Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Immaturity

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 10, 2013

 

Immaturity is a curious word in psychotherapy. It is hardly ever used as evidence of psychopathology, and yet, it is a phenomena which explains how some folks do not ever seem to set their lives in the right direction. Graham, sixty-three, is a good example. He is single, never married, and yearns for a relationship. At the same time, he does not tolerate other people’s point of view, and he is easily frustrated when met with decisions that he does not like. If a group of people want to go to a restaurant, he pouts if he does not get to choose. He has never learned the art of compromise, and yet, he feels that the reason for his perpetually lonely life is that he “has just not found the right person.” He does not experience himself as difficult or immature, and yet this is the feedback he has received from those who tried to get close to him. Helping Graham see himself, as others see him, is the first step toward promoting maturity: moving him from a childlike position in the world, to a more grown-up adult who can compromise because he can hold on to a bigger picture. The immaturity speaks to a pressure in each moment, rather than seeing things from a more strategic or global point of view. Compromise is in his self-interest, but at the moment, he does not see things this way. Putting a developmental spin on “difficult” people allows therapists to see the person obstructed from growth, mandating a removal of the obstacles, so that development can resume. In Graham’s case, my hunch is that he is scared to venture forward in life, and this fear inhibits him from maturing. Gently approaching this fear is our work. So, to the difficult question about what I do. I want to say, “I help people grow up.”

6 Responses to “Immaturity”

  1. Shelly said

    Immaturity, or socially inept? How does Graham function in the working environment? Do you see shades of Asperger’s here? Does Graham know how to read social cues and ignore them, or just want things his way? Why do you describe his behavior as immature and not neurotic or pathological in some way?

    • Immature and socially skilled. In the work environment, he is successful, but frustrated by his lack of satisfaction. One could imagine that Graham is on the spectrum, but upon further pursuit, it is clear that he has a good command of social understanding, but he is not able to take the “high road” in social interactions. One could also characterize his behavior as neurotic, but I prefer the developmental understanding, and thereby understand his behavior in terms of developmental arrest. Thanks.

  2. Ashana M said

    He seems to lack perspective-taking skills generally. It isn’t just that he doesn’t see himself as others see him; he can’t see from the perspective of others at all. It’s frustrating to him when others have different opinions because he can’t really grasp that other people have whole edifices of preferences and beliefs that are different from his. That does seem like immaturity, because we usually develop perspective-taking skills in adolescence. Before that it’s much more effortful and we make more errors in doing so. Of course, we struggle with perspective-taking all over again when we are faced with people who are very unlike us. And some people have the skills to take a perspective but simply don’t find other people’s views important enough to consider. That can look like immaturity, but it isn’t: children do find the perspectives of others important, but often need help in considering them. They also sometimes lack the impulse control to follow through with suitable actions. So it would be interesting to know if Graham can consider other people’s views but doesn’t care to, or if he really does struggle with grasping what their views are.

  3. Jon said

    Shelly asks, “immaturity, or socially inept?” I would have initially said that socially ineptness is a subset of immaturity. However, I find that Ashana has a good point in “some people have the skills to take a perspective but simply don’t find other people’s views important enough to consider. That can look like immaturity, but it isn’t: children do find the perspectives of others important, but often need help in considering them. They also sometimes lack the impulse control to follow through with suitable actions.”

    So, let us consider the situation. Is not finding another’s point a view important enough to consider or lack of impulse control not immature? Upon reflection, I would think they are indeed both signs of immaturity, but of different natures. The more I think about it, I am still thinking that indeed socially ineptness is a subset of immaturity. Thoughts or counterexamples?

    • Jon, I think for some socially ineptness is a subset for immaturity, and so with fictional Graham, this applies. However, there are others in which social ineptness is a wiring problem such that these individuals do not have theory of mind. They cannot imagine how people respond to others, and hence they are limited in how they can relate to others. Thanks.

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