(This page is still under revision. Thanks for bearing with this unfinished version for now)
The distinction between a child and a Real Adult is that a child knows (generally, at least) that they are a child and not an adult.
A Real Adult understands that regardless of chronological age, they will always at times be a child. So they monitor themselves for when that might be happening in a negative way, and they are open to input from others that it is. And they manage themselves accordingly (e.g., pause to do Real Thinking before speaking or engaging any further, or take a 5-minute break from engaging and come back later to engage as a Real Adult).
A Pseudo-Adult believes that any time they are being either a child or childlike, they are not an adult. As clinical types might say, they “split”, and experience themselves internally as only one or the other. So they tend to be rigidly “adult” for fear of being seen as “childish” (vs. a healthy version of “child-like”, e.g. playful or whimsically flexible and imaginative). Not fear of being seen as a child, but their experience of how they were treated as a child. (They don’t understand that their PA is really the child/adult acting out or being reactive through an adult
The PA has a hard time distinguishing between the PA and Real adult. Until it’s pointed out to them for what it is, they believe it’s just their insecurities. Which is really what your PA really is, insecurities of how they were trained as a child.(child/adult )
In addition, they do not recognize that this is the case (because it is a form of psychological defense and therefore cannot know) until it is pointed out for them to consider and examine for themselves.
What distinguishes Real Adult from Pseudo Adult attitudes and behavior is that the Real Adult is capable of containing their emotions long enough to do real thinking and determine “what’s so” (that is, what’s real like gravity is real, and doesn’t care how you feel about it–it just “does gravity”). The Pseudo Adult on the other hand typically does not recognize when their emotions have shut down their brain’s access to Real Thinking, and that much or most of what they are saying is purely determined by unquestioned spouting of the feeling based beliefs they developed about the world as a child, and unwittingly continue to hold in their current chronologically adult world. Depending on how healthy their childhood experience (“training”) was, these feeling based beliefs
Anytime they are being a child or childish, they are not an adult. The PA has a hard time distinguishing between the PA and Real adult until it’s pointed out to them.
Until it’s pointed out they believe it’s just their insecurities. Which is what your PA really is: ways of staying safe in faced of insecurities learned as a child.
3rd. “They tend to be a rigid adult in fear of being seen as a child.” .
There are four basic differences between a Real Adult and a Pseudo=Adult. These consist of how they each relate to:
- Their childhood based Safety Template
- Their belief in and understanding of unconsciously motivated behavior
- Feelings, Truth, and reality
- Emotional “knee-jerks”
As explained in the manual, throughout childhood all humans develop what I refer to as a “Safety Template”. That is, a set of criteria for recognizing danger.
This Safety Template grows and develops based on our “Safety Radar”. This radar works by our brain’s constantly comparing our current experience with emotionally charged memories of encountering something dangerous, pleasurable, etc. The strength of our feelings and emotions about something are the language this Radar uses to communicate the presence and degree of what it detects.
A major drawback of the Safety Template is its lack of specificity. Even a vague similarity between the “criterion” memory and our current experience can trigger confirmation of a “match”. This leaves room for a great deal of error that can cause a great deal of mischief in the present.
For example, a person’s tone of voice in a particular situation may connect with a memory. Merely the tone of voice and perhaps the surrounding circumstances can be enough to trigger confirmation of a match. So person behind the tone of voice is inaccurately (and unjustly) flagged as “dangerous”. Our conscious mind is unaware of the templates’ matching process having occurred. So it begins to look for evidence to justify the feeling of danger in otherwise meaningless details of the present situation.
When the matched memory is of something dangerous enough, the match immediately triggers an alarm that our very survival is at stake. To prevent it from interfering with immediate action, the brain’s access to rational thinking is instantaneously disrupted or even completely disabled.
All of these processes are a function of the brain’s physiology. They have nothing to do with conscious intent or understanding. As Daniel Goleman puts it in his famous book entitled “Emotional Intelligence”, it is as if the entire brain, including its control over the body, is “hijacked” by this alarm.
We have NO possibility of preventing or intervening in this reaction when the signaled danger is strong enough. It is mechanical. We are physiologically “forced” to we do what the alarm (our emotions) demand that we do. And we have no conscious choice about it.
Further, the brain tends to automate our unquestioned acceptance of our Safety Radar’s childhood based criteria for safety. So we generally assume we “already know” what’s safe and not safe around us, based on our emotions. So we see little reason to question our emotional reactions. As a result, over time and we gradually build various “knee-jerk” emotional reactions to whole classes of stimuli mislabeled as dangerous.
Knee-jerk reactions are extremely powerful and a potential source of failure in repeated earnest efforts to change behavior.
The difficulty with knee-jerk reactions is two-fold. These are explained in detail in the manual, so here I will simply present them as assertions of fact.
We literally cannot recognize our knee-jerks when the stakes are the highest and and our knee-jerks can do the most damage.
The only way to discover they exist and learn to recognize them is through input from others. And gradually, with LOTS of practice, we can learn to intervene on them. This, by the way, is the reason for my goal of creating a virtual community of support for working with the manual.
When a Safety Template is physiologically automated and so prone to error, it is not difficult to imagine the resulting “potential negative outcomes” in human behavior. Depending on your setting, you may see them–and be affected by them–every day, all around you.
