrollable emotions and impulses.
is rather surprising that freedom should define maturity
in my thinking today, for I sought complete freedom
when I drank and often thought I had it. But this too
was immaturity, for what I called freedom was not real
freedom at all. It was only irresponsibility and the
wish to avoid any obligation, unpleasantness or discomfort.
Now I'm sure that the freedom of maturity is a state
of mind and spirit more than anything else, and it is
available to anybody who truly seeks it; the prisoner
in his cell can find it, for it does not depend on outer
conditions which usually characterize "freedom." Members
of AA can find it more easily than most other people,
because accepting and practicing the Twelve Steps and
activity in the AA Fellowship naturally result in emotional
like some of the ideas in a paper called "A Look at
Emotional Maturity," issued by a college in southern
Michigan. The authors of the paper point
out that many individuals who seek freedom of action
in certain areas may actually be reacting as a result
of fears which they never could quite face. As an example,
they cite the case of great-grandfather back in the
last century, who drove strangers off his land at gunpoint
or solved the problem of bothersome neighbors by pulling
up stakes and moving west. These actions, though daring
and bold on the surface, may have been a form of running
away; great-grandfather might not have been free where
it really counted--in his own mind. In other words,
he may have been the slave of his own emotional immaturity.
authors of the paper regard maturity as effective or
adequate adaptation to inner and outer stress and strain.
The lack of sufficient maturity, they say, is most commonly
revealed in stress situations by reactions which they
term "fear," "flight" and "fight." The reactions of
alcoholics certainly belong in these groupings.
an illustration of an immature reaction which involves
both "fear" and "flight," the authors cite the case
of a store manager who arrived at work on a Monday morning
to discover that his failure to adjust the refrigeration
at Saturday's closing had caused the spoilage of frozen
foods. His reaction? He simply relocked the store and
fled, not to be found until late afternoon. Meanwhile
an assistant arrived at work and solved the problem.
another case studied, an executive would blow up on
the job and fly into temper tantrums. For several days
afterward he would sneak into his own office by a private
entrance, seeing only his secretary. And in still another
case of personal immaturity--one which might be termed
the "fight" method of reacting--a machine shop foreman
would throw things and shout obscenities at a workman
who had made a mistake.
course these victims of immaturity--like alcoholics--usually
lead troubled lives and, in actual practice, have far
less freedom to control their affairs than do emotionally
stable people. The immature person's way of life, the
authors of the paper say, is the way of the slave and
the automaton. It is the way of failure, disappointment,
misery and strife.
to do about it? The answer, of course, lies in the direction
of self-improvement, of achieving personal growth and
maturity. The paper does not outline a route or offer
a method such as the Twelve Steps. It does, however,
suggest several qualities of character which seem to
be present in mature persons. The individual's job is
to face himself as he really is (personal inventory)
and to seek more of the good qualities in himself, thus
becoming mature or "growing up."
surprisingly, one condition for growth seems to be the
development of definite principles as well as purpose.
The paper says, "Whatever one calls it, a balanced life
calls for goals, beliefs, and baselines which act as
a guide for the thought and action of an individual.
He can think through the what and why before he moves
to the how of his conduct." An AA member who truly follows
the AA way of life is certainly in this group. Such
a person responds to situations, he doesn't react to
them. An insult does not throw him into rage, mistakes
or threats do not cause him to lose control. He remains
in charge of himself. "Why should I let this other person
decide what my conduct should be?" replied a man when
asked why he hadn't struck back at an insult.
second characteristic of the mature person is flexibility,
the ability to roll with the punch. This is not indifference
or resignation; the authors insist that the individual
must keep at his best. But he should have the capacity
to yield gracefully and with no great sense of personal
loss when the occasion calls for it. The mature man
recognizes the need for change and for accommodating
himself at times to the views and wishes of others.
He does not waste his time and energy in a rigid defensive
effort to have his own way all the time. Self-acceptance
seems to be the third quality of mature personality.
The grown-up person has learned to accept himself as
he is and does not lose himself in vain fantasy or a
futile yearning for perfection. He knows that he is
a creature of mistakes and he lives with that reality.
the same time, however, he perceives his own possibilities
for improvement and growth. He may never become perfect,
but if he continues to try, he will get better. That
knowledge alone is enough to lift today's efforts and
problems to a higher plane in his attitude toward them.
last quality named is courage, indispensable in the
freedom of maturity. Without courage, no person could
face himself in the first place, or go through the enormous
personal effort and heartache that usually accompany
growth. It is courage that gives the individual his
to solve your problems
may seem an oversimplification to say that a person
is mature when he has principles, possesses a certain
flexibility, accepts himself, and knows a measure of
courage. But it's certain that this person has great
freedom of choice in his approach to life. He is no
longer limited to a range of actions that include only
fearing, fighting, or fleeing. He has the power to solve
his problems in the best possible way rather than simply
reacting to them in negative ways that always make the
trouble worse. He can banish fear, he can push aside
the temptation to fight or to "blow up," and in a tough
situation he can put down the temptation to panic and
run away (which is essentially the alcoholic's temptation
to take the first drink).
was said about a spiritual way of life in the paper
by the Hillsdale College authors, but I'm convinced
that it is only through spiritual growth that a person
becomes truly mature. It is the spiritual way that furnishes
the guidance as well as the power (knowledge of His
will for us and the power to carry that out). Through
spiritual experience, an individual grows into the kind
of person whom the world calls mature. This mature person
is a remarkably free person. He is free to be himself
as he never could be under bondage to emotional immaturity.
He is the person who has the serenity to accept the
things he cannot change, the courage to change the things
he can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Hillsdale College Leadership Letter, Hillsdale, Michigan,
October, 1964. Issued by the Leadership Workshop and
edited by Laurence J. Taylor, Vice President for Leadership