The road to emotional maturity by David Abrahamsen - Summary

Do you ever feel emotionally overwhelmed? Do you tend to blame others for your shortcomings and behavior? The problem may actually be your emotions and this book can help you figure them out.



Every man’s life is filled with discontent, with restlessness, with conflict. These factors cloud our days and keep us awake at night because we do not understand our own selves - our dreams and wishes, our ambitions and limitations - our feelings. Yet the worst evil I know is not to seek knowledge and not to apply our knowledge to ourselves and the situations we face.

Looking inward for greater awareness

Beginning your journey

What we need is not the will to believe but the wish to find out. – Bertrand Russel

  • you have to understand yourself to reach emotional comfort.
  • all habits express in some way unconscious feeling in ourselves.
  • the unconsciousness can have diametrically opposed believes and wishes to what society tells us

  • the mind consists of 3 intertwined parts:
    • ego: rational part and largely conscious. it makes out our personality
    • superego: conscience; part that makes us feel guilty. induced by parents and schools to attain “correct” behavior;
    • id: instinctual drives; primitive, amoral, and asocial impulses; sexual drive; self preservation. this part is hard to control. ego and superego try to balance the energy emitted by the id.

What is emotional comfort?

  • emotional comfort is when ego, superego and id don’t have to fight each other

  • first observe what is going on within us, then observe our behavior in everyday life and lastly alter our environmental situation to achieve emotional contentment.

Starting your self-examination

  • Deal with feelings immediately and don’t postpone it. This will push it away from your chest and builds a certain awareness about ourselves.
  • never postpone addressing your feelings.

  • “Seek and ye shall find.” Only if you search and do something, you can be emotionally comfortable. Wishing and dreaming achieves nothing.

The reason we don’t learn from our experiences is that our original habit patterns interfere with our recognition of the lessons that new experiences can teach us, and therefore prevent us from incorporating them into our method of living.

Know thyself – Socrates

To thine own self be true – Hamlet (Shakespeare)

Awaken your unconscious

For it is wisdom to believe the heart. – George Santayana

  • we can never make the unconscious completely conscious to us.
  • observe your own actions which deviates from your intended actions to get an idea what your unconsciousness really wants / feels

  • slip of the tongue: lapsus linguae

  • we can not repress our feelings. they need an outlet or they will find one.

Your feelings are your life

If your relationship to yourself is a good one, you will find that you tend to remember the good rather than the bad, the humane rather than the inhumane. This is the direct result of your drive for self-preservation, which roots out the minor deaths you have experienced, and pushes you on toward life. If this life force is weakened through unhappy childhood experiences, you will, by and large, see the emergence of a hypercritical person or a chronic complainer.

  • unconscious guilt feeling can lead to self-punishment.

  • signs of conflict in your mind:
    • indecisiveness
    • inability to act
    • depression
    • anxiety
    • fear
    • sleeplessness
    • restlessness
  • the more we repress our wishes and fears the more we are conflicted and as a result the less we can life our life to the fullest.

if you have suffered certain miseries and difficulties, you will usually find yourself drawn to people who have similar troubles.

Use your dreams for self-understanding

  • a dream either represent a wish or a fear
  • you must make an effort to understand the language of your dreams. they work similar to “parables”.

  • if you can’t remember your dreams, your consciousness actually doesn’t want to face their probably “unpleasant” contents / revelations

  • dreams are a compromise between reality and wishes or fears. because of your resistance to certain feelings, your dreams tell you what the unconscious wants to express, not in the way it really wants to express it, but in a way that is acceptable to the consciousness.

  • free associations: let feelings, thoughts, ideas and incidents come into your mind which are stimulated by your dreams freely; for example with word associations or idea associations

How much of the child is left in you?

  • influences on personality growth:
    • inherent temperamental predispositions
    • biological and emotional development
    • emotional climate at home
  • recognize negative traits in your later life which may originate from early childhood years

  • all energy is sexually charged in people, hence every activity is influenced by it

Don’t let fear and hostility block your love

  • people who are unable to love are unconsciously filled with self-hatred and hostility.

  • shyness usually is a shield or a disguise for hostility toward oneself and others which should be kept secret

Lack of interest in your own appearance or your abilities indicates you do not care about yourself (just as excessive vanity or concern about your appearance show emotional insecurity). Being careless about your appearance may be your way of saying, “I want people to accept me for myself, just as I am. I’m tired of ‘fighting’ for acceptance,” - an unconscious display of hostility. In other words, what is your reason for keeping yourself unattractive to others?

  • overreactions of anxiety, fear or anger can signify emotional weaknesses

You are both male and female

  • passivity: feminine

  • activity or aggressiveness: masculine

  • most have traits from both sides whereby some are more prominent than others

  • observe your habits and actions to determine your level of masculinity of femininity

  • our relationships with the other sex most prominently display our own levels of masculinity or feminity in the reverse. an overly masculine person desires a partner that is more feminine than others.

Hostility is as difficult to overcome as fear, but both can be surmounted by self-knowledge and self-understanding.

  • kindness, understanding, sweetness, helpfulness or politeness may be misunderstood. they may actually represent submissiveness or passivity.

You can not act wisely without knowing your true motivation. And this wisdom is possible to everyone who is willing to look within.

Changing your inner life for emotional comfort

How to find emotional maturity - a key to emotional comfort

  • brilliant and intellectual people often lack emotional insight across the board

Emotional wisdom means acceptance of what you really are - not what you wish to be - and the ability to make the most of it.

  • if you conscious and unconscious mind are in accord, you will radiate a sense of emotional unity which draws in other people

  • stumbling block to reach emotional maturity:
    • childishness
    • dependency
    • excessive need for love and affection
    • inability to give love
    • a need to control others
    • emotional instability (rapid mood swings)
    • hostility
    • resentfulness
    • rebelliousness
    • spiteful behavior and vengefulness
    • guilt feelings and fears
    • lack of realism
    • inability to concentrate
    • daydreaming
    • childish sexual behavior
    • indifference to or dread of spiritual values
  • negative (immature) feelings:
    • hostility
    • destructive aggressiveness
    • fears
    • anxiety
    • guilt
  • feeling unloved or rejected never comes alone. there is always a feeling of hostility connected with it towards another person or oneself. This feeling leads to guilt and lastly to fear.

  • steps for overcoming stumbling blocks:
    • have a desire to overcome it
    • eat something and relax somewhere quiet
    • verbalize your problem aloud and try to pinpoint the source using free associations. Look for the one which makes you the most anxious and tense.
    • ask yourself questions regarding the matter from different angles
    • relate the current situation to possibly previous incidents during your childhood
    • review the previous incident and its connected feelings
    • think of your feelings of the current situation
    • don’t be discouraged if you can’t locate your feelings immediately because they can be buried deep beneath several protective layers
    • practice self-explorations regularly
    • after finding the emotional carry over from the past, you can better rationalize the current situation and mitigate the situation better
    • every time you face the same emotional stumbling block remind yourself of the earliest occurrence and tell yourself it doesn’t have to do anything with the now
    • constantly remind yourself of the facts and reaffirm the desire to change

Specific yardstick for self-exploration

  • lists of several virtues of being immature and mature

To grow emotionally is to live

  • feeling emotionally satisfied in your job:
    • want to work
    • be self-reliant
    • gives a challenge to look forward to
    • make you feel growing in it
    • gives you status and recognition
    • provides ample livelihood
  • feeling of dependency often results in hostility

You can be your own “feelings doctor”

  • this chapter includes a great and lengthy case study on how to do it.

How to apply your knowledge to yourself

  • not every problem is solvable directly
  • stumbling blocks do not come from nowhere
  • stumbling block emerge in patterns
  • hostility is often directed towards others even though they are not the cause
  • often people project their feelings onto others and assume they will react similarly

Love has many outlets

Genuine love begins with understanding and accepting yourself.

  • “normal” men are not attracted to cold and aggressive women and women dislike men who are not tender

  • in case you find such a relationship, the people involved are fond of self-torture - so called infatuations

  • people with a strong affection for pets without ever seeking a lover are afraid of emotional involvement. they can’t cope with the demands for love which another person might make on them. So they avoid it.

How to determine your attitude toward marriage

  • some people may have the following attitudes:
    • Why should I give up my freedom?
    • Who wants to stay home and do housework?
    • Marriage is a trap.

Reluctance to marry frequently indicates hostility toward yourself and the opposite sex.

  • rationalizing a marriage seldomly works in the long run.

Choosing a mate

  • marriage without sexual attraction should be thoroughly reconsidered
  • don’t confuse sex with love
  • society may make someone feel in love through guilt feeling due to a debt to their bed-partner

Your mate must be thought of not only as a bed-partner but even more as a friend, companion, and confidant. Hence, you should choose your mate as carefully and wisely as you choose your closest friend.

  • when choosing a mate, consider their behavior to all people not the “sugar coated” version to only yourself, otherwise the “sugar coating” may disappear in the future

You must determine your ability to accept your mate’s habits and reactions and live comfortably with them [before marriage].

Looking outward for emotional comfort

The art of love in marriage

  • marriage is like a plant. it starts out with a strong seed of love but needs constant nurturing or it will wither away.

  • partner’s who only concern themselves with their role while neglecting the one of the other, will inevitably suffer, if the wife doesn’t care about finance or the husband does not take care of the home.

While previously you lived and made plans according to your own desires, consulting family or friends on personal matters, in marriage your mate should be your confidant and your decisions should be geared to bring satisfaction to both of you.

Shutting out your mate often leads to unnecessary worry or feelings of rejections which tend to cause disharmony.

