This is What it Takes to Become a Grown Up

by | Jan 26, 2020 | Anxiety, Buying a house, Job/Career Change, Moving, Transitions - General | 53 comments

There are junctures in a human life, transitional times when we’re thrust over a cliff and asked to navigate the jagged rocks that jut up from the ravine below. Ideally, the culture itself would help us navigate these junctures: encircle a couple as they marry, hold the woman as she births herself as a mother, guide the man as he becomes a father, lay out a canopy of wisdom-stories to wrap around ourselves as we stumble through the great portal of midlife, offer reverence and footholds of meaning as we lean into old age.

Sadly, we live in a culture that offers very little support and guidance through these portals, and nowhere is this more apparent for many of my clients than around the transition of growing up. For it’s here, during a juncture that encompasses so many other transitions around career, home, relationship, and parenthood, that we’re asked to let go of childhood fantasies and contracts that are no longer serving us and figure out what it means to be a full-fledged adult.

The transition of becoming an adult doesn’t happen all at once. We could say, in fact, that we are continually growing up as we deepen into wisdom throughout the course of a human life. But there are portals when we’re invited to step more deeply into our own agency and wisdom, when the prospect of assuming the next layer of responsibility looms large in our daily and nightly awareness. Adolescence, late 20s – early 30s, and midlife are three of these times that I see most prominently in my work.

With the invitation to grow comes resistance; it’s par for the course. For whenever we’re asked to leave behind a familiar stage, we tend to kick and cling, resisting the unknown. Joseph Campbell brought the term “hero’s journey” to collective consciousness (he was a primary consultant on Star Wars, which depicts this mythological journey in epic terms), by which he meant the stages in life when we’re called to leave the known and venture into the unknown. Carl Jung used the term “individuation” to describe a similar principle: the passages and processes through which we question the family and cultural values and norms with which we’ve been raised and decide for ourselves who we are, what values we choose as guiding principles of our lives, and what it means to take full responsibility for our lives.

And this is where resistance shows up irregardless of chronological age.

This topic has been emerging on my small group coaching calls over the past few weeks. I found it fascinating that the conversation centered around parents and the archetypal sense that if the adult-child grows up it means they’re leaving their parents behind in some way. One member described it eloquently like this:

“If I grow up, my parents will die. But if I refuse to grow up and become an adult – if I kick and scream and resist – maybe my parents won’t die. It’s this magical thinking of the young child in me that believes that I can stop time – that by refusing to grow up I can stop the passage of time.”

I reflected that this pain around parents aging often arises during transitions, for it’s during this times that we’re aware that as we move up the totem pole of life, so do our parents, and that it’s only a matter of time before they’re no longer on the totem pole of the living at all. The young child part wants to believe that by refusing the call, it will halt time.

But of course it cannot be so.

I further reflected that we often develop early, unconscious contracts in childhood that say something like, “I won’t surpass you in emotional and spiritual growth. I will always remain young so that you can feel like the older and wiser parent in our relationship.” This contract is particularly pronounced when a parent has narcissistic wounds. Embedded in this contract there is often an unconscious message download from the narcissistic parent that says, “I don’t want you to grow up.” A highly sensitive empath will sense into this contract, and it may be another spoke on the wheel of resisting growing up.

The resistance to growing up can also arise as a longing for childhood. We can long both for the childhood we didn’t have and for the one that we did. We can long for the parents who took care of us as well as for parents who couldn’t meet our emotional, spiritual, or physical needs. As you stand at the precipice of the next stage of responsibility, you can ask: “In what area am I refusing the call and hoping that someone else will come and rescue me?” There is wisdom in longing just as there is in anxiety, and when we follow the breadcrumbs of longing and allow ourselves to grieve both what was present and what was missing, we loosen some of the boulders that obstruct our transition into the next stage of life.

What does it take to become a grown up?

As always, there are multiple spokes to the wheel and they’re different for everyone, but we have to be able to unlock the code of resistance before we can dissect our personal wheel. First we ground the resistance in the context of transitions, understanding that to resist, especially during transitions, is a natural response. Then we remember that without a greater cultural conversation and ritual holding the transition into adulthood can be a very lonely time and shame is often a close cousin to loneliness. Once shame enters the internal picture, curiosity and compassion, the two essential allies on the journey of self-discovery and healing, flee the forest. This is why I’m opening up the conversation here: when you know that you’re not alone, you can reduce the shame, then call on the allies of curiosity and compassion as you delve into your personal fears and griefs about growing up.

