1 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NIV)
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The ability to trust (have faith), have a positive outlook on life (hope), and to be able to give and receive love by being committed to treat oneself and others as innately valuable with respect, care and kindness is a sign of true maturity, both emotional and spiritual.
Unfortunately we live in a world where not everyone who becomes an adult also becomes mature.
It is a normal part of growing up when young children entertain fantasies of unlimited success, popularity, superior power and unequaled brilliance. Also the books they read and cartoons they watch cater for this fantasy. Underlying these fantasies is the child’s awareness of his/her dependency and vulnerability and desire for survival by becoming a strong ‘grown up’. Often the biggest heroes are the children’s own parents whom they may idolize.
Adolescents having become more aware of their parent’s failures and shortcomings will project their need for a ‘grown up’ role model on heroes who somehow represent the success, popularity, power or brilliance they crave. At this stage preoccupation with bodily beauty or sexual performance also starts playing a role, or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion.
Some children and teens take it for granted that they are unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people. Those with a low-self esteem may want to associate with special, unique, or high status people in order to boost their self-image through association.
Preteens and teenagers require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation while at the same time given clear boundaries. It is a transient phase that eventually makes way for self-regulation and a sense of inner worth based on conviction and self-confidence instead of being based on an external supply. Through the process of socialization, young adults learn the benefits of collaboration and acknowledge the innate value of each and every person and not only of self. They develop empathy and respect for the boundaries, needs, and wishes of other people.
Some people actually never reach this stage of maturity and remain dependent on others for their self-esteem and self-confidence. They are fragile and fragmented and thus very susceptible to criticism, even if it is merely implied or imagined. Like toddlers, they still demand automatic and full compliance with their unreasonable expectations for special and favorable priority treatment. They are "inter-personally exploitative", i.e., use others to achieve their own ends. They are hardly able to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others.
Such immature adults like young children are envious of others and sometimes seek to hurt or destroy the causes of their frustration. They may behave arrogantly and haughtily, feel superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, "above the law", and so on. They may resort to rage when people do comply with their demands or when their ideas or plans are frustrated, contradicted, challenged, or confronted.
In order to legitimize such child-like conduct with its underlying infantile mental world some adults actually refuse to mature: They do not fully take responsibility for their lives and to grow up and always blame others for their failings. They usually have very unrealistic expectations of life and demand a worry-free, responsibility free and unrestricted life without being held accountable and responsible for what they do to themselves and others. Unfortunately this behavior eventually alienates those who refuse to grow up as people, even the strongest and most patient and emphatic among them, are unable to carry the burden of toddler-like behavior from adults for a prolonged period of time. They will either withdraw themselves or fail to live up to the excessive demands of the adult-child and be punished for their failure and pushed away.
The sad truth is that the adult-child is actually a victim of unresolved trauma, either due to spoiling and smothering or due to (emotional) violence and abuse in early childhood or early adolescence. The refusal to grow-up and the regression to toddler-like behavior when faced with challenges or the demands of life is actually an infantile defense against abuse and trauma. The inability or unwillingness to grow up is therefore inextricably entwined with the abused child's or adolescent's emotional make-up, cognitive deficits, and worldview. Inwardly they are tortured children, suffering themselves from the internalized abuser and making others suffer by externalizing their anger, frustration, fear, loathing and insecurity.