Some people seem to have a magic touch…
You meet them, and before you know it, you’ve hit it off with them.
Interactions with them are satisfactory beyond words – almost cathartic. You feel that they are listening to you; that they can see you.
But that’s not all…
They seem to have a bounty of inner resources. They can muster them at will and tackle whatever life puts in their way.
How do they do it?
Well, it isn’t magic.
They draw on their confidence and pause before they react. They are adaptive and are not too concerned about looking perfect. They are empathetic but they nurture themselves as well.
In short: they are emotionally mature.
And as if that’s not enough, history tells us that emotional maturity can even double down as a survival tool in a life-and-death scenario. The miraculous survival feat, that Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and his crew pulled off, can attest to that.
Let’s examine the key traits of the emotionally mature.
Emotionally Mature People Believe in “Ask and you shall Receive”
They know how to ask for help.
They don’t consider that as a sign of weakness. They can recognize when they are out of their element or they are burning out.
As Nick Wignall says, emotionally mature people know they don’t have all the answers. But they’re not afraid to swallow their pride, admit what they don’t know.
They try to improve. They try new things and seek out the opinions and views of others.
They do not feel threatened when people disagree with them. If they feel that the new way is better, they are happy to run with it.
In October of 1915, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton ordered the abandonment of the ship Endurance. It was trapped in an ice floe in Antarctica for over eight months and was beginning to take on water1.
He had to get the twenty-seven men of his crew back home.
They were forced to camp on the ice floe. The harsh winter weather was about to hit them. The incumbent days will be without any light. The food supplies were dwindling. There was no radio contact nor any ship to rescue them.
Shackleton knew that this was not a burden that he could pull off by himself. He prepared duty rosters so that everyone could play their part. It also kept the men distracted and held their spirits up:
He tried to mix it up as much as possible, shifting the men around in various groups and making sure they never did the same task too often. For each day there was a simple goal to accomplish—some penguins or seals to hunt, some more stores from the ship to bring to the tents, the construction of a better campground. At the end of the day, they could sit around the campfire feeling they had done something to make their lives a little easier.
Shackleton also made sure to consult and ask for ideas:
So on those first days on the ice, Shackleton made a point of asking Hurley for his opinion on all significant matters, such as food stores, and complimenting him on his ideas.
They can put on Other’s Shoes
Emotionally mature people know how to empathize with others.
Lachlan Brown from HackSpirit underlines that they can position themselves in different situations, understand a variety of challenges, and get along with people during difficult times.
They show care and concern for others. Their open-mindedness and willingness to listen without judgment draws others in like a magnet.
Shackleton had honed his empathy and fashioned it into a survival tool. He attuned himself to the moods of the men in their makeshift camp:
Around the campfire, he would walk up to each man and engage him in a conversation. With the scientists he talked science; with the more aesthetic types he talked of his favorite poets and composers. He got into their particular spirit and was especially attentive to any problems they were experiencing. The cook seemed particularly aggrieved that he would have to kill his pet cat; they were out of food to feed it. Shackleton volunteered to do it for him. It was clear that the physicist on board was having a difficult time with the hard labor; at night he ate slowly and sighed wearily. When Shackleton talked to him, he could feel that his spirit was lowering by the day. Without making him feel like he was shirking, Shackleton changed the roster around to give him lighter but equally important tasks.
In one quick glance in the morning, he could almost anticipate how the men would act during the entire day. If he noticed a particular mood in the camp, he would try to anticipate what they might do by putting himself in a similar mood.
Some fellow crew members thought he was psychic.
Emotionally Mature People don’t Point Fingers in any Direction
They handle the situation at hand without escalating it.
Cindy Lamothe, in her Healthline article, emphasizes that emotionally mature people don’t seek to blame someone else for their problems or behavior; they seek to fix it. They accept accountability for their actions as a means to learn and grow.
They don’t throw a pity-party and blame themselves either. They don’t like being a martyr.
Instead, they ask themselves – “what can I do to fix this?” “What can I do differently?”
“What can I do to improve this situation?”
They note the mistake, stay kind to themselves and others, and determine to improve their decision the next time.
Shackleton saw that their ice floe had become dangerously small. So he ordered the men into three small lifeboats salvaged from the Endurance and headed for the nearby Elephant Island.
Their troubles were not over. But he improvised and pushed on:
As he surveyed the island that day, it was clear the conditions on it were in some ways worse than the ice floe. Time was against them. That same day, Shackleton ordered one boat to be prepared for an extremely risky attempt to reach the most accessible and inhabited patch of land in the area—South Georgia Island, some eight hundred miles to the northeast. The chances of making it were slim, but the men could not survive long on Elephant Island, with its exposure to the sea and the paucity of animals to kill.
Emotionally Mature People Use their Pause Button
They never react. They listen and take in the world before they respond.
Whatever life may throw at them, they know they are not helpless. They know that between the event and their response, they have a choice. They can change the first reaction or a negative pattern that comes to their mind.