Are you in this transition currently or do you remember what it was like for you to cross over into adulthood? Share your experience in the comments below.

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53 Comments

  1. I am a 50 year-old 32 year-old…. I swear I haven’t matured as I have aged! I thought perhaps by getting married, I would feel grown up, but that doesn’t seem to be true. Interestingly, I feel I am on the verge of a transition. I literally have cried at work…in front of my boss. I feel like a frustrated toddler as though I am having temper tantrums because I don’t have the words or maturity to express my thoughts. I know I want to grow, but I don’t know what the “next” version of me is, and therein lies fear and anxiety. My dad passed away two years ago, and my mom is sometimes staying the same, and other times attempting to forge a new path for herself in the new reality. It is an unsettling time. I agree that it is very strange to find myself 50 years old without much of an idea how I can even be someone “in charge.” Resistance is a good description. I am starting to take a deep breath and jumping in, tho…. when you must, you will.

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    • Deep breaths and jumping in are the medicine for resistance. The only way out is through – right through the center of the storm. It sounds like you’re on a the precipice of a big and exciting change. As I’ve recommend to others on my site, I highly recommend the book The Middle Passage as a guide through these midlife years.

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  2. Last year I got married and moved across the globe with my husband, away from my parents. Then I turned 30. Allll of the underlying fears about growing up and my parents passing has been coming up for almost the entire year now since these transitions and now that I am physically separate from them as we go through our lives.

    Funnily enough I have been having something mild with my kidneys to heal, and one of Louise hay’s affirmation for kidney healing is “it is safe for me to grow up”

    Message(s) received – now it is time to integrate.

    I would love to feel at least 25% more grown up before I make the transition to mother as well!

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    • Incredible message about the kidneys! Many women would like to feel more grown-up before they have kids but it’s often the transition into motherhood that, when approached consciously, grows us up.

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  3. I am definitely in the process of some incredibly exciting and terrifying changes. I am in my late twenties and while I know those older and wiser tell me I have all the time in the world. Sometimes I feel as though I’m still so far behind everyone else my age. I have floated from job to job with no real career under my belt. Though I am grateful for all the experience I have gained I feel as though I should know what and where I want to be career wise. I have a wonderful boyfriend whom I did struggle with relationship anxiety with. The trust in us and our overcoming so much has truly given me faith in our relationship. However the internal questioning and intrusive thoughts do sometimes creep up. We are moving to a bigger home where we plan to one day start a family. And one day feels a lot closer than before and while I would love children. I still feel as though I am a child and learning myself. There are so many thing I wanted to accomplish, do and be before I have children and now I feel even more rushed to do them. Each day I tell myself to take a deep breath and through hard work the right things will fall into place when the time is right. Yet I feel at the cusp of something truly great and can’t seem to take the plunge to finding my path in life. A place I feel as though I am making a difference and doing something I love. I have so many different things I enjoy I guess part of the problem is it’s making the decision as to which one to choose. My boyfriend and parents tell me to just pick one to jump in with both feet and not feel as though making one decision means foregoing something else forever if the original idea didn’t pan out. Yet I for some reason I still struggle. I’m not sure why but I can feel the anxiety making its way into my daily life in more than just my relationship. I know this means I am struggling internally with making some big decisions. All while moving and most likely married soon. My boyfriend has found his path and passion and I guess I’m feeling even more lost watching him dive in each day to something he loves while I float.
    Anyway I just thought I would share. In case someone else feels The same or if anyone has advice.

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    • I could have basically written this comment myself…..still struggling on the relationship anxiety from though. I didn’t finish college and have had several jobs since i left, so I totally feel you. It’s tough seeing my boyfriend and peers seem secure in their jobs/lives.

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    • I’m now in my late 20s (just felt some anxiety creep in writing that!) and have a good job but it’s not my passion. I just want to say I know how you feel and it’s totally okay to feel lost – embrace it with curiosity and see where it takes you.

      I started a masters in an engineering (same as my undergrad and related to my job) and somehow after oscillating between what I’m doing and what I think I want for a few years, I discovered I love working in emergency medicine and want to become an EMT. And yet I also love nature and am starting a website related to protecting our natural world. I’m all over the place! But I’m following my heart and doing what I love on the side while keeping with my steady job that I don’t love but it pays the bills.

      Sometimes resistance really traps us and you do just have to take a leap and push into unknown territory. See what you can do to make change happen while making yourself feel a little safer – maybe take classes part time while you keep your current job.

      I also just got married and my husband is several years older than me, so I definitely still feel like a child myself and nowhere near ready for kids. I have a lot of habits and adult behaviors I want to establish before I throw a kid in the mix.

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    • I could have also written this myself…it’s all too familiar. I’m in the same boat. Just know that you’re here, working on yourself and let that be enough for now. I understand feeling behind, I feel that way often.

      If you’re feeling better in your relationship your anxiety needs somewhere to go so now it’s in making a decision of your passion. It’s okay to try something and then decide it’s not for you, nothing has to be set in stone. I think we as a culture put a lot of pressure on “what we’re going to be.” Well you don’t have to have a job that fits into a normal category (teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc). You can try different things and change paths. I think we need to think about “who we want to be” and the career will fall into place.

      You’re not alone with your feelings and just being here means you’re doing the right thing. For me my self trust is definitely damaged which prohibited me from making a decision on what I wanted to do…I would definitely try working on your self trust.

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    • I FEEL YOU!
      Becoming aware of our resistance though is key and a great first step into a whole new world and an exciting journey! I am learning this myself every day. My inner child still kicks in daily, reminding me of all the small trauma I have not worked through enough yet. So the ego comes and wants to protect us from taking the sole responsibility four our own life and our own well being. What really helps me is learning more and more to trust my intuition and to listen to my body. I think, most of the time we feel exactly what we need or need to do, but we don’t listen carefully or just decide to ignore the message. Every time I manage to literally trust my gut and then make a conscious decision for myself, I can feel how I am moving one step closer towards healing and growing!

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    • I, also, feel like shouting ‘me too!’ I’m almost 36… i feel like I should know what I’m doing in life by now. I’ve been in the same job for 10 years and been talking about changing for about 9 years. My boyfriend has worked himself up the career ladder. I’m scared to jump into something new, something that could actually ignite some sort of passion . I have a new idea every other day, as to which direction I should jump in. I suck at making my own decisions, I feel so attached to my parents, to their opinions… but also feel a need to GRoW UP. I have two children, the oldest is about to start school and choosing the right school is something that keeps me awake at night these days. How can I trust myself to choose the right school when I can’t even trust that I can manage a new job or make a decision to start something different?I should be asleep right now but I guess I couldn’t sleep feeling the weight of everything at the moment. I’m rambling. But yes… growing up is hard to do! And it’s not at all something that is talked about enough… but I hear you.,, jumping in…I’m sure it’s the way forward. I hope I do it soon too, good luck xxxx

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      • Laura,
        I am in your same boat! I’m 35, have been in my career for the past 12 years and have been wanting to change for the past 10… I finally have broken, left my job, and I’m currently staying at my sisters, with no real idea of where I’m headed next, although I truly feel that this break was necessary before my anxiety took over in a more extreme sense. In a way I feel so free, I’m single (although still grappling with anxiety over losing my past partner, which I now realize was due to unresolved RA), have money to fall back on, and literally all the time to figure out my next move, yet I still feel responsible to my family to stay close to home to make them feel content, I’ve traveled the past four years for work and am finally back home, that in itself feels strange, I’m rambling too at this point but it feels better just typing these words! I feel like I’m smack in the middle of multiple transitions at once with no clear idea of where I’m going next.

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        • Hi Erin! Sorry I only
          Just saw your reply. But it’s nice to hear someone else feels in the same boat. I’m trying to be in the now- not to beat myself up about the past, and to not worry too much about the future. I almost look down at myself for not getting further career wise, and I’m stuck in this muddiness if not daring make decisions.
          Well done for quitting and facing your fear. Im sure you will look back and be grateful that you dared leave. I’m sure your family love having you close by, but I’m also sure they want you to be happy, even if that means you are not living at home. Good luck with it all!!:)

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    • Like so many others who have replied, I heavily identify with what you’ve written. I am 30 years old and, although I have a degree with a major I feel passionately about, I am still at the same job (where I’ve been for the last 10+ years) working for an automotive company.. I feel the same pressures about having kids due to my age, yet I feel nowhere near ready enough. And while I realize very few people every feel fully “ready” to bring children into the world, the fact is many do willingly choose to do so… and that is a choice I balk at the thought of making right now or any time soon.
      You’re not alone, and it helps to know I’m not either. Thank you for sharing. <3

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  4. “In what area am I refusing the call and hoping that someone else will come and rescue me?”

    Love this question, Sheryl. As someone with a history of trauma and abuse I always thought it was someone else’s responsibility to fix my broken heart and wounds. I’m so thankful now that I’ve taken personal responsibility for myself and for my life. As it’s freed me up so much to give in my relationships and not just take. But I will say I was resistant for a really long time. For years. Many times it didn’t seem fair That I had to learn to tend to myself. , that little child in me would kick and scream. And resistance still does come up on the other side, but it’s much easier to work through now and I remind that little child On the inside that all her needs will be met as I turn inward.

    As usual, thanks for the article 🙂 blessings to you, Sheryl.

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    • Thank you for this beautiful, empowering response, Sara. It’s so good for others to know that it’s possible to take responsibility even after years of resisting it.

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  5. I thought it was me. I never knew that anyone else grieved for the loss of a good childhood and struggled to move ahead, or struggled so with the fear of losing their parents, their tether. Thank you.

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    • I’m so glad you now know that you’re not alone ;).

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  6. I’m at 38 years old. Mapping a career change and visiting my family for a vacation. When I come home after an extended period I can see my parents visibly age. I find it very unsettling. I always go into a problem solving mode straight after. I’ll go over their blood work , find medical practitioners and become hyper focused on what they eat.

    My brother got married 4 years ago and we are very close. I was happy for him but I did not take to this change easily. It’s taken me a few years to adapt. This was followed by two babies that he had in the last 4 years and moving back into the family home with his partner. This is break neck speed for me.

    I have a pace at which I embrace change and I feel like I’m always playing catch up.

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    • When you’re highly sensitive you will “embrace” change more slowly than others, and I’m not even sure it’s embracing change is much as it is eventually learning to tolerate it.

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      • I needed to read these exact words, Sheryl. Thank you! I feel I cannot fully embrace change but am learning to tolerate it and move into it slowly.

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        • I’m so glad they arrived at the right time ;).

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  7. So excited you are coming to Boone NC!!! I moved back here from Colorado over a year ago after my anxiety ridden divorce… you will love it.
    If my schedule allows it I will try to get to the retreat.

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    • Oh, I hope I get to meet you there!

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  8. I’m in my mid 20s, and am struggling with supporting my mom’s desire to parent like she did when I was young, and growing into myself as an adult. It’s hard, because as I forge my own life and settle down with a wonderful partner, I feel like I’m hurting her. She’s told me as much. So I carry this incredible guilt with me, this knowledge that since I’ve chosen to move far away, she feels like I’m abandoning her.

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    • It’s very challenging when you have a parent who resists you growing up and leaving. It’s painful for parents when kids grow up, but it’s an unavoidable fact of life and it’s the healthy parent’s job to support a child in growing up and going as high and far as they need to go, both literally and metaphorically. It’s not your job to take care of your mother’s pain, and it’s important for you to know that you don’t have to absorb the guilt that she’s trying to pin on you (even though it’s incredibly difficult not to).

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      • Thanks for your comment, Claire, totally resonates. This reply really helped me too, Sheryl, thanks. My mom is exactly the same. She hasn’t told me explicitly but she’s been acting out the last few years so that I get the message.

        At our wedding, she picked so many petty fights with me – it was so bad I didn’t want her anywhere near me on the morning of, which was actually really sad and painful. She relaxed into the day thank god, but that’s not a nice relaxing way to feel supported through a transition.

        I really got this bit: “when a parent has narcissistic wounds.” I think that explains it. She was cheated on by my dad when I was 7, and then had a boyfriend for 15 years who I HATED and I was an absolute jerk to him. I feel shame now in my adult life as to how I treated that man – he was also a narcissist but gentle and there for my mom. BUT I was eight years old, so everyone has always put it down to: kids will be kids.

        My mom also always calls herself an optimist but actually every time we FaceTime (I moved from Canada to the UK 11 years ago), she’s complaining about something or other. It’s hard not to let that approach infect my own positivity. She’s been badmouthing my dad more lately – maybe she thinks I’m adult enough to take it – but it makes me uncomfortable (even though he did cheat and she is well within her right to).

        My dad has a (very annoying) girlfriend, who I’ve been told off for being nasty to, although my husband thinks I’m being perfectly civil. I’m honestly happy he has someone! My mom has been single since the narcissist, probably about ten years now. I really want her to have someone even though she insists she’s fine alone. I’m an only child and would much rather see her find someone to take care of her, and make her happy. I’ve been trying to get her on dating apps but to no avail.

