On "Adulting", Deep Anxiety and Self
Ooooh, I've been dying to write about this. Not least because at least 5 of my clients this week have been talking about precisely this topic. Or to be more precise, here's some of the things (edited for confidentiality of course) which they said:
"I feel like I'm not grown up at all."
"How can other people bear it, to have to do all the grown up things while they feel unprepared? Or am I the only one who feels unprepared?"
"I feel ashamed to have to ask for help. It's not an adult thing to ask for help. There's this expectation to be able to handle things, because you know, that's what being an adult is supposed to be."
"I hate this...this having to BE adult! Where did that kind of pressure come from!?"
"They tell me that I act like a child."
THE QUIET AND DISOWNED CHILD IN US
The question for you, dear reader, is this:
Have YOU ever felt like a child, despite your biological age? Have you felt vulnerable like a child?
Have you ever felt like you (internally) can't live up to some kind of standard to be adult (whatever that might be)?
The odds are that most of us would have felt this being-a-child sense, at least during some points of our lives, chronological age not withstanding. And my observation is that a deep, deep seam of anxiety, courses parallel to this being-a-child sense. It maybe feels like insecurity, sometimes close to panic, maybe usually just a disquiet wobble in the pit of your stomach.
Being-a-child also feels alone.
The kind of alone, exposed feeling you have when you're told to do something big and scary, and the person who told you to do it essentially conveys to you, "There you are, YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN now, mate." And pushes you onto the stage in front of the rest of the judging world to maul.
Is it any wonder that anxiety merges with this child feeling?
When I asked these clients of mine how they felt about the child feeling, and what sense they make of it, to my surprise, most of them would tell me that this feels more like their True Self (with Capitals). The adult part of them, the part that gets on with things and life, no matter how shitty it happens to be right now, is a facade, with a veneer of daring-do.
ADULTING IS PRIORITIZED
Part of this Adult facade, or should I say Adult Face, is internalized expectations. Behind this Adult Face is an emotional part of us that feels that we should be adult, however that is defined. We're all grown up now. We should do the responsible thing and know what is right to do. Sometimes, it might weave in the current social narrative into its imperative - "That's what a real MAN does!" in a hyper-masculine culture, for instance.
BRIEF ODE TO ADULTING
But don't get me wrong, Adulting is important. It helps us get on with the mess of life (like the Hermit Crab I wrote about some time back). It also allows us to embody responsibility - which is crucial if we are to live a fruitful life, and to truly live at all. If we don't take responsibility for our actions, we don't take responsibility for directing the course of our lives, and the choices we make.
Without the Adult Face, we would be in so much trouble.
I know of too many people, some closer to home than I'd prefer, who had chosen not to Adult at all. They've decided to just fully milk their vulnerabilities, exaggerating them into distorted excuses for not making even smallest of personal life choices. I bet you also see this a lot in your own lives - people who blame others for their mistakes. People who refuse to own up to their part in a failed relationship. People who act out in anger without thought for the consequences. People who choose to run away from a job because they can't stand how their manager is criticising them, even though it is honest criticism without personal attack.
HOWEVER, WHEN TAKEN TOO FAR....
While Adulting has its place and is actually incredibly valuable, it also disenfranchises a lot of people. Or to be more precise, over-investing in Adulting and the Adult Face at the expense of our soft emotional underbellies really hurts us.
Hence my client's words above. They feel that they aren't ALLOWED to be a child, or be vulnerable. There would be Ridicule. There would be Derision. Scorn even. Shame definitely, from others who are also scared to be less-than-Adult once in a while. To ask for help once in a while is considered....Weak.
Ironically, there's even anxiety about being weak and not adult enough. It's the mutation of the original emotional part driving the Adult Face. So people keep their fears and insecurities and their vulnerabilities inside, hoarding it like toxins in the digestive tract until it seeps into the fabric of their beings.
STRIKING A BALANCE - THE INTERNAL SEE-SAW OF LIFE/ OWNING BOTH SIDES
As you might have sense by now if you've followed my written thoughts (if you haven't, please feel free to read some of my or Sam's earlier writings - a spot of personal marketing isn't that shameless); I'm all about BALANCE in all senses of the word.
In this case, I feel that we need to strike an ongoing, dynamic internal Balance between Adulting/ applying our Adult Faces and our more Being-A-Child Feelings.
How we achieve that balance comes from our own meaningful definition of what is acceptable Adulting and when it is ok to express Being-A-Child. In the Focusing tradition, we would regularly take time to make aware space for both the emotional part behind Adulting and the Being-A-Child feeling to be present, equally.
Then we would also take time to listen, flesh out, and crystallize each of these two emotional parts. The more we are familiar with each part, the more we A) can meet the emotional needs implicit in each part (e.g., Adulting needs such as being in control of one's life, being able to choose for ourselves; and Child needs like being safe, being nurtured, being able to play and let loose); and B) sense how to strike that dynamic balance between both emotional parts.
Ultimately, you would learn to be empowered by embodying the Adult Face whilst also learning to be ok with being vulnerable, and sometimes even playful, while embodying the Being-A-Child part.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
In your own daily life, how would you go about Balancing being ok BOTH with Being-A-Child (vulnerable, playful, irresponsible in a good way, explorative, scared, needing nurturance and protection) AND exercising your Adult Face (Responsible, grown up, fix things on your own, handle .Life, hold down a job, be serious, and so forth)?
When were the times you had to prioritize one over the other? How could you re-balance after that? Do you give yourself permission to sometimes be child-like? When and how?