Considering your thought patterns and style of interacting with the world, which set of personality traits seems to characterize you more:
|Believe it’s up to you to change things
|Expect others to do it for you
|Mentally active; love to learn things
|Impulsive and reactive; take action before thinking about things, to blow off anxiety quickly
|Self-reflective; learn from mistakes
|Avoid self-reflection; rarely use mistakes to learn how to do better next time
|Solve problems from the inside out
|Assign blame to others; believe if others would only give you what you want, your problems would be solved
|Sensitive; try to understand cause and effect
|Insensitive; prefer to forget and move on
|See life as opportunity for self-development
|Firmly attached to the idea that things in the outside world need to change
|Work hard to cope with reality
|Struggle against reality, often by attempting to avoid it
|Instinctively take responsibility for solving problems on your own
|Feel that competent people owe you help; depend on external soothing
|Feel guilty when displeasing others
|Fear being cut off from external sources of security
|Can suffer from imposter syndrome
|Can have low self-confidence and/or a sense of inflated superiority
|Can be overly self-sacrificing
|Overly dependent on others for support and stability
While striking a healthier balance is important for both personality styles, extreme externalizers have it worse than extreme internalizers. The Internalizers’ use of self-reflection promotes psychological growth, while the Externalizers’ staunch refusal to self-examine creates a vicious cycle of self-defeating behaviors and thought patterns.
An extremely Externalizing worldview has the power to stunt psychological and emotional growth, and is often a hallmark of emotionally immature individuals.
Let’s look around us and see if we can spot any examples of emotional immaturity in American culture: in our leaders, in celebrities, in the rich, powerful, and theoretically Most Successful individuals in our society. Seen through the lens of Externalization, do some of their behaviors and statements seem to make more coherent sense?
Whether an internalizer or an externalizer, it would be great if we all paid more attention to our inner game, and our psychological health and growth.
Emotional immaturity is the core problem we face in American culture
We spend a lot of time spitballing about whether the Misbehaving Elites deserve clinical diagnoses as a way of explaining the frequently callous, antisocial nature of their words and actions (there are even professional advocates in favor of lifting the Goldwater Rule inhibiting diagnoses “from afar”), but the fact is — as with intimate romantic relationships — it’s dangerous to sit around and wait for a professional diagnosis that is unlikely to be forthcoming.
We don’t need an expert opinion to inform us about how their actions make us feel. We don’t need to defer to any central authority to determine if the outcome of their actions is damaging, or morally inappropriate. By the time we get confirmation someone is a malignant narcissist, they’ve already bled us dry and fleeced us for all we were worth, all the while playing the poor victim.
We have the tools of evaluation already in our possession, each and every one of us. Whether behavior can be construed as pathological or within the ever-shifting spectrum of cultural normality (a sort of social psychological version of the Overton window), we can evaluate its effects on our psyche, our moral compass, and — as best we can — its objectively measured effects on the world.
Emotionally immature acts are net destructive (although they may greatly benefit the actor, particularly in the short term). They are the hallmark of the “easy way out,” the lazy “I shouldn’t have to lift a finger” worldview, the “effort is for other people” belief system, the EZ button mentality.
In a culture no longer wholly preoccupied with meeting basic material needs, we remain curiously obsessed with materialism, external validations of success, and hoarding wealth. Meanwhile, we completely devalue our emotional and psychological lives, inner states, self-reflection, and all the “icky, squishy” stuff of human nature — interactions that are not transactions, that cannot be measured, traded, or indexed, that are not profitable to someone, are predominantly seen as worthless. We are told that we need to become “more efficient,” which is techno-utopian speak for “able to generate more profit for America’s economic winners” who already have far more than any person legitimately needs, yet still feel curiously empty and unfilfilled (i.e. the Utility Monsters).
If we do not check this tendency; if we do not put a stop to the relentless devaluation and eradication of our inner lives; if we continue to look the other way while EZ buttons are continuously offered and implemented in lieu of deep effort — then it is probable that the inexorable march of capital’s power will continue to squeeze out anything truly sacred, altruistic, whimsical, unprofitable, and non-transactional in the world. Certainly most of our dystopias have imagined this possibility.
Reclaiming emotional maturity as a value
Emotionally immature Externalizers impulsively act out to distract themselves from their immediate problems, instead of working to solve them. Does this feel at all familiar? Does the grand political game of Kick The Can feel perilously like the kind of group denial that snowballs into much larger problems down the line?
Yes, it does. And we Internalizers should stop feeling guilty and uncertain about calling out examples of emotional immaturity when we see them — for fear of lacking a diagnosis, power, authority, social support, or other inhibition thanks to our perhaps overly-developed good nature.
We should call it like it is: there are a frightening number of Adult-Shaped Children in positions of power. And when the de facto leader of the free world has a finger on the most powerful nuclear EZ button of all, emotional immaturity has swiftly become the greatest, most urgent threat to humanity in our time.
I’m surprised the internalizer / externalizer framework does not seem to be more widely known, as it feels very descriptive of much of what ails us here in modern society. I got it from this most excellent book, that’s a great one to read in general if you think you might have grown up in — or are growing up in — an emotional immature household and want to know more about what “side effects” that may have produced: