How Old Do You Think You Are? — Part 1 of Adulthood

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By Holly Moore

We can all agree that crossing over into adulthood isn’t signaled purely by a number.  At the age of 18, while we are “recognized or declared by law” as adults, that certainly doesn’t mean much.  

I had my epiphany of what being an adult really meant this year, at 47.  It may not be what you think.  I’m not talking about being independent, earning an income, paying bills, and providing myself with the essentials.  Sure that’s part of it, but I’m talking about what’s happening on the inside and my attunement with it.

Being an adult requires significant knowledge about ourselves, learning from past mistakes, and making different and better choices.  But for many or most of us, breakdowns in that process continue to occur along the way.  

Having a lack of clarity and conviction about who we really are, what we feel, and what we want will ensure that we get sucked into repetitive, unproductive decision-making.  Having a lack of understanding about how we’re wired will ensure a continued looping effect in our circuitry. So...

What if instead we have clarity and conviction about the circumstances we enter into. 

 What happens when we’re in touch with our own instrument, all the notes and chords that carry with it various feelings and emotions.

 What if we knew with certainty about what hasn’t worked in the past and instead input new data that allows us to configure new beliefs, choices and actions?  

What if instead we step fully into complete acceptance of our genetic markers, regardless of their differentiation from mainstream society?

Being an adult is so much more than our age or the physical things we are able to acquire or accomplish.  Being an adult is also what we are able to access and direct inside. 

So how do we catapult ourselves out of the strong vortex of repeated patterns that keep us from advancing forward?

As Part 1 of three articles, I’ll introduce three specific pillars that have been tremendously transformative for me.  I think of them as my building blocks of adulthood.  I’m not suggesting they encompass every aspect of adulthood, nor that one's proficiency in executing them will mean smooth sailing in life.  

Of course not. 

But, they each have had a significant impact on my life. So, therefore, yes, by spending a decent amount of time taking off the bows, ribbons, wrapping paper, and tape in order to peer inside, learn and amend, I promise you will experience smoother waters.

To tee up the first of my three key pillars, I want to share a little work of wisdom with you.  I began learning more about adulthood through the insights of therapist Dr. Walter J. Broadbent Ph.D.  Early in our conversations, he shared with me a document titled “69 Characteristics of Successful Adulthood.”  It covers the essentials of being an adult.  It’s insightful, smart, and on point.

I am highlighting two that correlate with the first of the pillars I’ll be introducing:

1. Adults are capable of sharing their authentic and important feelings with others. Adults do so all the time.

2. Adults are more interested in living from the inside out. They aren’t much interested in living from the outside, in.

Pillar #1: How are you feeling right now?

That seems like such a very simple question, right?  But wow, that was the hardest question for me to answer.  In a troublesome moment, we are likely aware of the many thoughts that flood our mind or vaguely attune to a physical reaction within our body. But the disconnect often occurs when we fail to pause and translate those thoughts or physical reactions into basic feelings by identifying them with words.

I’m talking about basic feelings like sad, hurt, mad, scared, grief, helpless, hopeless, shame, guilt, happy, surprise, joy, etc.

The first step in this process is to recognize when we’ve been triggered.  Our body tells us.  A surge of energy overcomes us, as though we’ve just been zapped by an electrical pulse.  Our heart beats faster.  We feel an ache in our belly or heart.  Our breathing changes, shallower or faster.  Or, we numb out, retreat, or feel disconnected, confused, or foggy.  The physical manifestations of the basic fight or flight responses.

What’s more telling than the clues provided by our body?  Our body is the truth-teller to the sudden change in feelings, sometimes overt, sometimes subtle.  Either way, stop and pay attention.   Treat it as your indicator — like a flashing yellow or red light, maybe even some horns, that signal you to proceed with caution.  To slow down and assess the circumstance.

When we allow ourselves to pause (instead of immediately reacting), this facilitates the opportunity to move our focus from the outside (what was done to me) to the inside (how did that make me feel).  I emphasize the phrase “facilitates the opportunity,” because it’s not always easy to redirect focus.  But, once attuned to this change of state in our body, we can begin to use our cognitive skills to understand what our new feelings are.

There’s a much different phenomenon within the mind that happens when we respond with, “I feel hurt and sad, because your comment made me feel excluded from the group” versus reacting with, “that was so disrespectful and awful what you just said.”  The former puts the focus on what’s happening on the inside.  By living from the inside out, we connect with ourselves first.  

It moves our focus from the emotional part of the brain (amygdala) that controls our explosive (fight) or withdrawn (flight) response to the rational, executive functions of the brain (frontal lobe) that controls our cognitive skills of expressing language, self-monitoring and controlling our responses.

What you will find is that by becoming aware of, identifying, and expressing those feelings, a natural calming effect occurs within.  Both parties are more likely to remain level-headed with clarity of mind.  At that point, the conflict can be more effectively diffused and repaired.

Expressing feelings can elicit a sense of vulnerability.  However, it becomes easier and more comfortable with practice, particularly in more benign circumstances where emotions are less intense.  And, the successful outcome of relating to another person will reinforce this new approach. 

Throughout your day, notice how many feelings you experience by making a list.  No need to record the particulars of the situations, just list out your feelings.  This simple exercise will bring awareness to how many feelings you experience, even over a 12-hour day. 

So, if you’re wondering what age has to do with it, consider children and their undeveloped emotional responses.  Outbursts or withdrawal are indicative of childlike behaviors.  On the other hand, adults are able to more effectively express and share their feelings.

We don’t always get it right.  As adults, we make mistakes and have inappropriate reactions, but when we do, we seek to restore the relationship as quickly as possible and to fit the apology into the same inappropriate action as they did.” (Another characteristic of the “69 Characteristics of Successful Adulthood”)

Next, I’ll talk about triggers and trauma and how our body’s response is most likely tethered to an old wound that is deeply stored within our bodies. 

More on this in Part 2 of Adulthood.

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