Book smarts and IQ have their place in aptitude and success. But emotional intelligence and emotional maturity have more influence in determining success and happiness in life.

And yet, even these two pillars of personal growth have distinctions. Subtle, but still important and worthy of discussion.

Just a small dose of political news will drive home the fact that IQ and emotional intelligence are not the same.

And watching elected officials blame, project, and name-call like children will no-doubt provide insight into emotional maturity. (Or lack thereof.)

In other words, having an Ivy League degree may be admirable in and of itself. Hard work, merciless standards, upper-echelon job prospects: They all have their perks.

But we all know that even genius needs something more to be all it can be in this world.

And true maturity is more than passing through puberty, graduating from high school, and getting one’s first credit card.

In other words, IQ and chronological age aren’t sufficient for success, happiness, and fulfillment in life. 

That’s where emotional intelligence (EI) and emotional maturity (EM) come in.

What is emotional intelligence?

The essence of EI lies in recognizing, understanding, and managing emotions, both yours and those of others.

If you have a high emotional quotient (EQ), you are able to perceive and identify emotions in yourself and others. And you understand the role those emotions play in behavior and decision-making.

You are also adept at developing skills to implement in unpredictable, stressful, or emotionally triggering situations.

EI comprises 5 essential elements:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Behavioral regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy/social awareness
  5. Interpersonal proficiency/social skills

Notice  the first two elements are about you; and the final two are about others and your relationship with them.

Self-awareness is the foundation for both emotional intelligence and emotional maturity. Without it, none of the other elements can manifest.

The ability to self-regulate, for example, is built on objective self-awareness and self-examination: 

  • Why do I think the way I do? 
  • How did I come to that conclusion or belief? 
  • How do my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings affect the choices I make?
  • Do my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors align with my values? And, if not, what do I need to do to bring them into alignment?

Understanding your thoughts and feelings provides information to regulate your behavior. For example:

  • When I feel afraid, I tend to get defensive. If I can recognize fear in the moment, I can control my reaction to it. 
  • When I feel overwhelmed, I tend to isolate myself from others. Learning better time management skills and when to say no will help me be more present to my relationships.
  • I struggle to listen to opinions contrary to my own without becoming argumentative. I need to work on my active listening skills instead of always waiting with a pre-scripted response. This will make me more empathetic, less judgmental, more flexible and approachable, and more open and adaptable to change.

When you can accomplish this awareness and regulation within yourself can you accomplish it with others. How can you recognize and accurately identify, let alone respond to, someone else’s feelings if you can’t accurately identify your own?

Emotional intelligence as part of self-growth is critical to healthy communication and therefore to relationship-building and conflict-resolution.

Self-regulation, for example, helps with self-containment during triggering or emotionally heated conversations. When you have been honest about your own thoughts and feelings and can recognize them, you can manage their expression. 

You can then more easily tap into and respond to thoughts and feelings of the other person. 

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are especially adept at recognizing and responding to the emotional frequency of their surroundings. They may even come across as psychic. That’s because they are highly empathic, notice subtleties, and process information deeply.

Interestingly, it is the emotional element that elevates a good leader to a great one

Temperance, resilience, empathy, and the ability to communicate effectively and be a calm force in crises are amazing qualities. 

Think about it. If you have to work under someone else, whom would you want at the helm? And, if your ship hit an iceberg, what qualities would you want in your captain?

What is emotional maturity?

While emotional intelligence and emotional maturity are often interchanged, they do have some differences.

We’ve just looked at EI and why it is so important to personal growth, leadership, and relationships.

But how is EM different?

While EI focuses on the mechanics of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and their management, EM is a reflection of its implementation.

If you are an emotionally mature person, you are emotionally intelligent. Your EI is the circulation driving your EM. You are self-aware, empathetic, and motivated toward self-growth and healthy relationship-building.

And you consistently work on emotional and cognitive skills that will improve your relationships, leadership, inner-peace, and self-fulfillment.

Your empathy, for example, isn’t limited to an inner awareness. It presents as an ability to step outside yourself in order to focus on the needs of others. 

It also presents as an ability to put aside your own viewpoints in order to be present to another’s reality. Something rarely seen in today’s politically charged, divided society.

As an emotionally mature person, you not only recognize and identify your feelings, you manage their expression. 

Yes, you know when certain feelings are influencing your decision-making. But you also have and employ skills that help you make sound decisions that aren’t based on in-the-moment feelings.

When it comes to feelings, you are also able to express them responsibly and take responsibility for them. Consider the difference between these two statements:

  • You make me so mad! I don’t want to talk to you!
  • I’m feeling both anger and disappointment right now. I need some time alone with my feelings so we can work through this with clarity. Can we set a time to address this within the next day or two?

Sure, the second statement may sound formal. But it also expresses emotion unemotionally and responsibly. 

And therein lies the emotional maturity that makes honesty, trust, self-accountability, and conflict-resolution possible.

Speaking of self-accountability, if you are emotionally intelligent and emotionally mature, you take responsibility for your actions. You not only have cognizance of your responsibility, but you demonstrate it.

What does that look like?

For starters, you are mindful of how your actions will affect others. You think before you speak or act. You “hold up the mirror” and consider how you would feel if the roles were reversed.

Consider how this would play out on social media, which seems to be an assumed get-out-of-jail-free card for emotional immaturity. (And that goes for adults as well as adolescents, unfortunately.)

People would read what they type before hitting send. They would consider how they might offend others who have no way of knowing their unspoken intentions. 

They would ask questions like: 

  • Am I sending out positivity or negativity? 
  • Is what I’m about to say true, kind, and necessary? 
  • Am I inspiring, educating, benefiting…or harming, diminishing, dividing? 
  • Is this about me or something bigger, better, and more important than I am? 
  • Am I opening up a respectful dialogue or welcoming the comments of only those who agree with me? 
  • If this were the final thing I said or wrote, would the world be better for it?”

Want to know if someone is emotionally mature or at least self-accountable? Pay attention to if, when, and how s/he offers an apology.

Self-accountable people don’t become defensive when their actions have caused someone else harm. They are able to listen to a grievance and respond to the suffering with empathy, compassion, and genuine remorse.

They may even recognize on their own the harm they have done and reach out with an apology.

Addicts who embrace the Twelve Steps take apology one step further into making amends. They understand that an apology is just words until their actions align with them.

Perhaps the most important quality of emotional maturity is the ability to set healthy boundaries

If you are emotionally mature, you know the difference between walls and boundaries. 

You understand that, while walls push and keep people away, healthy boundaries allow people in. They make clear where one person ends and another begins – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, sexually.

Boundaries make relationships possible…and safe.

We all know that “ick” feeling when we feel as if someone is “in our space.” S/he might stand too close or say/ask inappropriate things. Or s/he might assume to know our feelings, needs, and wants without asking what they are and respecting them.

Healthy boundaries are foundational to building healthy relationships and resolving conflict. 

Finally, if you are emotionally intelligent and emotionally mature, you not only know stress-management skills, you employ them. You don’t deny or ignore stress; but you also don’t succumb to it.

And the ability to manage stress is rooted in self-love and self-care – attributes easily subordinated to things like body image and life circumstances.

Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Maturity Working Together

Dr. Roger K. Allen, PhD. has a four-stage theory of emotional maturity

  1. survival (fear-based)
  2. security (duty-based)
  3. success (ego-based)
  4. serenity (love/trust-based)

By working to improve your emotional intelligence, you can continue to evolve as an emotionally mature person.

And eventually you will look back from your place of serenity and marvel at how far you have come.