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Finally Growing Up

The poet e.e. cummings wrote, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” However, what does being a mature adult entail?

It means psychologically and emotionally separating from our parents and others, even institutions or careers, which have previously provided a sense of security. As we individuate – choose our own path based upon our inner needs and desires – we begin to separate from past reliances. This creates a sense of loss, even fear, causing us to often stay where we are, comfortable with our past dependency and security. We remain tied to old beliefs and to others instead of venturing out on our own.

According to psychologist Dr. Firestone, the main reason why many of us don’t want to grow up is the ‘fantasy bond.’ Early in life, children form the illusion that parents offer a degree of safety and security in order to reduce feelings of emotional discomfort or frustration caused by childhood wounding (e.g., deprivation, rejection, separation, and overwhelment). Our parents held the archetypal authority of Mother and Father, the ones that will protect us. However, experience told us otherwise; and yet, we still yearn for it.

We cling to this unreasonable belief (fantasy bond) that something or someone will take care of us, instead of realizing that we alone are fully responsible for our well-being.  We place expectations on partners, friends, church, and employers (e.g., pensions, benefits) to provide security. The extent to which we rely on external sources to take care of us is proportional to the degree of psychological pain we experienced in our childhoods.

What are the consequences of not growing up? A.H. Almass observed that “All the difficulties you experience, all the problems you have, exist, quite simply, because you don’t want to grow up.”

When we depend upon external sources to fulfill our needs, we forfeit our responsibility for getting our needs met.  We then act from a child’s perspective, regressing into pouting (‘poor me’) or even tantrums, blaming or trying to manipulate others. We will drink, shop, and eat to numb our hurt instead of facing the discomfort.

To dispel the fantasy bond, we must learn to take responsibility for our feelings and actions. As psychiatrist Murray Bowen observed, mature adults “are able to distinguish between the feeling process and the intellectual process…and [have] the ability to choose between having one’s functioning guided by feelings or by thoughts.”

Emotionally mature people do not get defensive, angry or use unhealthy coping mechanisms when unpleasant situations arise.  They readily explore new ideas, welcome constructive criticism, and seek to expand their self-knowledge. They are connected to and trust their inner source of wisdom and authority – a set of inner parents who benevolently support the fulfillment of their needs.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.