As a child, I used to think of “growing up” as a process that would end by the time I graduated high school.
Growing up does not just encapsulate puberty or smoking a joint for the first time but gaining insight into my parents and how they shaped me, releasing unhealthy expectations and learning to trust myself.
According to the National Institute of Health, “growing up” extends through an individual’s mid-20s when the prefrontal cortex of the brain is fully matured. However, there may be phases in life where the process feels like it’s happening all over again.
Even in my 60s, I know there will be days I return to these basic lessons of life I confronted as a 20-year-old who was still breaking into adulthood.
The following actions will help others process how their pasts impacted their present selves, so anyone can gain self-understanding and grow up to be the best versions of themselves — because everyone deserves a beautiful future.
1. Recognize the Role Parents Play in Shaping One’s Adult Self
Sometimes it’s hard to admit, but Amy Morin, psychotherapist and social worker, maintains that the way parental figures raise their children plays a crucial role in shaping the child’s fears, desires and communication styles as adults.
Parents and guardians teach their kids how to behave and provide them with basic needs — and many times, more than that.
Many parental figures give hugs, kisses, fun car rides and a plate of warm food at the table without having to ask — it can seem like they’re omnipotent.
But then, as kids grow up, so do their needs and troubles — demanding solutions that are more complex than a hug or a trip to the ice cream shop. Parents and guardians sometimes disappoint, make mistakes, fail to protect their little ones from pain and even hurt them.
Eventually, many kids recognize that their parents/guardians are human just like us. That switch from being an impressionable young child who deems their guardians as heroes, to an adolescent who now realizes that they are not, can be a shocking revelation one needs to process to grow up better.
Articulating one’s thoughts offers therapeutic effects and helps one understand their feelings better, according to UCLA psychologists. People can ask themselves these questions, journal about them and even record themselves talking out loud.
- How did the way my parental figures/guardian(s) raise, love and disappoint me as a child help instill certain personality traits I have now? My personal goals? My communication style?
- How did the ways my parental figures/guardian(s) hurt me create any fears?
- Have I accepted that my parental figures/guardian(s) are people with both good and bad traits, who both nurtured me and let me down sometimes? How can I work toward forgiving them if I harbor resentment?
2. Let Go of Unrealistic Expectations
Releasing the belief that parents/guardians are titans is just the tip of the iceberg. Letting go of every other unrealistic expectation is necessary for growth.
Many times, people enter relationships and situations with unrealistic expectations that were shaped by their parents/guardians. They long for a type of love, praise and understanding that emulates the early childhood safety they felt with parents/guardians when everything was simple.
Some seek to be almost instantly forgiven and to be shown constant attention. Some want to have their needs met without having to communicate and for relationships to work well with minimal effort.
Many times, one’s friends and partners aren’t wrong for them and aren’t bad at fulfilling their roles — they’ve just been applying childish expectations to adult relationships.
This can be applied to people’s relationships with themselves as well.
Many start to parent themselves in adolescence when they discover they are capable of making independent choices. They talk to themselves, educate themselves, comfort themselves and become their own autonomous people.
So, when someone winds up in a bad situation because of their own choices, they may feel ashamed and angry at their lack of judgment.
There’s an unrealistic expectation within many people to be the same titan they witnessed in their family. It is dangerous to try to emulate this fantastical superhero who does not exist outside of the imagination.
One must forgive themself for the mistakes they’ve made and will make throughout life, learn what they can from these experiences and move forward. They must accept that they did and will continue to do what they think is right at the time. Sometimes one cannot know if it was actually right or wrong until much later — maybe even never.
All of this is easy to say, but it is incredibly hard to accept that no one and nothing is as simple as it seems. Patience is required throughout this whole process.
People can ask themselves or write about:
- What unrealistic expectations do I have for other people?
- What unrealistic expectations do I have for myself?
- Do I need to make amends with myself? Do I need to forgive myself for anything?
3. Gain Self-Trust
Think about the way childhood institutions like school and home life are structured to minimize self-trust in the name of protection. For years, children and adolescents ask teachers for permission to go to the bathroom and speak in class. They rely their sense of accomplishment on report cards given by an adult who is older and smarter. They ask parents/guardians if they can buy certain things and go certain places.
Then, they grow up and find themselves living away from home — able to do whatever they want, whenever they want.
Even though adults are capable of making good decisions for themselves, they don’t feel like they are. And why should they? They’ve been trained from childhood to ask others for permission and validation, ultimately distrusting themselves.
Learning to trust oneself is difficult because one must actively reverse all the times they’ve been told that they are not mature, smart or good enough to make their own decisions.
But self-trust is worth working toward because freedom and power come with it — this feeling that one can take ownership and responsibility for the decisions they make and can handle both the negative and positive consequences of their actions.
If this decision turns out to be a mistake, I will handle the repercussions to the best of my ability, which is enough. If this decision turns out to be the greatest one of my life, I can take care of the outcome to the best of my ability, which is enough.
While asking others for their input can be wise, understand everyone’s opinions depend on their own personal experiences and fears. Ultimately, one needs to do what they think is right based on their principles.
Self-trust is a firm confidence in one’s own integrity and responsibility, and that they will be OKno matter what because they have themself.
People can ask themselves or write about:
- Was there a time I made a choice that my family or friends disagreed with, and it turned out well? Bad? How did I deal with the consequences, and what does that reveal about my character?
- How often do I doubt my capabilities to make the right decisions for myself? How often do I trust others’ opinions and advice more than myself and my intuition?
I Decide Who I Become
During stay-at-home orders, I thought about where I’ve been, where I am and how to develop my character with intention. Too many people become products of emotions, events, relationships and external influences without learning and healing from what they’ve been through to become better people.
Journaling and talking about these topics with a trustworthy person are good ways to ensure one is being purposeful and wise with their development. If they put in the effort, they can gain deep insight into themselves in order to take control of their mindsets, actions and future.
I used to feel like a victim who had no say over where I’d end up because of the things that happened to me. As I matured, I realized I had so much more power than I thought; I could choose how to manage my inner condition. I choose how to make sense of my past, how to spend my present time and where to go in the future.
Humans deserve more than to simply grow up and get older. They deserve to heal, consciously thrive and become the adults they were always meant to be.
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