Lesson 1 of 7 - free your true Self to guide you

How Mature are You?

Symptoms of
Personal Maturity

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

  The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/maturity.htm

  Updated  01-13-2015

      Clicking underlined links below will open a new window. Other links will open an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups won't display. Finish this article before clicking underlined links to avoid getting sidetracked in prior pages.

      This brief YouTube video hilights key ideas in this article:

      This is one of a series of articles on how to reduce psychological wounds and free your true Self to guide you. This article offers perspective on personal growth and maturity, and proposes sample criteria to assess someone's developmental maturity. The article assumes you're familiar with...

Status Check

      To begin, meditate and rank how you feel about yourself now:

__  I'm very immature

__  I'm appropriately mature for my age

__  I'm very mature

__  I'm gaining maturity (growing personally)

__  I have most or all the requisites for "personal growth" 

__  people who know me would agree with my answers above

Redo this status-check at the end of the article to see how well you know yourself..

Perspective on Personal Maturity

      Pause, breathe, and think of all the adults you know. Who among them would you say is "really mature"? Have you ever thought or said someone was "really immature"? Do you think of yourself as "very mature"? How do you judge that? Here, maturity refers to the level of [mental + emotional + moral + spiritual]  development, not of physical growth.

      Personal maturity can be viewed on two levels: (1) as an absolute, relative to some universal ideal), and (2) as relative to a person's age and neurological functioning (normal or impaired). Be aware of which level you're using as you evaluate someone's status. 

      As a long-time student of human nature, my sense is that most people are only hazily aware of themselves now and over time. They don't spend much time mulling what "personal growth" and "maturity" are and how they're attained (or not). Imagine a 12 year-old asking you "What is maturity?" Try answering that out loud now. Did you say something like "To be mature means being 'grown up,' or a true adult." If so, then how do you judge when someone is 'grown up"?

      Are these just intellectual questions or can they be useful? I propose at least two significant benefits: achieving "maturity" can

  • clarify your personal identity ("I am a wholistically-mature person."), and

  • bolster your self respect and healthy pride.

Human Development 101

      From cells to whales, all living things (like you) progress through a natural cycle of birth, growth, and death. At some point in this cycle, living things - like people - reach their "highest potential," and then their various abilities start to decline. The process of developing your potential can be called maturing.

      Reflect on all the people you have known directly and by reputation. Can you think of several people who are or were extraordinarily able and productive in some ways? Do you feel they've reached their "highest potential"?  Now identify several people you feel "could have done a lot more with their lives" - i.e. who have not reached their highest potential in your opinion. How do you measure that?

      Each of us has a range of natural interests, talents, and abilities which we may or may not develop and use. These abilities vary from person to person, providing a rich social tapestry and shaping our relationships, organizations, and  societies.

      Questions that confront you and every other self-aware person:

  • why do some people ''self actualize'' (achieve their highest potential) and others don't?

  • what am I interested in and passionate about?

  • What are my special talents and abilities?

  • How can I develop and use my talents?

  • What can I achieve with my knowledge and talents?

  • Am I living ''on purpose''? If I'm not - why?

  • What limits my personal growth and development, and how can I adapt to or overcome these limits?

 Have you thoughts seriously about these questions? Can you answer them? If not - why not? Do you agree that effective parenting includes helping kids become aware of these questions and how to answer them over time?

       A shallow view of personal maturity focuses on achievements and fame in some field. For example, it's tempting to label people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Walt Disney, Washington Carver, Joan of Arc, Helen Keller, Genghis Khan, George Washington, Edgar Cayce, Desmond Tutu, Herodotus, and Mother Theresa as "mature" - but were they really?  How about  Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin, Muammar Khadafi, Joseph Stalin, and Nero? Do you see Mohammed, Buddha, Christ, and other renowned prophets as "mature" people? if so - why?

What is "Personal Growth"?

      Try answering this question out loud now. Did you say something general like "Well, it means 'getting better at things."? What things? Compare your answer with this:

      "Personal growth" means improving your...

  • self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-respect; and your ...

  • attitudes about good > bad, and right > wrong; and your...

  • abilities to think logically and clearly, and to comprehend complex, abstract ideas; and increasing your...

  • knowledge about the world and people; and improving your abilities to...

  • analyze and solve complex personal and social problems; and to

  • relate harmoniously with all adults and kids; and improving your.....

  • spiritual awareness and sensitivity.

