How to be a Responsible Adult
As I've been reading applications for my group coaching program that's going to start in January of 2021 called Committed to Growth, I’ve noticed when I ask why someone is applying, several respondents have written how they have now realized that they need to take responsibility for their own successes and failures, and that there is no one else to blame or pass the buck onto but themselves.
What they're really saying, is the concept of emotional childhood versus emotional adulthood. Assuming you are an adult, you are responsible for how you feel at every moment. We are in charge of how we think. And thus, since we know that our thoughts trigger our feelings, we are in charge of how we feel. Ultimately, how we think and feel leads to a result. So, if these people who are writing these applications are not seeing what they want in their lives, and in their businesses, they're suddenly realizing that only they can take responsibility. But when we're functioning as emotional children, we are blaming other people for how we feel, for how we act and for the results that we're getting in our life. Blaming others is rampant. Think about when your kids say to you, “he was mean to me. I'm angry and hurt.” Your child is placing the responsibility on the other kid for how he feels.
Often as parents, we want to do the same thing, place the blame on the other kid, not our own child. Another example: think about sports. I always refer to tennis since I have watched a lot of tennis matches in my day. But my son would sometimes say that his opponent was making bad calls. “That's why I lost.” Or “he was acting strange, he was doing things and walking slowly or looking at the ball in a weird way. And that is why I lost.” No, the reason you're feeling crappy right now the reason you lost is because you didn't win enough points.
It is not the opponent's fault. It's not their opponents’ responsibility. It's yours. Nobody takes us, though, from this emotional childhood into emotional adulthood. There's no high school course or college course that says, “hey, you've now turned 18. It's time for you to become an emotional adult.” I’m currently living with a 19-year-old in my home. Sometimes he looks super mature, like an adult, and sometimes his brain is still kid-like because our brains don't fully develop until age twenty-five. But when you're an adult, you have the brain function, and the processes to be able to understand what you're thinking. You can start thinking about your thinking and therefore you can decide what to think and what to feel in any given moment, no matter what anyone else says or does in your life.
As children, we don't have this capacity. In fact, we think that everything is going on in our life because of other things. We think other things, the world at large, is causing our feelings. And this is perpetuated really by how most of us were raised. How many times have you heard from a teacher or a parent, “Sally, you hurt that other little girl's feelings? You need to say you're sorry for hurting her feelings. When you do that, when you did that action, that was really mean. And it makes Sally feel bad.”
We’re made to apologize. Which I'm not saying is a bad thing, apologizing isn't a bad thing, but when we apologize, we are then taking responsibility for someone else's feelings and ultimately, it's pretty disempowering. It's so ingrained, though, this emotional childhood, that we don't even realize that we teach each other that other people are responsible for how we feel. It's the most disempowering thing that we can do, not only for our children, but especially to ourselves as adults. Emotional childhood is that we want others to take care of our needs. We want others to figure things out for us, to do things for us. And if we don't get what we want, our response is to throw a fit, or have a temper tantrum. Emotional childhood is making our needs the responsibility of someone else, recognizing or believing that we can't or don't have the ability to take care of ourselves. It’s blaming versus taking responsibility. Blaming a situation, a person, a circumstance for our problems, our actions, and our result. Children don't have the capacity to make this distinction. And there really are so many emotional children out there who are functioning as adults that it's perpetuated all the way into adulthood. The problem with it is that the most disempowering thing that we can do to keep ourselves in a space of emotional childhood and blame.
In 2020, as a society, we did a lot of blaming. Think about COVID, and what you've done over the past nine months. Work has changed. Home life has changed. You might have lost money in your business. You may have stalled out in your business. You may have eaten one too many slices of banana bread like I did. If that's the case, sometimes we blame the government or we blame the economy. We blame our bosses. We blame other people. We blame the school system. We blame our husbands. We blame our mothers. We blame our fathers. We blame our childhood. We blame the person that embezzled money from us. We blame everyone for how we feel and why we're doing what we're doing and the results we're getting. Emotional adulthood is when we decide to take full responsibility for every single thing we feel, no matter what someone else does or doesn't do. Now, this is really no small feat. This is a huge challenge for most of us, but emotional adulthood is when we go to the place of really expecting that we will control our own minds and that we will control our own feelings. Additionally, when we feel a certain way that we don't want to be feeling, we do not blame someone else.