        This helped a LOT: “It’s not your job to take care of your mother’s pain, and it’s important for you to know that you don’t have to absorb the guilt that she’s trying to pin on you (even though it’s incredibly difficult not to).“

        Thanks again.

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        • Thanks Sheryl, this feels timely. I’ve had a lot of anxiety recently and feel like it is coming to terms with approaching 40 in 6 weeks. There’s definitely an element of growing up and knowing that in the next 10 years I’ll have to deal with grief from loss of loved ones. Also, coming to terms with the forever part of my marriage (which along with my kids is the most important thing for me) is bringing up resistance and unusual/ unwanted thoughts and feelings. Need to keep facing them and see it through..

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      • Thanks, Sheryl. It is challenging, especially to see her pain, and feel like somehow I’ve made the, “wrong” life choices to have caused her it. I know that’s not true, and she’d struggle to watch me grow up no matter what choices I made, but it’s still hard. ♥️

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  9. Reflecting on your post, I feel like I’ve gotten stuck in a rut of resistance the past few months, related to feeling like an adult versus relying on other adults in my life.

    I’m in my early 30s and mu parents (in their 60s) have been going through a difficult divorce for the past year. There has been lots of enmeshed and immature behavior all around. I find myself feeling anger at my parents for everything that’s been going on (infidelity, narcissism) and how they have pulled the kids in to their ‘drama’ in unfair ways. It is opening up and actually deepening old wounds from my childhood, where I struggled with a sense of self and felt responsible for my parents.

    I am currently pregnant with my second child and approaching my due date. With my first child, I was able to do a good enough job being conscious and present with my emotions, and the transition to motherhood, while not easy, was filled with growth and meaning for me. However, this time I just feel blocked and unable to process all of my feelings. The resistance feels like a sense of protest against my family situation- I’m not going to deal with or take responsibility for my own life until you guys (my parents) take responsibility for yourselves. Maybe it is the part of me that wishes I had the support and guidance of my family/parents as my own family grows and undergoes these big changes. I am scared about my messing with the routine we’ve created with one child.

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    • While I hear the pain and anger around your current family situation, I also hear that you may be focusing on that as a way to avoid the grief around bringing another baby into your new family. The grief around baby #2 and the ways your family will change is very real, and it needs its own attention.

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      • Thank you for your reply. It feels right that I need to pay more attention to my own feelings and my own life. Perhaps this is what is hard for me at this moment. I never felt like my parents really saw me for who I was and what I was experiencing, and while I’ve worked hard to learn to be a witness for myself, now I feel like my experience is being dwarfed again. Thank you for reminding me that I am worthy of my own attention and that there are important things in my own life to nurture.

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  10. Hey Sheryl, thank you for your work! I am 31 and feeling a lot of shame „growing up“ so „late“ in life. I experience a huge resistance even reading the comments about marriage, babies and career because I keep questioning if those things really have anything to do with being an adult and growing up. I‘d like to think no. I‘d like to think they are cultural conditioning and that it‘s fine to change jobs or partners or don‘t fall into these categories at all. And while I am thinking and typing this, at the same time there‘s this urge or frustration around it as well.

    I also cry a lot these days, especially when I think about my parents. For the past three years I distant myself from them a lot. Less contact, no real bond and a huge fight about opinions. It broke my heart and looking back it seems as if I did it on purpose. To feel free or to try to feel less pain by the time they have to go? .. I don‘t know. I still have a hard time accepting them the way they are. And I wish we‘d had a better connection to each other. While at the same time I want to let go. It‘s so weird. But the fear of them dying and me „being alone“ is real. It‘s exactly what I am experiencing right now. And I am just getting aware of it.

    Reading the article makes me feel understood.

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    • I’m so glad the article helped you feel more understood and put some pieces into place.

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  11. I frequently face the fear that my mother will die. I lost my dad 7 years ago and I can’t bear the thought of losing her. We have a close relationship, but sometimes I think it’s shadowed by this fear that I need to keep it happy or risk not having told her I loved her right before she passes. She’s 75 and in very good health, but I know that life is fragile and anything could happen. I’ve dealt with this fear by attempting to remind myself that all I can do is treasure the time we have together, but even that seems to put pressure on how I interact with her; what topics I do or don’t discuss.

