“No! I am not going to apologize for looking at your cell phone! I am not going to be sorry for being jealous! You make me crazy! You always make me crazy!”
Sound like a temper tantrum? That’s because it is—a temper tantrum thrown by an adult.
Do you know someone who reverts back to childhood coping methods when he or she gets upset? Emotional immaturity impacts a good many men and women, especially if they grew up in a home where they were neglected emotionally.
Running on Empty: The Effects of a Difficult Childhood
Some people are referred to as “adult children running on empty” because they didn’t get the attention or emotional connection needed when they were children. Or perhaps they went through some traumatic event as a child and shut their emotions down. They stopped feeling and maturing emotionally.
I can relate. I found out after a rather traumatic experience in my mid-30s that I never really coped with anything growing up. I stuffed every negative feeling down deep so I didn’t have to address the pain and thought that I had my life under control. But it eventually caught up with me and I began running around like a big child unable to control my emotions.
No really, I literally couldn’t. It was like the dam broke and every emotion I’d stuffed came gushing out and I had no idea what to do with it all. I was an emotional basket case.
So began my journey to growing up emotionally because I didn’t want to keep losing it every other day. I remember getting into arguments with my partner and being told to “grow up” more than once. I didn’t get it either. I thought I was grown up, but every time I got upset I would emotionally revert to a child and cope with the situation in immature ways. I would whine, sulk, yell, take off for the night, accuse, lie, and so on. It’s tough to admit that, but it’s true.
Growing Emotionally as an Adult
Many people in recovery did not have the greatest home life growing up. Maybe Mom or Dad was into drinking or drugs or just not emotionally available. Maybe there was some sort of abuse going on. When family life is in dysfunction, a child will close himself or herself off to emotions. After all, he or she does not have the capacity yet to cope with such chaos.
So a child begins stuffing emotions and detaching from them—and stops growing emotionally. They may even begin drinking or drugging themselves when they get older to further numb any lingering pain. But eventually, this catches up to them. They have a breakdown or begin to experience so much pain that they are forced to do something different. Then they are faced with having to face their pain and contend with it if they want to grow or ignore it and keep acting out their childhood misery. I used to refer to this as putting my “big girl” pants on and facing life on life’s terms.
How to Stop Going Through The Motions and Begin to Really Live
So how did I stop my grown self from running on empty? I eventually reached out for help. I began a journey to face the reality that my childhood wasn’t as grand as I thought it was. That I had been running from old wounds for decades. That I needed to seriously buck up and take responsibility for how I handled negative emotions.
I went to therapy. I went to a 12 Step group. I read self-help books and made a genuine effort to grow up emotionally. I learned how to have a mature conversation with someone I was angry with. I learned how to say how I was feeling instead of stuffing it. Sure, it took some time and some trial and error, but the efforts paid off.
I stopped running on empty and learned how to fill my tank. So can you. If you’re feeling like you revert back to childhood in distressing times, you too can grow up emotionally. See a therapist. Get involved in a 12 Step group like Adult Children of Alcoholics or Co-Dependents Anonymous. Read up on the topic. Ask for help.
You can learn how to face life on life’s terms in a mature and stable way. All it takes is some time, so be patient. You’ll get there.