An Important Life Lesson
This parenting journey I’ve been on over the last several years has been an opportunity to learn an important life lesson. In fact, once I learned this lesson myself it amazed me that we aren’t taught this lesson as we enter adulthood or parenthood or ever… until now. This life lesson is so vital because knowing it will empower you to take control of your own life no matter what challenges you might be facing right now.
This essential life lesson is simple, yet profound: choosing to be an emotional adult, while challenging, makes it so you and your emotional well-being is not at the mercy of how someone else behaves.
Perhaps this doesn’t seem so monumental to you (yet!), so let’s look at the effects of the opposite of emotional adulthood: emotional childhood.
You know you’re in emotional childhood if you find yourself blaming others for how you feel or behave, or if it’s even their fault that your life isn’t what you want it to be. Those “others” can include a co-worker, your mom or dad, the President, your childhood, a neighbor, your spouse, and even your teenager. Another sign you are operating from emotional childhood is if you often resort to screaming or temper tantrums or just plain feel out-of-control. Emotional childhood also looks like giving up responsibility for your own life ~ letting someone else take care of everything but in a way that doesn’t really feel good. And here’s the thing ~ handing control of your emotional life over to someone else is so disempowering. And who wants to feel disempowered? Not me. And I’m guessing not you, either.
There have been several instances over the years when I was operating from a place of emotional childhood, so let me give you some examples:
- When one of my sons stopped going to Church, and in fact, completely walked away from his religious upbringing, there was a time when I honestly believed I couldn’t be a good member of my Church until he “came back.” This affected my worship, my testimony, even my soul.
- When one of my sons left home (not in a good way), I believed for a while that the only way I could ever be happy again was if he came back home and we fixed our relationship. This affected all parts of my life and my ability to enjoy even the good things that were going on.
- There was even a time when I felt like I couldn’t thoroughly enjoy Christmas if everyone in my family didn’t like the same Christmas traditions that I love and cherish.
In each instance I handed over my own emotional well-being to people I disagreed with (and in some cases, even to those I believed were making bad choices).
Emotional adulthood, on the other hand, is deciding what you want to think or how you want to feel in any given moment, no matter what others are doing. As adults, we have the capacity (unlike children) to understand what we are thinking, to actually think about our thinking, and decide whether or not it’s serving us. In the same vein, emotional adulthood allows you to determine how you want to feel in any given situation; this allows you to be more of the person you want to be instead of just reacting by default.
Emotional adulthood is taking full responsibility for what you feel, no matter what someone else does or doesn’t do. I remember a time when I had reached out to my son after he abruptly left home. It was Christmas-time and I awoke one morning feeling lots of love in my heart for my son. I reached out to see if I could give him the two Christmas presents we had for him. These gifts were small because we had a trip planned, but I was feeling generous… and truth be told, I really wanted to see him. He agreed to see me at a neutral location and as I began asking how he was doing, he began lashing out at me, calling me names and saying things about me that simply weren’t true. It didn’t take long for me to leave. I was shocked. I was hurt. And as I sat in my car crying, the barrage of insults continued via text.
Now, I was in the midst of learning about emotional childhood v. emotional adulthood at this time. Even though I felt like I had every reason to have a temper tantrum and lash out at him, it was in that moment when I determined he wasn’t going to control my emotional well-being because I wasn’t going to let him. I would determine when I was going to be happy or sad. I would decide if I wanted to feel love or hate. And so began the process of me truly becoming an emotional adult, responsible for my own happiness or unhappiness, responsible for how I think about other people, responsible for my own behavior.
This is not to say that I always make the right choices and I never have reason to regret what I say or do. But, as an emotional adult I own it and fix it because that’s the kind of person I want to be. This is also not to say that I never feel “negative” emotion, because I do. But, as an emotional adult I can acknowledge that it’s my responsibility, not someone else’s.
If you’re ready to become an emotional adult and take full responsibility for your emotional well-being, the first step is to become aware that how you feel and what you do always comes from what you are thinking. Don’t use this as an excuse to beat yourself up. Instead, be curious and have compassion for yourself. And remember ~ now you know you can change (if and when you want to).
If you want some help becoming an emotional adult, even though your teenager knows how to push all your buttons ~ schedule your private mini-session now. It’s free and it will be the best 30 minutes you spend all week.
(For more information on Emotional Adulthood, listen to The Life Coach School podcast with Brooke Castillo, Episode #25)