    I also cling to the sweet memories of my two pregnancies, births, and infanthood of my two daughters (now 4 and 8). I’m nearly 45 now and recently divorced. I grieve for the loss of very likely not having another child. (I can’t even dismiss the idea entirely yet.) I’m also taking some positive parenting courses which are opening my eyes to how important it is for kids to be able to do things for themselves. When I was growing up as the oldest of six, I taught myself a lot of how to fend for myself and take care of my siblings. I remember yearning to go back on my mom’s lap, but there was no room for me as her lap was constantly full with the next baby. I know I’ve been over- catering to my kids and this parenting course is kindly and firmly guiding me out of that.

    As I write, I am struck by the parallel of not wanting to leave my mother’s lap, not wanting my kids to leave mine, and now feeling stuck in the fear that my mom will die and leave me. Thank you, Sheryl, for highlighting these very real pieces of my life journey. It feels incredibly validating.

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    • Thank you for sharing these beautiful and poignant reflections, Laura. It sounds like some pieces fell into place through the writing.

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  12. This is a great article, Sheryl. Thank you. I winced at the narcissistic parent part. My ex’s mother was exactly this way. Her impact on him deeply saddens me. I also recognise the part of my own parents that babies both me and my sister. I think she deals with it by organising her life independently and not consulting anyone else on her decisions. She’s younger…I admire her for that. They are loving but very fearful parents.

    Something I constantly grapple with is wanting to make a change, wanting to conduct myself and my life in a more responsible way which is appropriate to my age (27) and my mind saying “this isn’t you, you’re not being true to yourself”. Accompanied by the ‘torn’ feeling inside, it feels very real and true. How do I tell when I’m resisting and when I’m not being true to my authentic self? I don’t even understand who my authentic self is…or is it who I consciously choose to be?

    My mind constantly questions my motives for changing anything in my life. I end up giving up through fear I’m doing myself more harm and pretending to be someone else.

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    • These are all very real and common questions that you’re grappling with. Sending you love, as always.

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  13. Hi Sheryl,

    This post opened my heart in such unexpected ways I was completely engulfed in the grief of it all, but in a strangely welcome, cathartic way. The tears have been streaming down my face. Isn’t the Universe mesmerising and spooky, the way it brings these things along at just the right time.

    I’ve been struggling with this transition since the day after I got married, for the past 5 years now. I’ve spent years in an unconscious contract with my Dad, and it’s in recent times, since marrying my wonderful husband, that my awareness has gradually altered in respect to this unconscious contract.
    I’ve began to see it more and more as the weeks and months have passed and that in itself has brought challenges between myself and my Dad during this time.

    Sadly, this has had a knock-on impact on my husband as he has taken the brunt of my Dad’s veiled frustrations, through passive-aggressive behaviour and evident scapegoating (which is doubly sad as they were so close before, loved to play golf together, trusted one another) and there have been many moments where it’s become clear that my Dad ‘blames’ my husband for these natural transitional changes between him and I. Possibly because it’s easier to do that than face his own discomforts.

    This has impacted on my health significantly. In 2019, I was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease and my body has struggled to be well enough to start a family. There’s a part of me now that wonders if this is a subconscious effort to ‘remain young’ and ‘childlike’ for my Dad’s sake.

    Were I to become a mother, it would mean growing up, being evidently a fully grown woman. It would mean moving on in to motherhood and through another transition and maybe there’s a part of me that is terrified of what my ‘moving up the totem poll’ means for my parents.

    I am very aware that turning 70 recently has been a transition my Dad has struggled with significantly and there have times where I’ve clearly gone out of my way to try and lift his spirits, make him feel loved and valued and younger than the years he feels. Maybe a part of me feels like having children would be moving on and deserting him further at a time in his life when he is struggling with his own mortality. Which actually mirrors his own mother’s behaviour towards him as she aged.

    I am slowly realising, and accepting, now that this isn’t my responsibility and stepping back from taking on those roles is, in itself, hugely difficult and quite painful for me on many levels, despite my growing awareness of how crucial the choice is to the health and wellbeing of my future.

    This pervasive idea of ‘letting my Dad down’, ‘leaving him alone’… seems to come to the fore. Despite my Mum still being there by his side, I’ve always very much aligned myself with being ‘his ally’, quite literally ‘Daddy’s little girl’ or a ‘Daddy’s girl’.

    It’s time to become a woman, though, and recognise that my growing up isn’t leaving my parents behind, even if they, on some level, sadly, might see it that way. I can’t let the fear rule the roost.

