The Difference Between Spiritual and Emotional Maturity
There is a difference between spiritual and emotional maturity, but they do overlap at times.
The Eminent Catholic psychiatrists Dr Anna Terruwe and Dr Conrad Baars, basing their work on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote definitively about the emotional life. They defined emotions as “psychological motors, designed and integrated to move us toward all that is healthy, beautiful and true and away from what is not. They explained further that by nature, our emotions want and need to be guided by reason but that reason serves the heart & mind – not the other way around.
In this 21st century, where much billet points are given to reason and intellectual pursuit, even in many Catholic circles, this part of knowledge is very important to understand. God directs our paths and communicates with us in our hearts, making spiritual maturity not only an effort of the intellect–knowing right and wrong, but one of the heart–developing an “attentive ear” so to speak, and responding to the guidance and directs of the Holy Spirit.
The emotionally matured individual is one who has a greater sensitivity and keen appreciation for all that is healthy, beautiful and good and is able to experience happiness and to develop warm, productive and intimate relationships. They place less emphasis on “doing” and more emphasis on being – thanks to the greater balance and stability between their intellectual and emotional life process.
Another essential aspect of emotional maturity includes efficiently guiding our emotions by reason. For instance, a kid who gets angry may hit his sister. An adult who may be similarly provoked is expected to use reason to find a more socially acceptable solution and react calmly. He experiences feeling angry, is aware of it and uses reason to guide if or how he expresses it. Being aware of his temper and being aware of whatever poked it, he can also use the anger to attempt to address whatever prejudice or injustice that made him vexed in the first place.
Naturally, for a reason to do its job effectively, it needs to be informed, which involves proper conscience, character and introspective formation, OR the understanding of what is right and wrong. The first forms of conscience are the parents. But this is also where catharsis comes in and where the lack of effective catharsis, these last few decades, has had a devastating impact. The human person, by nature, is always pursuing after happiness, but often in wrong ways that can never truly be satisfactory or soul fulfilling. On the account that most do misunderstand or do not even know what Holy Mother Church teaches, they have limited culpability but this can impede their spiritual maturity and may even sabotage true emotional maturity as well. But how can reason effectively guide the emotions toward their natural end of all that is true, beautiful and good if it is misinformed as to what actually constitutes authentic goodness, beauty, substance and truth?
The measure of Spiritual Maturity by our conformity to and relationship with God. One grows in one’s knowledge of God through the consistent study of scripture, and spiritual reading. They grow in their understanding and intimacy with God through prayer. As one matures spiritually, one is drawn into a deeper relationship with God and should also gain a greater discernment of God’s particular call on their life.
This is not simply literal knowledge of God or warm emotional feelings toward Him but is characterized by deep growth in virtue. As someone grows in virtue, they become more hungry and steadfast in the truth, less swayed by public opinion, emotional debates or even their own willfulness or scattered passions. The hallmark of spiritual maturity is humility. With true humility, an individual sees his intuition in relation to God and gives God the credit due to His glory as they recognize any virtues within themselves or any achievements they have achieved. Growing spiritually propels them with a greater desire to grow in perfection with the understanding and acceptance that they will never completely obtain it in this life.
As we comprehend emotional maturity as the ability to experience warmth and affection and to guide our emotions effectively by reason, spiritual maturity can as much be understood as growth in a loving and warm relationship with Christ & the Church, and the effect intentionality of both our reason and our emotions by a sense of virtue.