Now, let me explain to you why being an emotional adult is amazing. When we are an emotional adult, we take care of our own needs. We make ourselves responsible for handling our own needs. We do things for ourselves and figure things out for ourselves. And if we don't get what we want, we let it go or we do something to change it.
So, know that your needs are only your responsibility, your full responsibility to take care of yourself, to meet your own needs. You take responsibility for yourself, your problems, your actions, and your results. Now, let me tell you more reasons why being an emotional adult is amazing. Most of my clients come to me feeling like a victim or feeling at the mercy of someone or something else in some aspect of their lives. For example, they will come to me and they'll be trying to raise a child with their ex-husband, and they will go on and on and on about how their ex-husband is making them feel frustrated, or is making them feel disappointed, is making them feel unworthy or like a bad parent. Or how their ex-husband is making them feel unsuccessful in their business or in their work. But what I'll say to them is, look how much power you're giving this person over your emotional life. And of all the people in the world you want to give your power to, do you really want to give it to your ex-husband or your husband even if he’s not an ex? The truth of the matter is that you're an adult and you're responsible for everything you do. Your ex-husband or your husband's actions don't determine how you feel.
You will notice that when you blame the ex or your husband for how you're feeling, it's usually a feeling that fuels an action that you don't even want to be taking because you're not getting the result you want. That's how we know that results are always evidence of our thoughts. You're fueling staying stuck or you're fueling screaming or lashing out at your kids. Emotional childhood does kind of look like having a temper tantrum. It may look like yelling and screaming, and it puts us in a place where we don't feel like we have control over ourselves as adults and therefore we start acting like toddlers.
Here's another personal example. My husband reminded me this week that I often have “hard time” at the holidays. Our family and our extended family all live a thousand plus miles away. We often don't get to see them over the holidays. My brother's life is kind of messy. It's been messy for a while, and that is always in my mind. It complicates things or I'm letting it complicate things. So, I have been known to cry or to get kind of bitchy, or to be in a funk over holidays. But I would say that over the past two years, I have begun to catch myself whining and acting like a little girl because I'm not taking responsibility for how I want these holidays to go, what I want them to look like or how I want to feel. And I notice that some of this has to do with extended family and I quickly become that little girl again.
I may blame something or someone else for how I feel instead of truly taking responsibility for every emotion that I am having. But if I and when I am in emotional adulthood, I take responsibility for how I feel and I make choices for how I show up. I end up so much more empowered and I get to be the person I want to be instead of being in this default emotional childhood space. I recognize that I can create our own nuclear family’s holiday just like I want it. I can create holiday traditions. I can go to concerts or listen to holiday music if I want to. I don't have to drag everyone with me if they don't want to come, if that's something I want to do, I can do it. I can even give myself gifts so I can make my holiday my own. It's my responsibility.
Here's another example for a lot of my clients. A lot of their emotional eating comes from a place of blame. They blame their genetics. They blame people for having the food around, for example, on a holiday table, and they blame themselves for not being more in control. But what's really happening is that they are not taking responsibility for how they feel. They're not even feeling some of their feelings. They are eating them instead, and they're eating the emotional childhood food a lot. They are eating macaroni and cheese, the chicken nuggets, the drive thru hamburgers and hot dogs. We’ve all been guilty of that. It’s just another example of putting responsibility on someone else and not being responsible for your own feelings, your own eating.
I think it’s fascinating to see women, especially, take this emotional childhood to the ultimate level and wanting other people to take responsibility for us and take care of us financially. I see it a lot with many of my clients and how they just completely abdicate responsibility not just for their feelings, but for but for their financial results, for their life. And they let someone else take care of those things in a way that doesn't make them feel good. They don't even like how it feels to have someone else take care of them or to pay for everything. There are many ways to be an emotional adult and share financial responsibilities, and then sometimes it’s fun to eat chicken nuggets. That's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about when you are in a place of disempowerment, when you're in a place where you feel like you don't have control over your emotional life, and you give that responsibility to someone else.
One last example. Recently, I've been working with a woman who is looking for a new job, and if I go back and if I listen to every one of the six sessions we've had, there are common themes. She brings up her childhood and her relationship with her father and a non-sexual relationship with a former boss as reasons why she is hunting for a job and the job just isn't appearing out of thin air. This is a forty-eight-year-old highly educated woman, going into emotional childhood and placing the blame for her current situation on people from her past and others from her past. She's giving away her own power in finding the job, her own power in selling herself, in sharing her talents and what she can bring to an organization. This is also showing up in her strong desire to explain away her past in the interviews, even though no one may even be asking. And really, no one really cares about her past. They only care about what she can do for them in the future.
