Develop emotional maturity by recognizing choices

Gwen Randall-Young

Everyone wants to live peacefully. The most important peace is inner peace because all else flows from that. Anything can happen outside of ourselves that can threaten our inner peace, but we cannot totally blame outside circumstances for a lack of peace within ourselves. Nor can we wait for everything in our lives to fall into place (the way we want) before we can experience happiness or calm.
Some approach life like a person in a cold house, who goes outside and yells at the winter, then comes back in and sits dejectedly, perhaps angrily, shivering and lamenting the unfairness of it all, rather than turning up the heat, building a fire, or moving to a warmer climate. They may tell everyone who comes to visit how terrible the coldness is, and how unfair life is. In fact, they may rarely speak of anything else.
Those who choose to share in the misery and reinforce this kind of thinking may feel that they are helping, but they are not. Yes they are supporting the person, but they are supporting them in staying stuck, helpless, and bitter. Some get so drawn in that they also go out and yell at the winter, and at anyone they feel may be responsible for the winter. The weatherman is on the hit list because he described the weather conditions accurately, and maybe even predicted winter. This is polarity thinking (good guy/bad guy; right/wrong) and is at the source of a lot of human misery.
The pain that one feels when thinking this way is not caused by what’s out there, it is caused by his/her own way of thinking. Developing emotional maturity means recognizing that we have choices in how we choose to think about things. The two-year-old can only think one way about his toy. “It’s mine!” He thinks this because the toy is in his hand, not because he has ownership. The five-year-old may recognize that you have to share, but still do it grudgingly. By ten, a child may willingly choose to share, because he is learning the give and take of life, and he wants to be fair. Then at fifteen, the child may give a possession to a friend out of love and caring. By eighteen, he might purchase toys to give to others he doesn’t even know. At forty he might head up a campaign to raise funds for the homeless.
There is a hierarchy in thinking, not just about sharing, but about all human interactions, and the greater our access to the higher levels, the more mature we are. We also need to be able to recognize when we are functioning at the lower levels so that we do not live our lives in a constant tantrum state. Tantrums might work for a while, but sooner or later people resort to the common wisdom about these behaviors, which is to ignore, step over, and move away.
So if you feel you are caught in polarity thinking, try to broaden your perspective, or ask a trusted friend to really help you to explore aspects of the situation you might be missing. If you can only see it one way, you haven’t got all the learning that the situation has come to teach you. So, it, or another one like it, may come to you again.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit