What does it mean to feel grown up?

Feeling mature, decisive maybe — able to take care of our own needs. So much of how or how long that takes depends on what happened to us as kids.

Maybe you lucked out.

You got a mature mom and dad. You got two people, who had somehow managed to learn how to love, discipline and guide all at the same time, without being cruel or manipulative. Two people whose inner integrity shone through whatever weaknesses or vulnerabilities they had. Two people who were committed to helping you grow and learn, sheltering you, and then, when it was time, supporting your journey into your own adult life.

Maybe you got some version of that. If you did, you ought to celebrate.

But maybe you didn’t.

Maybe you were born into poverty, with parents who were so constantly worried that they didn’t pay much attention to you. Maybe one or both parents were alcoholic, and you shuddered when you heard the first pop of a beer can. Maybe your dad disappeared, or your mom was vicious.

Maybe you were coddled and spoiled, because one lonely parent needed you to be there for them. Maybe you were pushed to achieve, because your parent needed you to make them look good.

Somehow, you survived. You came up with a strategy for living.

You got a job at 9, trying to get approval. You tiptoed around when dad was drunk, attempting to be invisible. You became a pleaser in hopes mom wouldn’t get too mad. You stayed at school, totally involved with football or student government, so you wouldn’t have to go home. You had sex at 13, insecure but craving attention. You hid things from a nosy, smothering parent, just to have your own life.

That strategy, whether rational or not, was the way you coped.

But what happens when you become an adult? What happens when you leave that family?

 Many of us don’t change our strategies. We keep on living like we did as children, believing those same behaviors will bring satisfaction and safety — not even realizing they no longer fit.

Pleasers keep trying to please. Overachievers become workaholics, still trying to get approval.  Invisible children become invisible adults, avoiding any sort of conflict. Children who had no control become secret keepers.

You don’t really grow up. You’re still following the rules that may have protected you as a child.

So how do you figure this out? What clues are there that perhaps you’re not as grown up as you think you are?

1) What strategy did you come up with to cope in your family?

Remember yourself as a child — how it felt to be you. What did you do to try to feel loved, secure or safe? What role did you play in your family? A patient, Diane, once told me that her job in the family was to make her very drunk dad laugh, so he wouldn’t be vicious.

Who was she as an adult?   “The jokester,” who used humor to hide pain that she felt.

Diane was also diabetic and obese.

Hope doesn't come from insight. Hope comes from a change of behavior2) What beliefs did you form about yourself, or the world?

That could be, “I’m not worth being loved.” Or, “I have to be the best.” Or. “My job is to take care of others.” If you still are hearing that false belief in your head, it can cause chaos.

Walker, who was abused as a child, was told, “You’re never going to amount to anything.” How he survived was to believe, “I will be successful, no matter what.”

Who was Walker now, with little insight into himself or his life?

A highly successful entrepreneur, who looked at me, and said, “I have everything anyone could ever want. But I can’t stop trying to do more, make more money.”

His personal life was completely empty.

3)  How can you challenge that belief system — and make different choices? 

Now that you have some insight, look around your life for examples of how and when you’re still acting on the beliefs you formed as a child. It could be anything from not wanting to wear your hair short, because you were bullied about having big ears — to realizing you don’t let others help you, because you still believe your job is take care of everyone — or to not admitting grief, because you came to believe it was safer to hide your own suffering.

Risk trying to change. Make a decision about yourself that is based on what you know now.

You’re very likely to feel more hopeful, and more engaged with your present life.

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#hope #change #drmargaret”]Hope doesn’t come from insight. Hope comes from a change of behavior.[/tweetthis]

Insight is great, and necessary. But it’s making changes in yourself today that allows you to take a big breath — and realize your childhood doesn’t have to be played out anymore.

You’ve grown up.


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