Emotional childhood

Do any of these sound familiar…

  • “He’s making me so angry.”
  • “She makes me feel so bad about myself.”
  • “They make me feel insecure.”
  • “It makes me feel like I’m a failure.”

These are basic sentences we’ve all been guilty of thinking.

I say guilty because they’re actually not true.

Someone can’t cause you to feel anything. No one can jump in your body and cause your feelings.

Here’s what’s really going on…

If you want to listen instead of read, here’s the podcast episode that goes along with this post — Emotional Childhood and Adulthood.

Defining Emotional Childhood

When you blame someone (or something) else for how you feel, you’re in “emotional childhood.”

Emotional Childhood is not taking responsibility for how you feel; blaming someone (or something) else for your emotions.

Emotional childhood occurs when grown adults have not matured past childhood in terms of managing their emotions.

They react, resist, or avoid emotions rather than taking full responsibility for them, and choosing thoughts that will create more desirable and appropriate emotions.

The actions within emotional childhood often resemble the behavior of a toddler. Temper tantrums, rage fits, and engagement with someone else in a yelling and screaming match.

The end result is finding yourself in a place where you don’t feel like you have control over yourself and therefore, you begin acting like toddlers.

When you choose not to be responsible for your feelings, you also refuse responsibility for your actions.

When you place blame on other people or circumstances, you act out as if you have no other choice. For example, you might overeat and blame other people for making food available. For many people, when their eating is driven by emotional childhood, their food choices mirror this. For example, you may eat macaroni and cheese or fast food.

Examples of Emotional Childhood

  1. One of my students said she has been at her teaching job for over 15 years and unable to progress or get a leadership position because of her boss. She believes it’s his fault. She feels terrible about it and is blaming him. This isn’t useful at all. Regardless of what her boss thinks of her, she can only control herself. Her best course of action is to take responsibility for being disappointed in not getting promoted and think about how to become the person of leadership she wants to be.
  2. One of my students in Grow You said that every job she has leaves her “unfulfilled” and she just doesn’t think it’s meaningful work, so she feels terrible. What I coached her on was to realize that feeling fulfilled is an emotion she creates with her thoughts. It’s not her job’s job to make her feel happy or fulfilled. That’s her job. I suggested she practice the emotion of feeling fulfilled by creating thoughts that create that emotion (this is the coaching I do in Grow You). This doesn’t mean you stay in the job, but it means you create the emotion you want, and leave when you’re happy, so you don’t think fulfillment is in the next job (because it’s not).
  3. I hear people all the time blame their student loans on the “institutions” or the “government” or their parents or something else. This is being in emotional childhood. Instead, ask how your student loans are happening for you. This is what I did and how I created my online business.
  4. The most obvious example of emotional childhood is in relationships. It’s when you give your emotional power away to your spouse, friends, or family. For example, if you say, “He made me feel so angry and upset,” you’re giving him all the responsibility for how you feel. The truth is that you created the feeling of anger by whatever you thought. He did something; you had a thought about it; that thought caused you to feel a certain way. This doesn’t mean you don’t have boundaries, standards, or hold people accountable for their actions. You definitely do. But the difference is that you don’t hand over your emotions to them. You take responsibility for how you feel. Always.

Why Emotional Childhood Is So Common And Such A Problem

There is no class offered in college or high school that teaches us how to be emotional adults.

The truth is, however, that once we have reached adulthood, our brains are developed enough to be able to understand what we are thinking.

We are capable of reflecting on our thoughts, and therefore, we can decide what to think and what to feel in any given moment, no matter what anyone else does in our lives.

As children, we don’t have this capacity. In fact, we think everything going on in our lives is what causes our feelings, and this assumption is only perpetuated by how we are raised.

Adults constantly make comments to children such as “Megan, you really hurt that little girl’s feelings. You need to say you are sorry for hurting her feelings” or “Did it hurt your feelings when that boy said those mean words to you?”

We teach children at a young age that other people are responsible for how we feel, and it becomes so ingrained that we don’t even question it or recognize how disempowering it is.

Many people continue to function this way as adults.

Not only is this a debilitating way to live, but it also locks you in a space of blame. We blame the government, the economy, our bosses, other people, ex-husbands, our mothers, our fathers, and our childhood. We blame people not only for how we feel, but for the actions we take and the results we get in our lives.

Defining Emotional Adulthood

Emotional Adulthood means…

  • Taking responsibility for your negative emotion and also for your positive emotion (pain and joy).
  • Not expecting other people to “make” you happy.
  • Not expecting others to “make” you feel secure.
  • Not expecting your job to “make” you feel fulfilled.
  • Knowing that you are the only one who can hurt your feelings and that you do this with your thoughts.

For most people, it’s a huge challenge, but it’s worthwhile.

The only way to achieve emotional maturity is through self responsibility.

This means taking full responsibility for every single thing you feel, no matter what someone else does or doesn’t do.

This is hard!

Why? Because many people feel like victims as if they are at the mercy of other people in their lives.

Emotional adulthood behaviors occur when we take responsibility for how we feel and make choices for how we want to feel. When we do this, we end up so much more empowered and get to be the people we truly want to be instead of existing in this default emotional childhood space.

Rather than acting like a child out of control, we can allow ourselves to feel our feelings without acting out to avoid, distract, or blame others. From a clean place, we take the kind of action that produces the results we really want.

Taking Responsibility For Your Actions

Sometimes people worry that if they’re the only one responsible for how they feel, they might not take responsibility for the way they treat other people.

Example: “I can’t hurt your feelings, so it doesn’t matter what I did.”

In fact, the opposite is usually true.

When you act from a place of emotional adulthood, you don’t act mean because you’re not trying to control others or get them to behave in a certain way.

Usually, when we yell at people, act mean, or throw temper tantrums, it’s because we’re trying to control them.

When we do make a mistake, as an emotional adult, we more readily take responsibility and apologize for our actions.

3 Actions To Take

I have 3 actions you can start taking today to notice if you’re in emotional childhood or not (and what to do about it if you are). These actions will not only bring awareness, but they’ll also help you bring about change.

3 Actions To Take Right Now:

  1. Notice your feelings by separating yourself from your feelings (become the watcher)
  2. Ask yourself what you’re thinking that’s causing the feeling (write down the thought)
  3. Approach the thought and feeling with curiosity and compassion (don’t blame yourself or anyone else) and seek to understand why you’re choosing this thought and feeling

These three actions alone are life changers. You’ll likely find that you’re an emotional child in one or many areas of your life.

This is normal! And it’s just your brain in a thought pattern. You can rewire your brain. You can have compassion for yourself. You can have your own back.

From awareness, you can change. You can choose (and practice) new thoughts. But don’t rush this. Make sure you understand what you’re thinking and feeling before you go about changing.

This is a lifelong practice. Many students say, “I’ve been working on this why is it coming back up?!” It’s kind of like cleaning your house. You need to do it regularly. Your brain gets messy. You have to constantly coach yourself and do the thought work to see the change you want.

A Final Note!

We are responsible for how we feel in every moment.

We are in charge of how we think and we are in charge of how we feel. When we are functioning as emotional children, we are blaming other people for how we feel, how we act, and for the results we get in our life.

We call ourselves adults, but most of us are still functioning as emotional children.

It’s not something we do on purpose—most of our parents still function as emotional children, perpetuating the cycle.

One of the most fulfilling things you can experience is to grow and become an emotional adult, fully empowered and responsible for your own life.