The Ways We Remain Immature Children, Even as Mature Adults

Humans are inherently selfish, but we also have a deep-seeded sense of altruism. We can love and care for others even as our personal needs dictate that the world be an entirely different place. Some people want to change this instinctive behavior by forming communities based on principles of cooperation rather than self-interest. But how do you go about doing so?

We may be adults, but we still have a lot of immaturity that we need to work on. The “33 marks of maturity” are the ways in which we remain immature children even as mature adults.

An adult looking in the mirror.

When individuals talk about growing up, they often say things like, “When you’re young, you assume grownups have it all together.” But as an adult, you understand that grown-ups don’t know what they’re doing, either!” This is treated as if it were some sort of conspiratorial secret — a universal but unspoken reality.

But it’s mostly nonsense, a rationalization for continuing to flail as you get older. We personally know a lot of folks who have it together, who know what they’re doing, and who can function as responsible adults. While everyone goes through constant, sometimes crisis-filled seasons of change and encounters uncharted, initially perplexing territory throughout their lives, by the time you reach your thirties, you should have developed a reasonable amount of emotional and practical intelligence — a set of adaptable mental tools that allows you to adequately grapple with any problem, no matter how novel. If you haven’t acquired such a talent, something went wrong with your upbringing or the personal development path you choose; in any case, this absence should be addressed rather than ignored as a universality.

Nonetheless, although everyone should strive for more maturity (as defined by these 33 points), it is a condition that can never be fully achieved. Given human nature’s inherent flaws and the shortness of life, portions of our self will always be immature, no matter how old we are.

And this truth should be known and accepted, not so that it may be used to justify childish conduct, but so that we can have more compassion for ourselves and others.

So, utilizing ideas from Harry and Bonaro Overstreet’s The Mind Alive (1954), which identifies four ways in which “the human being stays a kid throughout his life,” we’ll analyze these areas of perpetual immaturity today:

Relies on the assistance of others

You are nearly entirely reliant on adults for your food, housing, clothes, routine, entertainment, and decision-making while you are a youngster. As you get older, you become more self-reliant and independent… but never completely.

In a practical sense, this is obvious: we don’t produce our food, manufacture our vehicles, or generate the media we consume, and even the most handy among us must periodically call a plumber or employ a contractor.

But, when it comes to the worlds of emotion and intellect, our lifelong reliance is also true.   

Nobody can be in charge and in control all of the time; everyone has to know they can rely on others from time to time. There are moments in life when it is necessary to take a vacation from caring for others in order to care for oneself. According to the Overstreets, there is a kind of reliance that a person “wants to preserve — and must be allowed to keep,” which includes:


When he is overtired, lonely, dissatisfied, or simply feeling silly and irresponsible, he takes a break from maturity and lets someone else be’strong’ in his place. If he doesn’t have a chance to abdicate his adulthood on a regular basis, he will abdicate it unhealthily all of the time.

It’s not only an issue of being able to depend on others emotionally on occasion; it’s also a matter of being able to transfer your power to others. It’s stressful to be the only decision maker in every.single.decision. Even grownups need to surrender from time to time. “Just tell me precisely what to eat,” individuals say when they hire a nutrition or fitness coach. “Just tell me what exercise I should perform.” It’s also why religion appeals; even the most mature, self-actualized adult finds constructing a fully DIY meaning for life burdensome and paralyzing.

There are times when you just want someone else to give you the recipe, pass on the directions, or tell you what to do, regardless of your age.

Is Perplexed About Himself

“Every typical adolescent… is always trying to figure out who he is, where he comes from, where he fits in, what he wants to do, what he ought to do, and what he can and cannot accomplish,” the Overstreets note.

Even as we grow older, we continue to be perplexed about ourselves and our place in the world; in fact, these feelings can only grow stronger as the questions we ask become more profound and complex, and the answers we believe we receive turn out to be incorrect, or we inexplicably fail to act on what we know to be true.

Indeed, because of our “many-sided nature,” we often have conflicting urges that never entirely resolve. This reality makes us realize how reliant we are on others. “[An adult] never outgrows the desire for someone to whom he can turn for insights beyond his own; to whom he can express his misgivings about himself; and who makes him feel entire even when he seems to himself to be a welter of bits that do not fit together,” the Overstreets wrote. “But he needs someone,” says the sounding board, which might be a spouse, friend, mentor, or clergyman.

Unresolved Social/Relational Issues

A youngster is always learning what is required of him, the rules, what is acceptable, and what his human environment requires. No one of us ever manages to put this issue to rest once and for all. Even the most personal aspects of our social environment are never totally mastered: we never really comprehend the few individuals with whom we share our lives, nor the breadth and depth of our own field of work. Furthermore, since our social environment is always changing, whatever proficiency we achieve is quickly becoming obsolete.