So many women I know give their emotional life over to their spouses or partners and say to them, you're responsible for making me happy or you're responsible for when I'm frustrated and you're responsible for when I'm sad and you're responsible for helping me change my emotion and everything you do causes an emotion in me. Sometimes those emotions aren’t great. You can see how when you're in that space, you're constantly trying to give control to the other person, you're going to be constantly trying to tell him what to do and how to do it. And you're going to be mad when he doesn't do it and your emotions are going to be all over the place because you're trying to control his actions. It's like he's
When my kids were little and I would leave the house and my husband would be there with the kids, I would come back and recognize all the things he didn't do while I was gone. And why was I doing that? I was doing that because I wasn't feeling so great about what I had to do. I was feeling probably like it was a burden. And then I was trying to manipulate all the things that he should be doing while I'm gone so that I wouldn't come home and feel that way. Listen to this statement: Whatever he does is going to determine how I feel. Doesn't that just doesn't sound crazy? That is coming from a very disempowered place and it's maddening because you can't really control people all the time. I've noticed that they don't really like it when you try to do that either. Truthfully, I don't really like it when people try to control what I do.
So, when I learned about this concept, I also noticed that there's a lot of psychology talk in relationships. And I experience this, too, at a point, a lot of talk about meeting each other's needs. And I kind of think that that's really kind of the ultimate emotional childhood move. If I were to go to my husband and say, “here are my needs and you need to meet them,” it's almost as if I'm a dependent child. My needs are that you do these things in order to make me happy. And if he in turn tells me what his needs are for me to make him happy, then we've put each other's happiness in each other's hands. That is not a good place to be in because most people can't even make themselves happy. So how are they going to make someone else happy?
Ask yourself, do you want to spend your time and energy trying to make you happy because you're trying to manage your own emotional life? I hope you said yes to that. Delegating that responsibility to even someone that you love can affect that relationship in a really deep and painful way. I like to say the best relationships are when two people come together and say, I'm going to meet my needs, you meet your needs, and then we can just come together and have a good time. It's like I've noticed this when we go on vacation with a group of people, it always turns out better if everyone does what they want to do during the day and then we meet up for dinner.
Emotional adulthood says “I'm responsible for my happiness, I'm also responsible for my unhappiness, and I'm responsible if my feelings get hurt. I'm responsible for my thoughts, my feelings and my actions and ultimately my results.” People will sometimes ask, “if you're only responsible for how you feel, then doesn't that relinquish or take away responsibility for how you treat other people? Does that mean that you can do whatever you want and not worry about the other person's feelings?” No, I am not saying that. When you are acting from a place of emotional adulthood, you are acting in the best way. You're acting like your best self. You don't act in a way that's mean to other people. You don't act in a way that's cruel because you're acting from a place of trying to get them to behave in a way so that you can feel better. You're not trying to manipulate their behavior.
This does not mean that you're not going to take action that is sometimes going to be something you regret or as you reflect, you realize that maybe that was not the best choice. It doesn't mean that you don't apologize. It doesn't mean that you don't take responsibility for how you treat another person. Even if you're not responsible for how they feel, you are responsible for how you behave and the words that come out of your mouth, or what you type into the email. This is really important to understand, It's really important when you're learning the process of becoming an emotional adult.
I encourage you to write down some examples of where you are acting like an emotional child, where you are blaming in your life, where you are not taking responsibility. Where do you feel entitled to something you haven't earned? That's a really powerful one. That is when you're in that place of not taking responsibility for your actions and thinking that they should just happen, and you are entitled to them. Being an adult does require more effort and it requires a lot more responsibility. But it is worth it. It's so worth taking that step into managing our own lives in our own minds so we aren't dependent on other people. Ultimately, we get the results we want. Trust me on that one.
And if this is something that you recognize that you could work on, I'm reminding you that you have an opportunity, an invitation to work on it weekly with support and community through coaching. If you think that the community aspect would be the ultimate kicker, and it would push you over to the amazing category, then I encourage you to apply for the group program that starts in January. And if you really want some real hand holding, we can also work together one on one.