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“Man is made or unmade by himself. In the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.” – James Allen
Developmental psychologists tell us children, progressing through various stages from prenatal to age about nine, discover (mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically – depending on the stage they’re in): (1) whether or not it’s safe for them to be here; (2) whether or not it’s ok to make their needs known; (3) whether or not it’s safe for them to explore and try new things; (4) whether or not to trust what they’re learning; (5) whether it’s ok to learn to think for one’s self; (6) whether or not it’s ok for them to be “who I am,” to find out who others are and to learn the consequences for their behavior; and (7) how to build an internal structure that supports them, and to develop the competence to master the technical and social skills needed to live in their culture.
Our psychological and emotional orientation to our world, then, is pretty much in place by the time we are nine or ten. In fact, many psychologists say our emotional and psychological make-up is set by the time we are six.
So, as a “physical-age, that is, chronological, adult,” the question is: “When I’m being emotionally reactive to my life, who is it who’s responding and reacting?
There are two choices: (1) my 3-4-5-6 child-ish self or (2) my emotionally and spiritually mature-adult self.
The answer for 98% percent of the population (though they may disagree) is (1).
Generally, developmental psychologists largely agree that many “adults” – emotionally – are actually 3-4-5-6-year-olds, in adult bodies, wearing adult clothes and that while people, places, events and circumstances change from age six well through adulthood, our psychological and emotional orientation and reaction to them is often still that of a 3-4-5-6-year-old.
Whose mind is it anyway?
Let’s use the metaphor of a motherboard, or a systems board – the piece of electronic equipment that
“thinks” or “drives” the behavior of a computer or electronic device – and let’s allow this motherboard to represent our brain or mind.
A motherboard is not flat nor smooth; rather, items are attached to it – nodes, diodes, small metal, plastic or rubber-wrapped items. These various structures contain all the programming, databases and commands that allow the computer or electronic device to function – i.e., react, to events, circumstances, etc.
During the stages between pre-birth to about the age of six, we take on our “programming” – e.g., our emotions, feelings, ways of believing about, thinking about, and reacting to our world and the people in it, ways of negotiating our world that keep us safe and secure, ways or behaving that initially bring us love, acceptance and approval from our primary caregivers and then other authority figures (e.g., extended family and friends, teachers, clergy and the like).
So, now as an “adult,” you – i.e., your motherboard – possesses a database of thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, emotions, feelings, worldviews, assumptions, perceptions, understandings, expectations, inferences, biases and values – of a young child, i.e., your younger you.
So, is your present emotional reactivity to your world a function of your “adult” you, or your “little boy/girl” you?
The next time you become reactive (i.e., fearful, angry, rageful, jealous, resentful, confused, lost, apprehensive, and the like) about some aspect of your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship – ask yourself these questions:
What am I feeling right now?
How old do I feel (emotionally, not chronologically)?
(NOTE! – It’s important to actually name the emotion (see links above). If you are prone to say how you’re feeling by saying something like, ” I feel that…,” “I feel like…,” or “I think that…,” and follow it with some type of statement, you are NOT expressing an emotion…you are expressing a thought, or a belief, or a conviction or some such, but you are NOT expressing an emotion. Our airways, offices, social gatherings…are full of folks who constantly say, “I feel,” but what follows is anything but a feeling. A belief or thought is not a feeling – ever; it may and often does trigger a feeling but, in itself, is not a feeling – ever. Every emotion has a corresponding physiological sensation in the body – thus, the list of physiological sensations. HINT – if you’re ever curious about how you are really feeling, sense into your body, (instead of thinking about it or tying to ‘figure it out.” Your body is your best barometer of what is actually going on in your – emotional- life).
The emotionally immature adult thinks and reacts with the mind of the 3-4-5-6-year-old. The emotionally immature, child-ish, adult often is experienced as: acting out, throwing tantrums, being overbearing, micromanaging, fearful, scared, needy, controlling, disrespectful, angry, resentful, pushy, bullying, judgmental, critical, jealous, envious, abusive, shut down, withdrawn, dishonest, insincere, defensive, argumentative, grandiose, and focused on the self and ego.