As the Overstreets realize, no matter how old you are, you will always have moments when you feel uneasy, as if you are a fish out of water, unsure of how to behave or what to say. Every individual you meet is an universe unto himself, with a totally unique set of personality qualities, so you’ll never know exactly how to approach befriending, disagreeing with, leading, or soothing another person. Any person you meet, as well as each place in which a collection of people dwells, is a fresh puzzle to solve. Even when you learn the lay of the many interpersonal lands you navigate, you must update their maps over time, and find new ways to recombine yourself with external realities, because every person and institution, as well as the very fabric of the culture and the structure of the economic marketplace, changes over time, and you change over time.


Capabilities that haven’t been fully developed

A mature person should be competent in areas where he has a responsibility; he should be capable of carrying out the duties and obligations in his life. He should also seek to be a “T-shaped guy,” with expertise in one subject and a breadth of knowledge in many others, by continuing to study throughout his life. However, no one has the time or the desire to become proficient in every topic and talent. The Overstreets make the following observations:

The human being matures not by carrying forward on an even front all of the capabilities with which he was born, but by selectively developing a few of them and integrating them into a functional totality. Because we grow up by ignoring or dismissing parts of our abilities, each of us stays partially underdeveloped. We often say of a guy that he may be an expert in his field, but when it comes to politics, money, science, or anything else, he’s a kid. Every individual is still a youngster in areas where his abilities aren’t much better developed than they were when he was a child.

Maybe you’re a whiz at DIY projects but have no idea how the stock market works. Or maybe you know all there is to know about Russian literature but nothing about hunting. In certain areas of knowledge, every adult is “mature,” but in others, they are “immature.”

Extending Tenderness to the Immature in Yourself and Others and Developing a “Parental Orientation”

Understanding the manner in which all adults are perpetually children may be beneficial in two ways.

For starters, it aids in the development of more self-compassion. It may be disconcerting and depressing as an adult to run across portions of yourself that haven’t matured at the same pace as the rest of you. While you should work to address all of your life’s immaturities, particularly those that impede your personal growth, you should also recognize that continuing to battle with some of the incompleteness you felt as a kid is normal, natural, and unavoidable.

Second, knowing how we stay children helps us in developing greater tolerance with others, allowing us to give them what the Overstreets refer to as “the necessary emotion”: kindness.

The human experience is challenging: it is perplexing, ambiguous, and riddled with traps. There are several methods to disclose one’s immaturities (typically associated with insecurities) to others, whether one is young or elderly.

These humiliations take place in front of others:

In sectors where he is unsure of himself, [an person] faces the authority of public opinion or expert opinion at a variety of moments. He discusses politics and economics, as well as his beliefs on art, education, science, religion, and global events. He also joins groups and assumes duties within them. As he walks into each circumstance, he brings his ignorance as well as his knowledge; his desire for acceptance and support as well as his independence.

And they occur in our most personal relationships, particularly the pressure cooker of marriage, in which a man places himself “in a position where at least one other person is likely to find out what the ways in which he has not grown up and what the nagging concerns that he has about himself.”


Knowing that all of one’s companions are “lonely, bewildered, and yet unfinished in development” might help us be more forgiving of their flaws. As the Overstreets put it,

All of this means that compassion in the human world cannot be reduced to a single feeling that flows in one direction: from parent to child. We have to take turns being ‘parents’ to one another throughout our lives since we all take turns being children. As a result, tenderness — a loving acceptance of what is imperfect but potential of improvement — must be spread so widely across our human community that it becomes a genuine force field. It must be extended from one person’s strength and maturity to the frailty and immaturity of the other.

This is referred to as “parental orientation” by the Overstreets, who define it as “the ability to provide a warm, caring welcome to what is youthful and underdeveloped in a fellow human being.”

Approaching people with gentleness, as if they were children, is necessary not just in marriage, but also in friendships, coworkers, and strangers. It’s not a demand to “pamper individuals or condone wickedness,” nor is it a condescending attitude. Instead, it “establish[s] the only environment we know under which development may take place continually,” the Overstreets argue.

This is to state that blaming and belittling others’ faults as a chance to “humiliate and punish; reprimand and scold,” you are more likely to make the person defensive and/or sad, rather than bringing them closer to learning from their mistakes. If you tackle someone’s immature errors with a “Hey, everyone makes mistakes; here’s another way of looking at or doing this that you could explore,” he or she will have the space and security to genuinely develop from the experience.

When you’re irritated with someone (or yourself), taking a step back and looking at a befuddled eight-year-old in front of you may genuinely help. Just a young man trying to make his way in the world. That kid inside each of us never fully matures and never stops expressing himself.

“The human being needs to receive love as long as he is intellectually and emotionally young in ways that make him feel inadequate and incomplete — which is to say as long as he lives,” the Overstreets conclude.



The “stay immature ad” is a blog post that discusses the ways we remain children, even as mature adults. It’s a great article to read if you’re trying to figure out how to grow up.

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