  • controlling a partner’s thoughts and actions through nagging, ridiculing, or teasing can end badly

  • be open to the habits of your partner and adapt to each other

  • if your wife stays at home, merely giving here an allowance each month can cause feelings of resentment. it’s better to have a mutual fund where both of you draw from at the same time.

  • don’t be concerned if you and your partner can’t reach sexual gratification at the same time.

  • deep rooted feelings may come forth during intercourse in the form of not being able to reach an orgasm for a prolonged time or the facial expressions made during the act.

  • giving up a good friendship because your mate dislikes them may sometimes be necessary as friendship can on average be replaced.

A smooth-running marriage requires insight

  • a marriage requires work. the happiest couple may have a divorce if they neglect this part.

  • a public outburst towards your spouse may give you a feeling of having a “fake” ally called the “public”.

  • don’t release your anger if your spouse is doing it. It’s better to wait for another opportunity and rather show understanding in the moment.

  • getting sloppy about your appearance and habits only because the “hunt is over” can cause the other person to loose interest

  • as soon as the attitude of “I take my spouse for granted” takes over, you have reached the danger zone

  • don’t become lackadaisical about showing genuine concern about your spouse

  • jealousy is a result of fearing to loose your spouse and being alone. Or, one spouse may feel that the other spouse is their property and they may do as they please.

  • over-trust in the other person is also a sign of “possession” of the other person. unconsciously they feel inadequate because they feel that no-one else would make such a good couple as them but given the amount of people on earth that’s rather unlikely.

  • extramarital affairs are a result of a failure to fulfill one’s own desire of an essential part typical in a marriage.

  • emotional problems can be found more among single and divorced people than in married people because they are able to have a happy marriage whereas immature seldomly can

A new path in family living

  • essential elements of emotional security for a child:
    • genuine love
    • feeling of achievement, recognition and success
    • freedom to experience new things and learn by themselves
    • guidance and discipline
    • economic security
  • family tensions play an enormous role in the development of emotional disturbances of children like:
    • hostility
    • hatred
    • resentment
    • nagging
    • bickering
  • some women have guilt feelings about having pleasure through sexual intercourse which manifests itself through increased pain during childbirth. A form of punishment which they inflict upon themselves.

The foundation for your child’s healthy emotional growth

  • breastfeeding is an essential part in the development of a child’s upbringing

Whoever has seen the satiated infant sink back from the breast to fall asleep with flushed cheeks and a happy smile must see that the picture is identical to the expression of sexual satisfaction in later life. – Sigmund Freud

  • breastfeeding can be a pleasurable experience for mothers as well.

  • according to Dorothy Burlingame and Anna Freud, children destroying their toys merely try to figure out how things work and are frustrated that they can’t fix them again.

Parents and children are human beings

  • some children are more sensitive to receiving anger or rejection

  • the main problem of parents is to keep their own emotional equilibrium.

  • “Do as I say and not as I do” never ever works.

  • never threat a child with:
    • “If you don’t behave I’ll send you to the orphan asylum.
    • “I’ll leave you and never come back.”
  • don’t impress on the child that he is bad but rather that his behavior was wrong. If a child asks: “Do you love me?”, never answer with: “When you’re a good boy I love you, but when you’re bad I don’t love you at all!”. This may result in the child feeling that anything good he has done sofar was for naught and will behave out of spite wrongly in the future.

I must be cruel to be kind. – Shakespeare

  • if a child misbehaves, you should not be afraid to punish them because in the long haul it will bear fruits. But, punishment has to be chosen wisely. Also, giving ice-cream to your child after punishment because of your own guilt feeling causes confusion in the child.

Curbing hostility in children

  • the reactions and behaviors our children display are only a reflection of our own emotional maturity

Timing of a discussion of any problem can be a major factor in resolving it.

  • children stopping to address issues in the family may feel fearful of speaking out during dinner and rather seek out friends or teachers for advice and support. This should be countered by allowing everyone to tell what is on their minds no matter what how uninteresting or (fill in adjective) it may be.

The science of living

When I finish, I begin. – Goethe

Technology, with its mass production, its assembly lines, its division of labor, its stress on youth, speed, and specialization, has provided us with physical comforts but little food for the spirit. It is, in fact, largely responsible for the lack of individuality in so many Americans.

  • a true individual is not afraid to step out of the herd. he is able to feel and think on his own.

  • definition of success: ability to change obstacles into achievements in order to feel content and useful but not to earn external recognition.

False pride is the most expensive garment you can wear.

Either you conquer your feelings and make them useful to you, or they conquer you and make you a slave to your emotions.

Genuine success is decided by the emotional satisfaction you have achieved, the emotional happiness you have in your heart, and how much of that happiness you are able to give and to share with others.

  • Chances are not given in life but have to be created. They appear in the faintest form possible and have to be turned into opportunities with foresight and perception.

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The mind agrees.