Are you in “emotional adulthood”?

Or “emotional childhood”?

Last week we talked about how our thoughts create our feelings. Our circumstances don’t create our feelings. What we think about our circumstances–our thoughts–create our feelings.

I know I’ve said this same thing in various ways, but repetition increases retention. And this is important if we want to take back our power.

Emotional childhood occurs when grown adults have not matured past childhood in terms of managing their emotions. This means they react to their emotions, act out, or avoid emotions rather than taking full responsibility and choosing thoughts that will create more desirable and appropriate emotions. Emotional childhood is not taking responsibility for how we feel.

We call ourselves adults, but most of us are still functioning as emotional children. It’s not something we do on purpose—most of our parents still function as emotional children, which perpetuates the cycle. But we’re responsible for how we feel in each moment–we’re in charge of how we think, and we’re in charge of how we feel. When we’re functioning as emotional children, we’re blaming other people for how we feel, how we act, and for the results we get in our life.

We’re not taught in high school or college how to be emotional adults. But once we’ve reached adulthood, our brains are developed enough to be able to understand what we’re thinking, and therefore we can decide what to think and what to feel in any given moment, no matter what anyone else does in our lives.

As children, we don’t have this capacity. We think everything going on in our lives is what causes our feelings, and this is perpetuated by the adults that raise us. Adults are used to making comments to children like, “Sarah, you really hurt that little girl’s feelings. You need to say you’re sorry for hurting her feelings” or “Did it hurt your feelings when that boy said those mean words to you?”

We teach children at a young age that other people are responsible for how we feel, and it becomes so ingrained in us that we don’t even question it or recognize that it’s disempowering.

While children don’t have the capacity to make this distinction, many people continue to function this way as adults. Not only is this a debilitating way to live, but it also traps you in a space of blame. We blame the weather, the economy, the government, our bosses, other people, ex-partners, our mothers, our fathers, and our childhood. We blame people not only for how we feel, but for the actions we take and the results we get in our lives.

Emotional adulthood behaviors occur when we take responsibility for how we feel and make choices for how we want to feel. When we do this, we become more empowered and get to be the people we really want to be instead of being in this automatic emotional childhood space. Instead of acting like an out of control child, we can allow ourselves to feel our feelings without acting out to avoid or distract from them, or blame others. 

This is a powerful place to be. It’s a place where you have complete control over your life. Sometimes it sounds as if emotional adulthood won’t be fun and exciting—being a child sounds so much better—but the opposite is true. Being dependent on someone else as an adult, when you don’t need to be, is the most disempowering thing you can do.

When learning this concept, it can be easy to criticize and judge yourself for any thoughts, feelings, or actions you don’t like in yourself. When we go from blaming other people for the way we feel to learning to take responsibility, we may turn the blame on ourselves. This can look like, “So this whole time, I’ve been the one causing the problem? I’m such a terrible person!”

That’s not the intention of this process. The intention is to help you notice “OK, so if I feel this way or act this way, it’s because of the way I’m thinking.” You can be curious about it and treat yourself with kindness. Now, you know that you can change if you choose to.

Being an adult requires more effort and responsibility than staying in emotional childhood. Taking that step toward managing yourself and your mind so you aren’t dependent on other people for how you think, feel, or act is transformative. Try it. It’s worth it.

Your turn: Are you open to exploring how you can take more responsibility for your feelings? How can you stop blaming and giving your power away? If you could do this, how would it change the results you’re getting in your life?

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