Besides the fact that I swore to myself never to grow up and become an "adult", there are certain circumstances that require maturity and behavior of a "grown-up person". In these rare cases it is helpful to know yourself and how much of a mature personality you've got - and also to know your weak spots and what to avoid in critical situations.
I have recently been studying different theories of personality. One that stuck with me is the neo-phenomenological approach as described by Gordon Allport, an American psychologists who was the first to thoroughly study personality and is often referred to as one of the founding figures of personality psychology.
He named three areas in which personality psychology can play a mayor role:
General psychology, which is describing personality traits in comparison to all other people,
Social psychology, which compares personality traits of one individual to a few similar, other individuals, and
The idiosyncratic approach (or idiodynamics), which looks at personality traits as a unique part of one's own personality - the latter being the one Allport focused on the most in his studies.
Allport's definition of personality goes like this:
"Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his characteristics, behavior and thought." (Allport, 1961)
In his approach, he described 8 characteristics of a "mature personality". In some cases you might only find 6 or 7 characteristics, depending on whether or not people take religious sentiment and self-affirmation into account, two of the more controversially discussed topics.
It is also important to say that these characteristics and Allport's definition of a "healthy and mature personality" are not related to being an "old person". Of course, full maturity can only be achieved over time and requires adulthood, but a 30-year old can have as a mature personality as a 50-year old in the ways described below.
Here are the 8 characteristics of a healthy, mature personality according to Gordon Allport:
1. Extension of the self...
Allport was one of the first to recognize that as the personality develops and matures and its experience grows, its identity and interests extends beyond the self ("ego") into a wide range of people, objects, abstract values and ideals. This extension of the mature personality beyond the egocentric portions of the "ego" requires that the person becomes a full participant into activities that are genuine and personally meaningful to them.
"Far from being a passive, [...] isolated and totally ego-centered spectator of life, the mature person is fully and vitally immersed in life, actively involved and committed to something or someone beyond their self." (Transpersonality Theory, P. F. Cunningham, 2014)
A person with a healthy and mature personality is able to love and extend the self into meaningful work and meaningful relationships with others such that the growth and fulfillment of others becomes at least as important as his or her own growth and development. They become extensions of the sense of self.
2. Warm relating of self to others
There are other aspects to transpersonality, e.g. emotions. The two most significant as mentioned by Allport are compassion and intimacy. These emotions bring the individual outside of him or herself. As a consequence, they are able to identify with another living being who may be separated from the self. It's a form of empathy and emotional intelligence. Self-extension as mentioned above is fundamental to develop relationships to others. It requires the understanding of emotions and human conditions based on the so called "imaginative extension" of one's own feelings.
The healthy mature person recognizes that we live in a world in which everybody else also possess the same undeniable individuality and self-worth that we perceive in ourselves. This will lead to the ability to not tear down the values of others, or neurotically insist that others attend to our needs. It requires the acknowledgement of one's own weaknesses and the ability to reflect on them and recognize that we share flaws and weaknesses with others as well.
3. Self-acceptance and self-affirmation
"Mature, healthy personalities are capable of accepting all aspects of their being, including weaknesses and failings, insecurities and fears." (Transpersonality Theory, P. F. Cunningham, 2014)
However, one must not be passively assigned to them but actively acknowledge and deal with their weaknesses. This will make it much easier to approach goals with a positive mindset since one already knows what will come easier and what might be more difficult along the way according to their skills and weaknesses.
Overall, a mature personality that is acknowledging every aspect of their personality feels less threatened and better able to cope with life's insecurities and tough situations.
4. Realistic perception
Individuals with a mature personality can recognize what they cannot change, change what they can, and learn to tell the difference. Their perception of “reality” tends to accurately reflect “the nature of things”. They are less likely to distort their perception of events and others in order to make it compatible with their wants, needs, and fears.
Reality, of course, is perceived a little bit different by each and everyone and one's reality can be extremely complex. Aiming for a clear set of thoughts when making decisions and reducing complexity of whatever challenge one has to tackle is significant in achieving a realistic perception of the situation.
5. Meaningful work and service
The healthy, mature person uses his or her skills in an enthusiastic, committed manner and invests the self fully in the tasks they've chosen for themselves. This is another very important aspect: people with a mature mind love what they do since they have actively chosen to do it. Their dedication is related to other traits like "open-mindedness", "conscientiousness" and a proper understanding of their own responsibilities.
For Allport, it is not possible to achieve maturity and positive psychological health without having important work to do and the dedication, commitment, and skills with which to do it.
"Adequate understanding and knowledge of the self requires insight into what one thinks one is and what one actually is [...]." (Transpersonality Theory, P. F. Cunningham, 2014)
It's key to understand that there is a difference between one’s self-image and the way one is in fact - or the way others see this person. This boils down to the fact that one’s ideal self and one’s real self have to be recognized and understood.
Working on adjust the picture one has of his own and the picture others draw and making these two correspond closer and close is an important skill of a mature personality. The goal is to achieve some degree of self-objectification, or self-insight, in order to formulate an objective picture of oneself.
7. A unifying philosophy of life
Being forward looking, motivated by long-range goals and plans, have a sense of purpose and direction that makes life and work worthwhile gives a reason for living and supplies continuity to the an individual's actions. There is a specific saying that sums up this characteristic of a mature personality: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Besides having clear, long-term goals and a forward looking and positive mindset, the individual needs some form of emotional and psychological stability - or in other words: less neurotic values. What does this mean? One of the Big Five higher-order personality traits in the study of psychology is neuroticism. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely to be moody and to experience anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness. If you regularly feel any of these moods, try to figure out the source of them. Some of this might in fact be based on too much complexity in your life. Dealing with complexity, as mentioned above, is key to a healthy and mature personality that is able to deal with life's struggles.
8. Religious sentiment
Allport recognized that there is a natural religious sentiment with which our species is born – a feeling that places the individual in a spiritual world and a natural one at once.
"[...] a comprehensive attitude whose function it is to relate the individual meaningfully to the whole of Being'". (Allport, 1955)
This religious sentiment provides the natural religious knowledge that our existence rises from a source that is both within and outside of the natural framework. As with all phases of becoming, the fully developed religious sentiment tends to occur only in adulthood, is influenced by temperament and training in the home or church, and is subject to growth or decline.
"Unbelief, while it may be the product of mature reflection, may also be a reaction against parental or other social authority, or may be due to a one-sided intellectual development that rules out other areas of normal curiosity. We find many personalities who deal effectively with all phases of becoming except the final task of relating themselves meaningfully to creation. For some reason their curiosity stops at this point..." (Allport, 1955)
Those who are curious however, are being provided with the ability to deal with a synthesis of all that lies within experience and all that lies beyond. Allport recognized that humans are by nature religious creatures. Religious feeling is one of our species’ strongest attributes and is the part of human psychology most often overlooked by behavioral science. As Allport concluded:
“The final truths of religion are unknown, but a psychology that impedes understanding of the religious potentialities of man scarcely deserves to be called a logos of the human psyche at all." (Allport, 1955)
I think that this time of the year is ideal to reflect on what's been going well and what's not been going well over the past year. Maybe the above mentioned provides you with an anchor to reflect on how much your personality has grown (or regressed?) during this unusual year - and maybe it even provides you with some impulses on how you want to improve your mental and social health by becoming and developing a more mature personality...
Whatever it might be, I hope you'll have a wonderful Christmas time and a better 2021.