Core Traits of Adult Children
Fear of Authority Figures. Power and control, masquerading as authority, was harsh, capricious, and unempathetic in the childhood home. Authority figures later may be intellectually understood as potentially helpful, but there will at least be an approach/avoidance conflict.
Judge Selves Harshly. The tyrannical voice has been taken inward. But tellingly, the adult child often doesn’t judge others nearly so harshly as themselves, this is a reverse double standard
Emotional Dependence There is a tendency to live as responsible children rather than adults. That is, while straight-forward tasks are performed conscientiously, difficult decisions, assertion of desire, and responsibility for overall conditions are left for others.
Fear, Guilt, or Unexplainable Hesitancy in Pursuing Own Adult Prerogatives. Adult children are passive about making decisions that benefit them, because in the childhood home, they were often punished for initiative, or high spirits, or pursuing self-interest. Rather they wait patiently for others to give them good things, because that way they cannot be blamed, but of course ‘rewarding good behavior’ rarely happens among adults.
Wants to Be Liked. As children, they were disliked (however unjustifiably) by their parents (though of course this was usually denied by the parents), so as adults there is always a tendency to want reassurance that they are likeable (but, the reassurance is always doubted, due to their parents duplicity). Instead of a life organized by what they like, they have a life organized by pleasing, or finding ‘like-ability.’
Naivety–Innocence is not recognizing a danger because of lack of experience with it. Naivety is is not recognizing a danger despite experience with it, and it usually develops when in childhood, dangers have come from caregivers.
Seeks Approval. As children they were controlled by disapproval and of course unloved. They believe that approval is a necessary first step toward love
Difficulty Saying “No.” Tyrants are dangerous to say no to. But the self-definition that starts with “no” (knowing by no-ing) can’t complete
Frightened of Strong Emotions, in Themselves or Others. As children, strong emotion (or the semblance of them) were precursors to someone getting hurt.
External Locus of Control. As children, they in fact had no control, but unlike healthy homes, there was no formation process in which they slowly were given more choices and control as they grew. The result is passivity where action is indicated, and manipulation of others who are seen to have control.
Excessive Conscientiousness Often there is a double standard, in which the adult child will inconvenience him- or herself a great deal to provide a small convenience to someone else, while loath to inconvenience anyone else even slightly when the convenience to them would be great.
Poor Boundaries. This is more than inability to defend boundaries, it is a actual desensitization to intrusion and exploitation
Low Self Worth. Lack of unconditional acceptance in early life is hard to overcome.
Excuses the Offenses of Others This is a childhood habit because it is impossible to see caretakers or loved ones as villains.
Excessive Altruism. This is often vicarious nurturing. The adult child does for others what they down deep wants to receive. It usually leads, however, to self-impoverishment (which puts a de facto ceiling on how much others really could be helped anyway)
Emotional Numbness or Alexithymia (Inability to Recognize or Name One’s Feelings). This is from ‘stuffing’ feelings until the capacity to feel is either lost or frozen. Adult children often confuse prospects or judgments for emotions.
Self-Isolated. Over time, decisions driven by anxiety to forgo this and skip that lead to an isolated existence with meager enrichment and few reality checks.
Impressionable Because grounding and self-definition was thwarted, there is a vulnerability to charisma or sensory manipulation, despite strong intellectual abilities. Adult children have trouble listening to their gut.
Black and White Thinking. Something is either wonderful or terrible, but not in-between. In the natural world, though, almost everything is ‘gray’ Black and white thinking is an artifact of living with a tyrant where everything either pleased or displeased him or her, but this is not a balanced assessment for most situations in life. Black and white thinking often leads to feeling that one has only two options, and those options are dysfunctional opposite extremes.
Let Others Define Reality. Adult children find themselves adapting to or resisting the dogmatic assertions, demands, and judgments of tyrants in their lives. Even when they are standing up for themselves, they are doing so within a world-view designed by others. An analogy comes to mind from pre-computer animation. Some artists would draw the frames that indicated what was changing in the cartoon, and other artists (called in-betweeners) would fill in all the frames in-between that made the visual flow smooth. Adult children are often like the ‘in-betweeners’, working very hard to keep someone else’s story working.
Take Everything Personally. As children, everything that came at them from the tyrant was in fact targeted–approval and disapproval, reward and punishment. (Some of this may have been intended to disturb them, most of it was displaced rage) From this, adult children often grow up perceiving that every bit of social friction means that the other person is ‘messing’ with them. There is a great difficulty recognizing that others may only be acting out of self interest or their own issues. Often, it is best to leave the feelings of others to those others and react only with curiosity. But if one take things personally, it is impossible not to take on the feelings of others (‘projective identification’) Shamed behavior follows.
Have Trouble Discussing Problems. This is because they feel they are being blamed for any problem that arises. Even if they absolutely aren’t being blamed, or couldn’t possibly be responsible, they hear the statements of others as blame. This is because the tyrants always blamed them when something went wrong, even if they couldn’t possibly be responsible.
READ – How to Be an Adult: A Handbook for Psychological and Spiritual Integration
by David Richo
READ – How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving
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READ – When the Past Is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds that Sabotage our Relationships
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