We’ve all known adults that we have written off as having childish reactions to stressful situations or we just consider emotionally immature. It turns out that psychologists have an explanation for a major contributor to this behavior and even offer some suggestions for dealing with it whether we recognize it within ourselves, a loved one, or a friend.
Some call it being “stuck” or suffering from “arrested development” but many psychologists agree that people remain stuck at the age they experienced the least amount of love and/or support from their parents.1
Journalist, Anneli Rufus, puts it this way:
“We are stuck in the past not usually by choice but because, like dud popcorn kernels or bonsai trees, we failed to grow. The ones who were supposed to show us how to grow did not. They did not know or were not there. Or traumas held us in their grip.” 2
David Hosier, founder of Childhood Trauma Recovery, sees emotionally immature parents as failing to connect with their children, leaving the children to feel “emotionally insecure, existentially lonely, empty and hollow.”4
As adults, those who suffered the emotional neglect of a parent may find themselves lacking confidence, especially in the ability to form their own supportive relationships. And, these early experiences can manifest themselves in many ways when we become adults:
So many people reach chronological adulthood without having mastered the core elements of adult emotional functioning… adults can stay calm whereas children tend to be quick to anger. Adults exercise careful judgment before talking whereas children may impulsively blurt out tactless, hurtful words.5
According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, each of us needs a set of core life skills to manage work, family, and relationships successfully. These include: 6
PLANNING: Being able to make plans, carry them out, and set and meet goals
FOCUS: Concentrating on what’s most important at any given time
SELF-CONTROL: Having the ability to control how we respond to our emotions and stressful situations
AWARENESS: Noticing people and situations around us and how we all fit into the picture
FLEXIBILITY: Being able to adapt to changing situations
Although it’s much easier to learn core life skills when you’ve had a strong foundation early in life, it’s also never too late. Brains continue to develop into our teen and adult years, which means adults can still learn and strengthen skills. 6
This might be an area where seeking the help of a therapist may be the fastest way to grow and develop into our best adult selves.
WHAT IF SOMEONE CLOSE TO YOU IS STUCK?
What if someone close to you is stuck and not yet ready to recognize or deal with the way the behavior affects the people around them? Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, suggests these strategies:4
- Try to focus on the person’s best adult aspects
- Learn to accept that child-like behaviors will occur
- Focus on what you can do so the person’s behaviors don’t upset you. As. Dr. Heitler says, “Your job is to keep growing yourself, not change others.”
Finally, a few helpful reminders:
It’s important that you listen to yourself and try and discover what brings you happiness and feelings of joy and try to write down just one thing you are grateful for every day.
Work towards finding time every day to focus on your successes and things you like about yourself no matter how small or trivial they may seem.
Try and surround yourself with supportive friends and family while limiting your exposure to those who are negative and/or do not recognize your value and attempts to grow as a person.
Lastly, the familiar announcement heard on every airplane flight before takeoff always enters my mind: “Put your own mask on first before helping others…”
1Sinclair G. Subconsciously people remain stuck at the age that we experienced the least amount of love. 31 August 2017. Awareness Act.
2Rufus A. Arrested Development. Some of us look grown-up but aren’t. Psychology Today. 18 December 2008.
3Harrington S. Please Don’t Interrupt Me While I’m Ignoring You. MFA Thesis. University of Central Florida. 2012.
4Hosier D. Emotionally immature parents: effects on their children. Child Trauma Recovery. 23 July 2015.
5Heitler S. Can you spot 10 signs of a childish adult? Some people are developmentally delayed in the management of their emotions. Psychology Today. 4 March 2016.
6Center on the Developing Child. Building the skills adults need for life. A guide for practitioners. Harvard University.
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