A Real Adult understands and accepts the reality of our Safety Templates, as well as the reality of “unconsciously motivated” behavior. And they recognize that knee-jerks will always happen from time to time. They are not something you can “finally just stop having”.
Real Adults, therefore, relate to human upset and strife, including their own, as regrettable but normal–in everyone.
They recognize they have and will always have various unrecognized knee-jerk reactions of their own. So they are accountable to themselves and others for their own reactions and behavior. They look first for ways they may be contributing to the problem before jumping to blame others. And they proactively update their Safety Template every chance they get.
The goal for Real Adults is to live with human emotions the way we live with the physical reality of gravity. We usually don’t complain about gravity. We just know it’s there, and we take it into account in everything we do. We “manage” its reality as a background factor, however inconvenient it may be.
A useful analogy is with an architect who manages the reality of gravity. He develops his designs within the constraints of gravity and knows when and how he is “pushing the limits”. Similarly, Real Adults seek to manage themselves consistent with physiologically based realities of human emotions and behavior–especially their own. And they use the same approach in managing the reactions of others.
And finally, a third distinction between Real Adults from Pseudo-Adults is how they relate to Truth, Feelings, and “Reality”.
Real Adults understand and accept that feelings may or may not be a good index of what is objectively true. They know that only Real Thinking can determine, when it can be done, what is “true”.
They appreciate that there are legitimately different kinds of reality. But the only “real” that matters in living effectively in the world is what is real like gravity is real.
That is, gravity is a kind of reality that keeps doing what it does regardless of how we feel about it. Gravity “doesn’t care” about how we feel.
Real Adults are therefore committed to always distinguishing between “What’s So/true/factual” and how they feel about What’s So” by using Real Thinking. And because of this, they can determine what is the real problem to be solved outside of how people feel. They can then make conscius choices about what action, if any, might have some beneficial impact on the real problem.
Said another way, Real Adults deal with the reality that generates the upset, not just with the upset because of reality.
And when it does come to dealing with feelings themselves, Real Adults have learned to Contain their own and others’ feelings in the way an oil drum contains the explosion of a firecracker. Lots of noise, but nothing happens otherwise. No purely emotion-driven action takes place.
And by containing feelings–or having feelings rather than being had by them–they can regain access to Real Thinking. And distinguish between What’s So and Feelings, make conscious choices about what really might help, etc.
Because of the above distinctions, Real Adults are capable of a number of skills that Pseud-Adults are not. Because Pseudo-Adults have no consistently powerful way to understand or deal with feelings.
Pseudo-Adults may not even know that Safety Templates exist, let alone that much of their behavior is determined by one. And they may have heard of “the unconscious”. But they balk at believing something they don’t know consciously can influence what they consciously think, feel, and do. They cannot see how they are reacting could be a “disguised” way to protect themselves. “I don’t feel “unsafe”. I’m no coward. I’m just angry!”
The Pseudo-Adult’s position is something like, “Well I sure as heck didn’t ask to feel this way!” So logically, in their view, their negative feeling must be the result of someone or something outside of themselves. So they blame others for these feelings.
This in turn means that Pseudo-Adults have very little basis or reason to believe they might be part of the problem. The idea that they might be literally makes no sense to them. They cannot see how their unquestioned reactions could just be making things worse. And even if they do see it, they have no framework for understanding and changing it.
In addition, Pseudo-Adults are typically hamstrung when it comes to distinguishing between What’s So and feelings about What’s So. For them, “truth” is what their feelings tell them it is. Even their language reflects the confusion between feeling and thinking. “I feel like..” is used as interchangeably with, “I think that…”. And even if they say they understand thinking and feeling are different things, they act as if they don’t when the stakes are high.
A CHILD’S VIEW OF “BEING ADULT” or HOW PSEUDO-ADULTS DEVELOP
When there is not an adequate role model of what a Real Adult looks like and how they behave and respond in real life, the child is forced to make up their own version of what it means to be “Adult”. And when there is no one around sharing the experience of being an adult from which they can learn by experience, the only “models” a child has is what they see from a distance in the behavior of supposed (or “chronological-only”) Adults. This includes representations of Adult in movies, cartoons, magazines, TV, etc.
A useful analogy is to think of the child as going into a store to shop for the right Adult “coat” for them. The only problem is, EVERYTHING hanging on the racks is far too big for them and can by definition never fit them correctly. Unfortunately, Life demands that they at least look like they are an adult at some point, so they have to put something on and wear it, no matter how bad a fit.
The trick is that in order to be able to wear the coat , it is as if the child has to stand on a stool so they won’t be tripping over it as it drags on the floor around them. And unfortunately, stools don’t come with wheels and aren’t very maneuverable . So the child has to remain rigidly on that same stool no matter what happens, or they will not “be” an Adult.
Granted, the visual image is somewhat inept, and it still conveys the rigidity of a child’s understanding about what it means to be an Adult, and about the underlying self-knowledge that they “really” are only a child wearing an Adult coat. And once they’ve done it long enough, and it’s at least worked “well enough”, they adaptively forget that it’s just a coat. And it becomes, either they Are (wearing the) Adult (coat), or the Aren’t (wearing the) Adult (coat).