Model of Maturity

The following is an integration of material from Life Model Works and what I have learn while coaching and mentoring people over the last forty years.

TL;DR

  • We first learn about love from our families. These first lessons inform our attachment style.
  • We mature in love which starts with accepting love and can grow into us being able to give love to people who are outside our family and even community.
  • A significant part of maturing is learning to manage our emotions which is different from controlling our emotions. This allow us to return to a healthy state.
  • Trauma retards growing in maturity until it is properly processed.
  • Classic “spiritual disciples” are tools we use to grow and process life. These disciplines help us to turn our emotions into servants rather than our masters.

Love is the Measure and Goal

We were made by God to experience love in the context of relationships. A concise definition of this sort of Godly love is:

willing good toward someone else, independent of what you get in return

This type of love is a verb and requires us to make choices and take actions.  This is a love that is offered with no expectation of a response or reciprocation.  

The most important task set before each of us by God is learning how to love. Our ability and willingness to love others is the best measure of our maturity.

Attachments

God provided marriage and the family to make love concrete. Our relationship with our parents is the first, and often the strongest influence of our understanding of what love is.  These early experiences frames our understanding of love which is called our attachments style. 

Attachment theory postulates that there are four common patterns for this parent / child interaction. The attachment style we learned from our parent will affect how we form attachments with people and with God later in life. A healthy attachment allows us to take risks.

ATTACHMENT STYLESParent Unable to LoveParent Able to Love
Child feels Worthy of LoveDismissive-Avoidant: Often maintain some distance from their partners. They may feel that they don’t need close relationships and can be self-sufficient. They often seek independence and can appear to avoid attachment altogether.
Secure (Healthy): Comfortable with emotional closeness and are also able to depend on others and have others depend on them. In relationships, they are generally honest, open, and equal, with a balance of giving and receiving.
Child feels Unworthy of LoveFearful-Avoidant/Disorganized: Desire emotional closeness but tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional intimacy. They often struggle to trust others and to depend on them, fearing being hurt if they allow themselves to become too close.Anxious-Preoccupied: Seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. They can be overly dependent on their relationships for their self-esteem. They often worry about their partner’s willingness to love them and are generally insecure about their relationships.

It’s important to note that people are not stuck in any particular attachment style.  It is possible for people to learn to have healthy attachments. Indeed, learning to have healthy attachments is a key aspect of growing into maturity.

Stages of Development

Maturing in love starts with accepting love and ends with us being able to give love to people who we have no connection to.  There is a natural progression for people with a healthy / secure attachments. This progression can be broken into stages that are built on top of each other. To truly mature requires developing the skills in each stage before progressing to the next stage.

  • Infant: Learning to receive care and comfort
  • Child: Able to ask for what’s needed. Able to self care.  Learn to work hard. Learning to return to joy from negative emotions
  • Adult: Both centered. Act as yourself and return to joy, and take responsibility for one’s actions
  • Parent: Able to sacrifice without looking for anything in return. Nurture your children and help them return to joy
  • Elder: Be a parent to the community. Will adopt those without family.

Emotional Regulation

No one can “control” their emotions. Emotions are unconscious and can’t be directly controlled. There is no healthy way to “stop feeling” emotions. That said, it’s possible, in fact healthy, to choose how we respond to our emotions.

While we can’t control our emotions, a significant part of maturing is learning to manage our emotions which allow us to return to a healthy state, much like an immune system fights off an infection. I like to say our emotions are like the sensors on a car. When emotions rise up it’s a signal saying “There is something you should notice”. Often it means something needs attention. Sometimes it’s an overly sensitive detector. As we mature and make good decisions we are able to do/up regulate our emotions. To see a bit of joy and fan it into something big. To feel a bit of anger, recognize that we are misinterpreting a situation and calm down. In most case, pausing for 30 second to a few minutes before responding to a strong emotion is a good idea.

Road Blocks to Maturity

Deprivation

The lack of healthy attachment (deprivation), and/or severe trauma will result in a person failing to go through this progression which makes it impossible for them to mature in love.

Trauma

Trauma retards our maturity until it is properly processed.  People often partition off trauma which lets them cope in the moment but causes problems in the future.  Trauma reduces our ability to learn because we are avoiding looking at the issue.

Overcoming Roadblocks

The solution, no matter the age of a person, is to develop relationships with people who can form healthy attachments, and then to progressively develop these skills. People can’t progress unless they are in the context of a health community. Thankfully, people who are chronologically adults with extensive life experience can develop skills in months to a year that take a younger individual years to develop.

Spiritual disciples are the tools we use to grow and process life. These disciplines help us to turn our emotions into servants rather than our masters.

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