      And "personal growth" also means learning how to...

  • feel genuine compassion and empathy for yourself and other people; and to...

  • identify and develop your unique abilities, and how to...

  • use your talents and admit and adapt to your limitations ("I can sing an aria, but I can't play the banjo or cook a soufflé") and learning to improve your...

  • ability to balance (a) work + play + rest, and (b) immediate vs. delayed  gratification; and "personal growth" means learning to... .

  • (add your own criteria)


      What are you aware of now? This summary suggests that "personal growth" has many dimensions: cognitive, psychological, spiritual, behavioral, and social. It also implies you can develop these dimensions intentionally or "by chance" (experience). I observe that the most mature people are...

  • guided by their true Self,

  • aware of themselves and these growth options; and they...

  • work proactively to grow over time. They seek a purpose to their lives, rather than living mindlessly and reactively a day at a time.

      Which of the factors above describe you recently?

      Another important dimension is...

Mental Health and Maturity

      If an early teen asked you "What is mental health?", what would you say? It's as hard to define as maturity. One way to sharpen your definition is to think of examples in your life of people who you feel are "mentally healthy" and "mentally unhealthy." What criteria do you use?

      I've studied this question professionally since 1979. In my opinion, "mental health" can be measured by five core variables: the person...

  • has no organic brain dysfunction; and s/he can consistently...

  • perceive sensory and environmental information accurately and process it "appropriately" according to local social norms; and...

  • perceive her or his local and long-range needs accurately and fill them (problem-solve) effectively; and s/he...

  • is consistently self-nurturing (vs. self-neglectful), and...

  • has no significant symptoms of these six widespread psychological wounds. This covers a wide range of traditional "mental health ('personality and mood') disorders" like Bipolar, Obsessions, Compulsions, Illusions, Borderline, Manic-Depression, Poor impulse control, Narcissism, Depression, Social Anxiety, etc.  

How does this definition of mental health compare to your definition? Clarity on it  will help you answer this:

      For perspective, read this view of "|mental illness" when you finish here.

"Does maturity depend on 'mental health'?"

      Try answering this question out loud now. Who's answering - your .Self or "someone else"?

Other Factors

      Consider these related questions and see what you believe:

"Does personal maturity depend on knowledge?"

"Does maturity depend on your 'IQ' (intelligence)"

"Does maturity depend on life experience?"

"Does maturity depend on wisdom, or vice versa?"

The most important answers to these are your own. You're most apt to answer them wisely if your true Self is guiding you. Is s/he? 

      The point: "personal maturity" is a measure of how well you have developed many dimensions and approached your "highest potential." So if you can't envision and describe your "highest potential," you can't meaningfully rate your current maturity or intentionally improve it! Do you agree?

What Determines Personal Growth?

      Reflect and answer this question out loud. Then compare your ideas with this premise: personal growth toward "full maturity" depends on many factors. Use this as a checklist to learn about yourself: 

__   KEY : early-childhood environment (low to high nurturance), which depends on each caregiver's wholistic health, knowledge, and priorities;

__  early caregivers' attitudes and values - e.g. unaware, passive, pessimistic, and purposeless; to self-aware, goal-oriented, optimistic, focused, and purposeful;

__  self and social awareness;

__   KEY : an empowered (vs. disabled) true Self and a harmonious "inner family" of personality subselves; ;

__  evolving realistic self-esteem, self-confidence, non-egotistical self-love, optimism, and a clear personal identity;

__  open-mindedness and a steady motivation to learn;

__  one or more mentors and/or hero/ines (inspiring people);

__  wanting to learn effective relationship, communication, and problem-solving skills;

      And the rate and extent of your personal growth depends on...

__  acquiring and maintaining a nurturing support network; perhaps including a benign Higher Power;

__  discomforts (needs). These minimize personal complacency and stagnation;

__  the ability to see opportunities for growth in all situations;

__  wanting to understand people (including yourself) and the world;

__  living by timeless guidelines like these. and...     

__  (add your own factors).

      How do you feel about these sample requisites for personal growth and maturity? Which do you feel are the most important? How many of these factors do you have now?

How Mature are You?

      Use what follows to clarify (a) how "well developed" you are and (b) ways you want to develop further. The less distracted you are, the more accurate your responses to this inventory will be. Option - print and store this where you can find and review it in the future to gauge your personal growth.