    As always, thank you so much. Jx

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  14. This same topic just came up yesterday in a group I am in for survivors of childhood emotional neglect. Sheryl, do you think not “feeling like a grown-up” (whatever that feels like) may also be connected to childhood trauma? At 60 a part of me still seems to be waiting for that elusive “arrival” of adulthood. A feeling of greater competence maybe? It’s difficult to describe, but always a deep internal feeling of not quite having figured out something other adults have figured out. Much food for thought on this piece. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Yes, I’m sure there’s a connection to trauma, but I suspect that the trauma may also amplify the need/desire/hope that someone will rescue you from your pain and so delays the essential task of taking full responsibility for your well-being, which is ultimately the definition of being an adult.

      Reply
  15. I am in my mid-20’s and am about to go through a huge transition. I have been with my amazing, loving, hardworking, compassionate and kind boyfriend for a little over 3 years now and we have decided that 2020 is the year that we are going to take next steps (woohoo!). In July, we are planning on moving in together, and while we won’t be engaged at that time, we have agreed that we will get engaged closely after that.

    While all of this is very exciting, I am also looking at this as a challenge that I would like to love up on and tackle like a fun passion project. I want to make sure that I am ready for this new transition and I want to not be so consumed with the thoughts of me, as the thoughts of we. I want to be my best self for me as much as I do US.

    I do feel myself growing apart gracefully from my younger self — there is some resistance that I have felt because this is a change that’s going to happen and it is a little scary, but I find myself consoling myself with reminders of the fact that I have chosen him and how much I love him and as scary as this may seem, that us being together is only going to get better and better as time goes on because he is the person that I want to go through the ebbs, flows and changes of life with. I’m taking all of this by the reigns and am all in.

    On the nit-picky side of things, I find that anything that I have an issue with, with my partner, tends to come back to me. It’s almost like I forget that he is a person with thoughts and feelings too, but because I am an extrovert and he is an introvert, I sometimes have a hard time getting specific information out of him that I need to better understand him for not only my benefit but also his.
    Because of this, I feel that I need some professional help because there are several areas that I would like to tackle to prepare for the impending transitions.

    First, I want to feel prepared for the transition ahead. I want to continue to strive to be that confident woman by his side as we tackle life’s challenges together. While I do feel that way now, I have had my fair share of relationship anxieties throughout our relationship together, so I want to make sure that I have the tools that I need to continue to do that.

    Second, I have been told time and time again that after being with someone for so long, they’re behavior does not change when you get married – who they are is who they are. With that comes the usual pet peeves and I want to better handle those so that my partner doesn’t feel like I am attacking him. I took him how he is a long time ago and love every bit of it.

    Third, I’m a perfectionist (probably more than I think), but more than anything I am super hard on myself and tend to overthink situations. I pride myself on being rational and diplomatic, but in addition, I am also very direct, a go-getter and I am very much in touch with my feelings, so I am always looking for the best way, best approach to handle a situation so that things don’t get out of hand. I guess I may have some control issues here, too.

    Lastly, I have also done research that states that pre-marital counseling is beneficial to couples getting engaged. My partner doesn’t think it’s necessary, meanwhile I am open to it to see if it would benefit us in any way. We’ve both been very direct about our expectations, so I agree with him that it may not be absolutely necessary, but I wonder if it is worth it.
    To conclude this, I don’t know what course would be best for me. I feel like I need all of them. Sheryl, what do you suggest?

    Reply
    • Alegra: Based on what you shared, I recommend starting with my Trust Yourself course. I’ll have a live round starting in April. However, if you’d like to get started sooner and you resonate with the description on the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety page, I recommend starting there.

      Reply
  16. I have been waiting, WAITING, I tell you for this post. I am so glad you wrote it and I will need to reread in a quieter space because I am at work right now. I don’t think suffering is the word, but I do struggle with the fear of death constantly – it moves from my own death to my parents death. The other night F just scooped me up as I sobbed about the thought of losing both of them one day – it hurts so much because I am an only child and my crying comes from the part of me that fears I will be alone in the world without them. It triggers my anxiety because I think, “What if I am only with F because I am scared to be truly alone in this world” and fear latches onto this because I feel such a family vibe from him(which I know is a plus) and also because I know one day I will be without parents. I remember telling my father this one day and he replied with, “You and Fred will have your own family one day…” – its true but also so incredibly hard to hear this because those will be my children, not my parents.