How does this happen?
When we experience consistently loving, caring, and emotionally nurturing parents, we are more likely to create strong, positive ways of doing and being in the world. In reality, such consistent behavior comes from few dedicated, focused, mature, healthy parents whose parenting efforts were continuous. Few “emotionally conscious” folks were raised in such families. Few of us had our social/emotional/psychological needs met adequately. The result is that uneven parenting produces children who were neglected – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and/or psychologically. Many children were not raised to develop strong centers – the result is some flavor of emotional immaturity or child-ish-ness.
“Child-like” behavior – Growing up again
For most folks, the path from “child-ish”-ness to emotional and spiritual maturity – becoming an “adult” adult – requires some type of process – i.e., developmental “work” – which support us to “grow up again.” This process (it is a process, not an event) supports one to come into their own True, Real and Authentic Self in their life – at work, at home, at play and in relationship. The process of growing up again supports one to access their True and Real Self – the Self that was ignored during childhood.
What does a mature, “child-like” (as opposed to child-ish) adult look like?
Presence, mindfulness, emotional mastery and “process” work for the adult usually focuses on awareness of our past programming and how that programming adversely affects our present state. These types of “work” also teach us to be with what is, right here and right now – with a focus on “my self” in the moment, unencumbered by past emotional and mental baggage we have carried through life. These types of “work” also focus on the heart – where our True and Real Self abides. The idea is to be in the moment, not in the past – and walk through life with a smooth, clean motherboard.
Eckert Tolle in his work around presence (the Now), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his work around flow, Buddhist practices around meditation and achieving a state of “no mind,” or other spiritual traditions that focus on a still point, are meant to support us to experience life right here and right now from a place where we are real and authentic in the moment – unencumbered by “our motherboard” – i.e., our past programming.
From a place of presence, no one owns any real estate on your motherboard. It’s smooth and flat. In fact, we don’t really need a motherboard because our heart and soul are driving. We are connected to our True Self – a singular node or diode – our Center or Core – our True and Real “ME”- that informs us of “right knowing,” “right understanding” and “right action” – all from the “inside.”
Presence draws on our heart and soul’s capacities, resources and qualities, allowing us to experience true emotional and spiritual maturity and a “child-like” (vs. child-ish) state.
Presence deletes our “little child” programming – which often creates states of feeling: lost, angry, abandoned, confused, unloved, etc. In a state of presence, we access “no mind” – and we resource what our heart and soul give us in this moment. Presence results in a True and Authentic Self who is: loving, compassionate, lively, nurturing, excited, firm, fair, helpful, juicy, respectful, adventurous, self-responsible, curious, non-judgmental, wondering, joyful, honest, sincere, happy, allowing and accepting.
So, the next time you’re feeling triggered, or reactive, consider what it would be like if you didn’t react from that place of your little boy or girl. What might the “mature adult” you feel like, look like, sound like and be like?
Some questions for self-reflection:
- What are some of your strongest beliefs about money, career, friends, family, appearance, health, and relationships? Are these your beliefs? Do they help you experience fulfillment and well-being?
- Are you open to viewpoints different from yours?
- When your internal judge and critic judges you harshly, whose voice do you most often hear (primary caregiver, other)?
- Were you encouraged to be curious, “think for yourself,” be spontaneous and display your emotions (whatever they were, but knowing there would be consequences for acting out) as a child?
- Did you experience emotional neglect as a child? How so? How does it show up in your adult life?
- How and when do you experience, “presence,” “flow,” a state of “no mind…?”
- Are there ways you detached or de-programmed yourself from early childhood beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, etc. that you took on early on and discovered to be more self-limiting or self-sabotaging as you moved through adolescence or adulthood? How so?
(c) 2020, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful. Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.
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