Did your husband spend the last of your money on a useless gadget, your mom had a fit for no apparent reason and your friend insists on claiming your attention, while you feel like a daycare teacher? Psychologist Olga Yurkovskaya tells about building relationships with infantile, kidult and other “grown-up children” without actually killing them.
“Stop being so childish,” says the man irritably when his wife refuses to listen to reason. “We’ve no money for a new smartphone right now. We need a new matrass first. We can wait for the phone till next month.”
For some couples the situation is the opposite. “You’re just like a child!” a woman shrugs her shoulders. “Why yell for nothing? What’s the big deal if you play D&D later? It’s time to give the children their bath now!”
It happens sometimes that an adult will be childishly emotional when stressed out or tired. That can happen to anyone. But how can you deal with the fact that someone close to you has never grown up?
They can be fun and easy to be with, like going for a ride in an amusement park. They can also be unbearably tough to be with, as if you were babysitting an unhappy spoiled brat. Why? Whose fault is it? Can anything be done to fix it?
It is not enough to turn 21 and have the right to vote in order to be an adult balanced person. It is much more subtle than that. You have to have your biological age agree with the psychological one. You can be quite elderly and have grandchildren, but internally be still stuck in childish emotions.
If your relationship with your partner or your parents is like an emotional seesaw, it may be that one of you is still a child. You can tell by certain symptoms. It may be that you will see them in your husband, your grown-up children, your parents or friends. Don’t think of it too seriously and don’t rush to slap on the “diagnosis” :).
Children, not biologically, but in real life
When a person grows up in harmony, physical and psychological changes take place at the same time.
At the “infant” age: a person learns to deal with their body – to sit up, to carry a spoon of oatmeal to their mouth and not their ear, to perform hundreds of other actions. A person masters speech and at the same time becomes capable of expressing their wishes and emotions.
At the “child” age: it is important to learn to manage these emotions physically before turning seven: not to have a fit and roll on the floor, not to hit the kid next to you in the playground; in other words, to learn to interact with society appropriately :).
Psychologically, this age has the following characteristics:
1. Hyper-emotionality. Emotions are so prevalent that the thought “I want this doll right now” is a hundred times stronger than reason. That is why, when a child is biologically 5 years old, they fall on the floor in a store and acoustically attack your nervous system :).
An adult who has not psychologically grown out of these characteristics:
- Is inclined to emotional buying. Even the thought of going hungry tomorrow will not stop them because “I really want it.”
- Has a hard time managing anger. As a rule, they look for someone to blame. That can be anyone close: the spouse, elderly parents, subordinates at work or even the cat, blamelessly sitting in the wrong spot :).
2. Not being overburdened by intellect. It is very difficult for a person to assess the consequences of their actions. We are not talking about strategic planning here. Even in regular, routine situations they do not realize that:
- The spouse, on whom you regularly vent your anger, will simply leave one day. Then you will have no one to comfort you or put back the door handles you’ve torn off in your rage.
- Unreasonable temper tantrums at work will spoil your reputation. One day word will get to your boss and it will be too late to try to prove just how reasonable you can be.
3. Inability to achieve significant goals. The minimum requirements for this are discipline and the ability to foresee the consequences of your actions. However, people who are psychologically stuck at the “child” age have an amazing aptitude for crude manipulation.
They can squeeze out gifts or the best of terms at the blink of an eye. However, it is usually emotions that they use: “crocodile” tears, hysterics, or temper tantrums with dish-breaking that are so scary to the witnesses.
In other words, they can reach some goals. Only they use someone else to do it because they “haven’t grown up yet.”
4. Emotional dependence on praise. Often adults will surround themselves with “yes-men.” These are people who will tell you, “Yes, you are cool!” every day of your life; even if you’ve been buried in a pile of trash for a month :).
Emotional dependence on attention. This can be attention of any kind.
- The baby will start crying just when your friend comes to visit.
- The child is tired, ill, nervous… All of this will be unloaded on the mother, playing out practically a Shakespearean tragedy because the plate is wrong, the shoes are not right, the candy is not the kind that they want, and so on.
Adults pick more serious problems and ask for attention somewhat differently, but the behavior model is the same.
Not always, but quite often, psychological immaturity will limit people in their choice of education or profession. They may be overall nice and kind people or they may be prey to fears and worries or may act maliciously. When stressed out, they always act emotionally.
How do you live with an adult “child?”
You may have found that the characteristics listed above form a picture of someone you know, your mother, your father or even yourself. Most likely, it is an unpleasant discovery.
The very first axiom you need to master is that psychological immaturity is not a constant quality. Throughout their life people can grow and change, especially if they suddenly find themselves in different circumstances. Getting married or divorced, the birth of children, financial difficulties or health issues may all become a catalyst for such changes.
The second axiom is that living with a “psychological child” is extremely difficult.
- They need a lot of attention and always want to be the center of your life.
- Strong emotions that they never learned to control lead to scandals and unreasonable behavior.
- They don’t know how to handle money at all. The paycheck disappears just like ants disappear from a house before an earthquake.
- They depend on their loved ones very much and try to hold them on a short leash using every trick in the book.
What can you do if it is your partner? Your parents? Your grown-up children? There are only two options: you can either carry them on your back to the end of their lives or leave them alone. The second option carries a hope that stress might make them grow up.
Don’t skip any steps!
What can you do if you find that you have the symptoms of a “psychological child”? For starters, don’t judge, blame or shame. That has never helped anyone :).
The fact that you have realized the problem is the beginning of growing up. Simply continue to watch your behavior. Notice when you start behaving childishly, however don’t push and don’t rush.
Each stage of development is a new level, just like it is in a video game. Each one of them plays a large role in evolvement of a person. If you take away any of the stages from the child’s life the results will be disastrous.
Imagine a person who did not learn to manage their arms or legs when they were an infant. Or someone who skipped the level of social adaptation and now lives like Mowgli by the law of the jungle. Only the most optimistic people would expect any kind of social success from them.
- One who has never been a soldier cannot be a general. You cannot be the head of a large corporation and expertly manage its personnel if you have never learned to be a subordinate. The same is true of psychological age.
Forward! Don’t look back
Once you get to a new stage you will never go back. An adult will never behave like a youth, a teenager or a child. Naturally, there is an exception for any rule: stress or strong emotions may push you backward.
Even the strongest and most confident business lady may harbor a little pouting girl. At those times, it is hard to assess the situation rationally and reasonably. All you want to do is childishly drop onto your butt and bang on the floor with your fist while crying your heart out.
An adult person, however, will only allow themselves such weakness for a little while and will go back to their usual level afterwards.
If you have noticed characteristics of a “psychological child” in yourself, don’t rush to the shelf of sedatives at the pharmacy. It can all be fixed. In real life, two thirds of the population are forever stuck in childhood or in teenage years. They stay impulsive, short-tempered and short-sighted even when their hair turns white.
Even if right now you are far away from being psychologically mature – it is never too late to grow up. You can change, set your goals and reach them :).