    I remember telling my therapist 2 years ago that I started noticing my parents hands becoming more wrinkly and elastic looking each time I go to their house, something you don’t really observe as a child and teen. As I get older this observation makes time so much more precious with them but also stirs up so much grief for me because I have to learn to channel my inner father and mother as well. I long for my father to look at me and tell me how beautiful I am, how proud he is of me, and how much he deeply loves me and my mother. I long for my mother to get creative with me and to spend time at an art studio with me, painting with no spoken criticisms of herself and just let her mind explore the different colors when brush meets canvas.

    I have found myself feeling so selfish for thinking these things. I find myself getting so emotional as I write this because it hits such a spot for me. I had to write about how I felt come the day my mother should pass away in therapy and I can honestly say it made me so angry. So angry that time goes so fast, so angry that I felt I was being told that I needed to just accept death, but the actual lesson was just to soften into these fears, to not diminish them because really, how can we truly escape this fate? I am struggling to find the words right now. I just wanted to be able to write this out and rereading it has me hollowed eyed – and that is completely okay.

    Much love always.

    xo

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your initial response, Cait, and it sounds like there’s much more to unravel and sink into, as there always is ;). I LOVE this:

      “the actual lesson was just to soften into these fears, to not diminish them because really, how can we truly escape this fate?”

      That’s it, really: to soften into the fears and the grief, not to get rid of them or escape them which isn’t possible anyway. Sending love.

      Reply
  17. Great article. It brings me back to several years ago, when I was engaged and overwhelmed by anxiety about my upcoming marriage. I took Sheryl’s Conscious Weddings Ecourse as well as individual counseling sessions, which helped tremendously. Looking back, now that time has passed, one of my biggest challenges during the transition into marriage was accepting that I was an adult, grieving for my childhood, and working through feelings of sadness which revolved around “leaving” my mom. Nobody had ever addressed these feelings as a “normal” Part of the transition into marriage before I took Sheryl’s course. Over the years, now that I am aware of it, I have observed anxiety and sadness around “growing up” manifest in different ways in the lives of family and friends, most often during their transitions into marriage.

    Reply
    • Laura! It’s so good to hear from you :). Thank you for sharing these reflections even years later.

      Reply
  18. Loved this article. So helpful and so timely for me. Your words are such a gift. Thank you for all that you do and all that you are. Immense gratitude for your teachings.

    Reply
  19. Wow, who would have thought that it would take 10 years after my first panic attack I would find these wise words about one of the roots of the fear. The anxiety began on the cusp of moving away to college. The anxiety pervaded even into my journey into my career after graduating college leaving me feeling like an adult failure because of the thought that I couldn’t successfully transition in adulthood. Thank you for this wisdom and sowing into my mind the wise words that I’m not alone in this. Do you have any book recommendations for transitions and cultural stories of these transitions?

    Reply
  20. Sheryl, I found your work when I began feeling a lot of anxiety and fear around my engagement/fiancé. I read your books The Conscious Bride and The Wisdom of Anxiety and have learned so much about how this transition is drawing attention to lots of layers of myself that I need to attend to. One of the biggest fears I’ve had lately has been that of losing my parents, and noticing how much older they are getting. My mom has been so supportive and helpful to me during this time, and I’ve cried just thinking about what I will do when she’s gone. I’ve felt a strong longing for home, and have cried when looking through old photos and baby books. I’ve cried thinking about how much my mom loves me and have been scared wondering if I’ll be able to love a child as much as she’s loved me, knowing that I’ll be making the transition from daughter to parent in the near future. My fiancé and I are getting married next month, and after we get married we are actually moving closer to my parents, so when I tell him that I feel like getting married is going to separate me from them, he doesn’t understand because we’re physically going to be closer to them. I’ve tried explaining it to him, and I think your totem pole metaphor describes it perfectly. I’ve been very aware of the passage of time lately, and I am trying to stay more present and practice mindfulness so that I can enjoy the now and not get caught up in the fear and uncertainty of what lies ahead, while also knowing that it is okay to feel these things. Thank you for posting this, I always enjoy reading your blog entries. Your work has been so comforting to me during this time.

    Reply
    • This is beautiful to read, Leah. The more you can make space for your feelings and ground them in the context of transitions, the more present you will be able to remain during this time of great change and growing up. Everything you’re sharing makes 100% sense to me :).

      Reply

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