The art of becoming an adult requires courage, commitment and responsibility with oneself and with others. Becoming a healthy adult is not an easy task, especially considering how the society in which we grow is set up.
Depending on how we have lived our childhood and the links with our parents, we will need differing amounts of effort on the way to our physical and emotional maturity. Our physiological and social ages do not always correspond, and so why exactly are they out of sync? Why do we often find it so difficult to grow up?
Taking on responsibilities that were not ours when we were small, and having felt like the situation was not resolved in the way we would have wanted, can cause deep wounds in our self-esteem and our sense of self-sufficiency. This is a burden that can stunt the emotional growth of any child and make becoming an adult a challenging process.
Why do we sometimes resist becoming an adult?
Why do some people have so much difficulty maturing? There are many motives for staying in a state of eternal youth (known as “Peter Pan Syndrome“). To start with, society pressures us to always remain perfect, beautiful and with a young spirit.
Secondly, the emotional wounds from our childhood sometimes cause us to drag unfinished and unresolved issues along with us and we then have to deal with a wounded child who resists becoming an adult. Deep down he is still hanging on to part of his childhood or at least trying to emerge from it without suffering deep wounds. If these matters are still unresolved, they will rear their ugly heads in our day to day lives. Our thinking is that if we remain as infants then it is easier to avoid responsibilities and feel comfortable in our own familiar territory, instead of trying to explore unknown areas.
What are the characteristics of an adult that can’t grow up?
An adult who resists growing up will generally have many different characteristics. The main ones are:
- He has unsatisfied childhood needs which he constantly tries to compensate for in the present.
- He feels guilty for the things he does, says and feels, and these he sometimes shows outwardly and sometimes keeps them inside. He has difficulty differentiating himself from his parents or his partners.
- He exaggerates his needs and these can also become either addictions, or needs that need to be satisfied immediately.
- He needs constant stimuli in his life and can either be very dependent on others, or very independent (although behind that independence lies a need to be seen and recognised).
- He represses his emotions and lets them bury themselves inside him, either that or he is a roller coaster of emotions that can’t be controlled
- He expects a lot from other people, and, although he can give lot too, he usually expects something in return.
- Inside of him he suffers wounds of abandonment and rejection that he lived through in his childhood.
Guilt makes becoming an adult difficult
Imagine a child with parents going through a separation. In this situation, it is quite normal for the child to start trying to avoid the family nucleus being broken up, and, if he doesn’t succeed, to assume part of the responsibility for the eventual outcome. That feeling of responsibility due to his apparent failure will turn into guilt, a burden that they shouldn’t be carrying and that can end up slowing their development.
The wounded child lives in an adult body and is frozen in time. He thinks it doesn’t matter how old he is, 25, 40 or 60 years old is all the same to him. Guilt tends to be very active in a child (in an adult’s body) who has little emotional maturity.
The child feels an unhealthy guilt, which makes him think that he is responsible for everything that goes on around him. This burden the child feels is not real, even if he lives it out as such. If we cannot handle our guilt when we become adults, we are going to have big problems trying to take on our day to day responsibilities.
What is the path to becoming an adult emotionally?
To reach emotional maturity we will have to deal with the feeling of guilt instead of avoiding it. Managing guilt is going to be the most important key to be able to continue growing in the relationship that we have with emotions – both ours and other people’s.
To begin to assimilate this guilt is necessary: living through the pain of the child, not avoiding it but walking through it and consciously feeling it. When we are able to leave behind our past history and our burdens, guilt becomes a healthy responsibility that pushes us forward to maturity.
“Trust comes with maturity, accepting yourself more and more”
The courage of being adults
The art of becoming a healthy adult doesn’t just mean undertaking different roles in life (in our work, relationships and family life) but goes much further than that. It happens when we take a leap into the unknown, acquiring an identity which is distinct from that of our parents – leaving our expectations aside, and starting to do things for ourselves.
If we value ourselves and accept ourselves for who we are, then our experiences in life will lead us naturally into adulthood. What sets us free to live our lives is the awareness and acceptance of the circumstances that we face in our lives.
Therefore some keys to becoming an autonomous adult are: stop behaving like the victim, avoid complaining all the time and leave the past behind. Only by being brave and taking a step towards the unknown can we begin to govern our own life.