      This inventory is illustrative, not absolute or complete. Edit it any way you want to make it "fit you" better. The inventory is divided into several dimensions: your personality, attitudes, emotions, priorities, and abilities.

      Thoughtfully rank each of the following items from 1 (false, low, seldom. never) to 4 (true, high, often, always) If you're unsure, circle "?".Option - journal about your thoughts and emotions as you fill this out. Recall - underlined links below will open a new page, and other links will open an informational popup.

  My Personality

      These seven factors will make the most sense after you study Lesson 1 in this Web site.

1)  I know how to tell if my true Self is guiding me

1 2 3 4 ?

2)  My true Self guides me in all situations

1 2 3 4 ?

3)  I have identified all my personality subselves

1 2 3 4 ?

4)  I know how to have dialogs with my personality subselves

1 2 3 4 ?

5)  If a false self controls me, I know how to free my true Self

1 2 3 4 ?

6)  I know which of my subselves cause my psychological wounds and major non-biological limitations

1 2 3 4 ?

7)  I'm making progress at reducing my psychological wounds.

1 2 3 4 ?


  My Key Attitudes and Beliefs

      These shape your goals, relationships, achievements, and satisfactions:

1)  I believe all people are basically good, vs. "evil"

1 2 3 4 ?

2)  I believe mistakes and "problems" are opportunities to learn and grow ("glass half full")

1 2 3 4 ?

3)  Every able adult - including me - is fully responsible for the quality of their own life

1 2 3 4 ?

4)  All animal behavior is caused by current needs (discomforts) 1 2 3 4 ?

5)  My needs are just as important as any other person's needs, except in emergencies

1 2 3 4 ?

6)  I have the right to assert my needs and opinions without guilt or shame, and so do all other adults and kids

1 2 3 4 ?

7)  People who betray, hurt, and disrespect me are wounded and unaware, not "bad."

1 2 3 4 ?

8)  All people have equal dignity, worth, and personal rights, regardless of age, gender, color, social status, wealth, ethnicity, lifestyle, and beliefs

1 2 3 4 ?

9)  Every person has a unique life purpose (mission), and can identify and actively pursue it despite hindrances.

1 2 3 4 ?

10)  There is a benign, accessible Power in the universe.

1 2 3 4 ?

11)  Spirituality is different than "religion," and I am a spiritual person

1 2 3 4 ?

12)  I am steadily comfortable with my aging and eventual death

1 2 3 4 ?

13)  I consciously balance firm convictions with open-mindedness and flexibility

1 2 3 4 ?
14)  Every human emotion is useful, not positive or negative 1 2 3 4 ?
15)  I strive to keep an "attitude of gratitude" for all my blessings 1 2 3 4 ?
16) 1 2 3 4 ?
17) 1 2 3 4 ?
18) 1 2 3 4 ?

  My Emotions

1)  I can _ feel and name the full range of my emotions and _ use each of them productively.

1 2 3 4 ?

2)  I can feel, give, and receive unconditional love

1 2 3 4 ?

3)  I know how to manage significant confusion, stress, and overwhelm ("stay grounded and centered")

1 2 3 4 ?

4)  I know the difference between shame and guilt, and how to recognize and manage each of them 

1 2 3 4 ?

5)  I know how to recognize and manage significant anxieties and fears

1 2 3 4 ?

6)  I know the difference between frustration, and anger, and I can use each of these emotions to identify what I need.

1 2 3 4 ?

7)  I can feel healthy pride in my abilities and achievements without significant guilt, shame, and false humility

1 2 3 4 ?

8)  I don't need to self-medicate (numb my emotions) with chemicals, activities, moods, and/or relationships.

1 2 3 4 ?

9)  I experience frequent periods of contentment, satisfaction, and happiness, despite my challenges.

1 2 3 4 ?


1 2 3 4 ?


1 2 3 4 ?


1 2 3 4 ?


1 2 3 4 ?

  My Priorities

1)  I want to ''self actualize'' (become the best person I can be)

1 2 3 4 ?

2)  I steadily seek to improve my internal and external awareness

1 2 3 4 ?

3)  I value balancing work, rest, meditation, and play daily and over time

1 2 3 4 ?

4)  I'm working steadily to identify and pursue my life purpose.

1 2 3 4 ?

5)  I usually rank my wholistic health first, my primary relationship (if any) second, and the needs of any young people in my life third, except in emergencies. I feel no guilt, shame, or anxiety about this.

1 2 3 4 ?

