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Adulthood: Fake it til You Make it?

By Pam Montgomery, Feb 13 2016 05:41PM

"I'm an adult! Why do I feel like I'm walking around acting like a child in an adult's body?" or

"Why do I feel like I've been stuck at age 18 for the last 20 years?"

I hear it over and over again, women are struggling to live their lives as adults, with balance, with confidence.

In fact, more and more, research supports the notion of a newly defined developmental stage called adultescence, which is the stage between adolescent and adulthood that seems to be a growing phenomenon. However, this isn't what I'm seeing with my clients. Instead, like many counselors, I see women who are stuck living and believing as a child, not due to over-controlling, hover parents as is the case with adultescence, but as a result of the trauma of childhood abuse.

For example, a woman who experiences a traumatic event at age 8 will often report that she feels like an 8-year old girl walking around in a 40-year old woman’s body. Or a woman who was abandoned at age 15 is experienced by those around her as a grown woman who behaves as a young teen.

In fact, more and more, I find myself asking my clients, “So, what would a grownup do?”

In all honesty, I ask myself that question on a pretty regular basis as well! I find that in asking the question, we are given not only a foundation for problem resolution, but also a path to discovering the root of particular issues or belief systems. It’s a pretty powerful question in a simple package.

What would a grownup do?

Here are some characteristics of adults that my clients and I have compiled over the past few years. Look through them and notice which ones you excel at and which you might need to work on. on. That’s what grown ups do…when they recognize something they need to work on, they do the work. (This is in stark contrast to what children do...we'll look at that in a bit)

OK, here is my randomized list of things that adult do:

An adult:

Attends to her health and has regular checkups with doctor and dentist

Cares for her personal hygiene

Exercises regularly

Has an internal locus of control, knows she can make positive choices for her life

Has hobbies that bring her joy and engages in them regularly

Isn’t afraid to put herself first – gets her tank refilled so she can have something to give to those that she loves

Knows how to manage her time

Is fiscally responsible. Yes, even independent.

Knows that she has the same value and worth as everyone else in the world

Makes and maintains healthy, intimate, authentic friendships

Has confidence in her abilities and recognizes her weaknesses

Knows that, as a human, she is not perfect and gives herself a break when she makes a mistake

Understands that she can’t be good at everything and makes an effort to improve where she can

Cares about others and is generous with what she has - time, energy, finances, heart

Is a good neighbor/citizen without need for thanks or recognition

Knows how to behave in public – doesn’t make a spectacle of herself to get attention

Tolerates others’ differing opinions without needing to be right all the time

Understands her emotions and is responsible for her own heart

Is reasonable and can compromise when necessary

Attempts to make peace with those around her, but not at the expense of truth

Knows her own reality and can speak it

Pays her bills on time and knows her credit score

Knows who she is and is not threatened by others who know who they are as well

Recognizes when she needs help and isn’t afraid to ask for it

Doesn’t expect others to: be perfect, meet her needs, make her the center of their universe

Is a good family/team member

Recognizes and deals with her shame core

Asks and extends forgiveness

Can say no and can accept no from others

Engages her spirituality and doesn't use it to hurt others

Develops healthy communication skills

Takes responsibility for her interpretations and what she makes up about others’ motivations and behaviors

Can give and receive love

Can accept constructive criticism and act upon it in a healthy way without catastrophizing

Makes peace with her body

Recognizes her unhealthy coping skills and defense mechanisms and strives to replace them with healthy ones

Engages her purpose in life either personally or vocationally

Faces life’s challenges with courage and accepts both support and correction

Opens her mail and returns phone calls

Is flexible and can live with balance, knowing that life is not black and white

Faces her fears and anxieties

Develops resilience to life’s difficulties and can keep things in perspective

Lives in reality...can ask herself, “what is real,” and takes responsibility when she doesn’t

Knows how to play

Knows when to play and when to reign it in

Knows how to balance her checkbook...and does it

Allows herself to have a voice

Is able to gather esteem from the inside out (has a healthy self-esteem)

Understands that by having contempt for herself, she gives powers to those who have hurt her

Doesn’t take advantage of others

Is able to make and keep commitments

OK, that’s a lot to live up to and I’m sure I’ve missed some important things. Can you think of something to add? Please add them in the comments!

Ultimately, and don’t skip this part, the mark of an adult is that she can live with balance, balance, balance. She knows that living on either end of the irresponsibility/hyper-responsibility spectrum will be self-destructive. So, if you take away just one thing, remember this – moderation, responsibility, self-acceptance and self-forgiveness are the keys to being an adult.

Don't run away just yet!

I know, I know, this doesn't sound FUN. It doesn't sound EASY. Maybe, even, you find yourself saying, "I don't want to be a grownup!"

But let me tell you, and this comes from a heart that is FOR you and FOR your greatest good, being a grownup is worth it.

Let's just quickly take a look at the antithesis of some of those grow-up characteristics:

A child in an adult's body:

Gathers (even extracts) her esteem from others because she doesn't esteem herself

Does not care for her hygiene

Does not create time to engage in activities that bring her joy

Looks to her husband/children/community to define her identity - lives vicariously through others

Expects others to affirm her every decision, even those that are counter-productive

Is overwhelmed because she can not manage her time or priorities

Cannot say no

Expects others to know what she needs or makes her requests in abstract terms

Blames others for inadequately meeting her needs

Does not know her own value

Does not have intimate, authentic friendships

Is not confident in her abilities

Feels intense shame

Projects her 'shadow' on others because she is to fearful to face the pain of self-reflection

Does not live out of a sense of reality

Is prejudiced, thinking of herself as being better than others

Behaves as if others should place her at the center of their lives, anticipating and meeting her needs so she doesn't have to

Does not ask for or extend forgiveness - holds on to bitterness

Does not engage her spirit

Does not have a voice

Lives with in a perpetually black and white world. When she reads this list and one thing doesn't apply to her, she will disregard the whole list and call herself 'healthy'

OK, that last one wasn't meant to be a dig.

Know that black and white thinking is a pain-reducing coping mechanism. So, if that was your response, just notice it and ask, "what am I trying not to feel or recognize?" And move forward from there.

Alright, I want to end this by telling you that none of us can be perfect adults and none of us has all the answers, but I believe in you and know without a doubt that you have what it takes to become one of those people who walk with confidence and strength as an adult in an adult's body.

Pick one thing that you might need to work on and get working!

*I used the pronoun she/her because most of my clients are female, but these characteristics apply to men as well.

**If, after reading through this list, you think you might need help to work through the story of your chilchood and develop more adult behaviors and belief systems, click here to find out more about making an appointment to discuss making a plan for healing.

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