How do they do it?
As per Kris Gage, they practice mindfulness. They have created a mental buffer zone. It allows them time between feeling a particular emotion and reacting to it.
They know that an immediate solution may gratify. But the best solutions come when you delay the need to get rid of the problem quickly.
They tolerate the discomfort while they think through the problem, and find the best solutions.
They know that they still have an option to assert themselves down the line. So they don’t need to surrender control and react.
They have an Inner Thermostat to Appraise and Adapt
Emotionally mature people know the lay of their inner landscape.
In his research, Franz Alexander (Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Texas University) suggests that emotionally mature people are aware of the realities – both the inner and the outer one. They know their own limitations and the ones imposed by their environment.
They become flexible and adaptive. They are able to gauge in all factors and then formulate a response by applying experience and precise reasoning.
Emotionally mature people know that the patterns they learned in the past may not fit every new emergency.
Shackleton did not lose control, even with the gargantuan burden on his mind. He mustered his faculties, took every factor into account, and sought precise and better solutions.
Case in point – when the oldest member of his crew, the grumpy Harry McNeish, suddenly stopped rowing during the attempt to reach South Georgia Island from Elephant Island:
Shackleton sensed the danger here—if he yelled at McNeish or ordered him to row, he would probably become even more rebellious, and with so few men crowded together for so many weeks with so little food, this could turn ugly. Improvising in the moment, he stopped the boat and ordered the boiling of hot milk for everyone. He said they were all getting tired, including himself, and they needed their spirits lifted. McNeish was spared the embarrassment of being singled out, and for the rest of journey, Shackleton repeated this ploy as often as necessary.
They are not Afraid to Show the Jugular
Emotionally mature people can show the world they are vulnerable.
As this School of Life article succinctly describes, they know that being close to anyone will open them up to being hurt. But they have made their peace with that idea.
They are not always about broadcasting their highlights and achievements.
They know that others want to gain an insight into their troubles and worries as well. So that they can in turn feel less lonely with the pains of their own hearts.
They are always willing to open up and share their own struggles – so others feel less alone.
They’re not interested in being seen as “perfect” all the time.
They Admit when they are Wide of the Mark
Emotionally mature people know that things often go wrong.
They accept that they are fallible. They roll with the punches and learn from their mistakes.
How do they do that?
They know how to apologize when they mess up. No excuses.
They admit their mistakes and try to find ways to rectify the situation.
For Shackleton, with the inhuman task in his hand, this was not an option. It was up to him to infect the crew with the proper spirit. He had to let the men feel optimistic through his manner and body language – even if he had to fake it.
He needed to hide all his own doubts and fears.
In those bleak and inhospitable conditions, lack of faith in his leadership could spell death and disaster.
But the cracks did show; after all, he was only human. And when they did, he handled them with utmost grace:
A few miles from their destination, a sudden storm pushed them back. As they desperately looked for a new approach to the island, a small bird kept hovering over them, trying to land on their boat. Shackleton struggled to maintain his usual composure, but suddenly he lost it, standing and swinging wildly at the bird while swearing. Almost immediately he felt embarrassed and sat back down. For fifteen months he had kept all of his frustrations in check for the sake of the men and to maintain morale. He had set the tone. Now was not the time to go back on this. Minutes later, he made a joke at his own expense and vowed to himself never to repeat such a display, no matter the pressure.
Their tiny boat finally managed to land at South Georgia Island. With the help of the whalers who worked there, all of the remaining men on Elephant Island were rescued.
Shackleton and his crew survived against all odds – the climate, the impossible terrain, the tiny boats, and their meager resources. It is one of the most miraculous survival stories in history.
Later, explorer Sir Edmund Hillary summed up Shackleton’s role in this herculean feat:
“For scientific leadership give me Scott; for swift, efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”
Stick to These Traits and Become Enthralling
Don’t get me wrong; these traits aren’t magic. They don’t materialize out of thin air.
They are a result of practicing awareness, honesty, and humility.
You still have to do the emotional heavy-lifting. You’ll have to be compassionate, open, and completely honest with yourself. You have to resist blaming others and practice empathy and accountability.
Keep doing that and slowly your cup will fill up.
You’ll grow a bounty of inner resources that you can draw upon at will. You’ll find calm confidence to respond to the knocks that life gives us all.
As Sir Ernest Shackleton’s story tells us, these traits and resources even have the power to protect us in the most elemental and primal of conditions – when a group is in danger, dependent upon one another for survival.
Cultivate these traits and you will grow adept at tackling the challenges of your life. You’ll find that people are actually interested to listen to you and even look up to you.
You’ll know that you are on your way to happiness, personal satisfaction, and gratitude.
Sounds pretty good, right?
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Emotional maturity can double down as a survival tool in a life-and-death scenario.
But the miraculous survival feat that Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and his crew pulled off cements that.
Let’s examine the key traits of the emotionally mature…
— Subhajit Banerjee (@dResilientHuman) June 29, 2020