6)  I'm steadily focused on improving my thinking and communication effectiveness and teaching young people how to do these.

1 2 3 4 ?

7)  I steadily value learning from study, experience, and reflection.

1 2 3 4 ?

8)  I value constructive participation in local, state, and national government

1 2 3 4 ?

9)  I value making a positive difference in the world more than acquiring money, fame, and power

1 2 3 4 ?

10)  I see little value in replaying and regretting past decisions and mistakes. I focus on the present and the future.

1 2 3 4 ?

11)  I invest time and energy protecting our natural environment

1 2 3 4 ?

12)  I do what I can to alert people to the toxic [wounds + unawareness] cycle.

1 2 3 4 ?


1 2 3 4 ?


1 2 3 4 ?

  My Abilities

1)  I love and respect myself as a unique, worthy person

1 2 3 4 ?

2)  I am able to form and maintain healthy (vs. toxic) relationships and bonds

1 2 3 4 ?

3)  I am able to empathize with most other people 1 2 3 4 ?
4)  I can sleep well and wake refreshed without chemicals 1 2 3 4 ?

5)  I'm consistently able to _ breathe well and _ sense what my body is telling me

1 2 3 4 ?
6)  I can give, receive, and acknowledge praise without discomfort 

1 2 3 4 ?

7)  I can identify and assert my boundaries without guilt or anxiety

1 2 3 4 ?

8)  I know how to compromise and problem-solve instead of fight, argue, or avoid

1 2 3 4 ?

9)  I know how to handle values and loyalty conflicts effectively 1 2 3 4 ?

10)  I know how to set goals, make effective plans, and stay focused despite distractions

1 2 3 4 ?
11)  I can think clearly in calm and stressful situations 1 2 3 4 ?

12)  I can identify my losses (broken bonds) and I'm able to grieve them effectively

1 2 3 4 ?

13)  I can consistently balance short-term and long-term satisfactions

1 2 3 4 ?

14)  I'm consistently able to tell who merits my trust and who doesn't

1 2 3 4 ?

15)  I'm comfortable with my body, appearance, and sexuality

1 2 3 4 ?

16)  I'm able to ask for help when I need it without significant guilt, shame, or anxiety

1 2 3 4 ?

17)  I can manage personal criticism, prejudice, stress, and rejection effectively

1 2 3 4 ?

18)  I can laugh at myself in private and public without self-criticism and shame

1 2 3 4 ?

19)  I can relate to and nurture young people effectively

1 2 3 4 ?

20)  I can maintain a positive outlook despite my problems

1 2 3 4 ?

21)  I can appreciate the beauty and wonder of Nature

1 2 3 4 ?

22)  I can make my own decisions, and I'm not overly influenced by other peoples' opinions and values

1 2 3 4 ?
23) 1 2 3 4 ?
24) 1 2 3 4 ?
25) 1 2 3 4 ?

      Pause, breathe, and reflect: what are you aware of now? What did you just learn? Have you ever seen a "maturity-criteria" inventory like this? Recall - this inventory is not meant to be complete, absolute, or authoritarian. It's designed to stimulate your awareness about how you judge human "maturity."

       Option - think of one or more people who are important to you, like each of the adults who raised you. When you're undistracted, re-scan the inventory and sense how mature they each were or are. Notice how that affects your respect and empathy for them.

Status Check

      See how you feel about yourself now, compared to when you began this article:

__  I am very immature

__  I am appropriately mature for my age

__  I am very mature

__  I am gaining maturity (growing personally)

__  I have most or all the requisites for personal growth 

__  people who really know me would agree with my answers above

      What did you just learn?

      If you want to intentionally "become more mature"...

  • free your true Self to guide you (see Lesson 1). Immature adults are often governed by a well-intentioned false self - i.e. one or more Inner Children and their Guardian subselves;

  • compare your environment to the "personal growth" factors above, and make any necessary changes. Then...

  • edit this inventory to fit you better, and hilight specific items you want to improve over time. 


      From seven decades of studying human development and behavior, this article offers perspective on "personal growth" and [mental + emotional + spiritual + moral] "maturity." It proposes (a) requisites for personal growth, and (b) a sample multi-dimensional inventory to help you assess someone's level of maturity. 

      Accurate awareness of your current level of maturity can clarify your personal identity and your self respect. It can also help you nurture younger people over time. Is there anyone you want to show this to and/or discuss it with?

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

  For more perspective, see this personal-strengths inventory

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