Wednesday, July 22, 2015


**This post has been on my therapeutic website for years, but was never added to my blog. Since I've been hearing this complaint more often, I thought it would be a good one to post here.**

As a therapist, I often hear my clients remark, "I'm an adult! Why do I feel like I'm walking around acting like a child in an adult's body?" or "Why do I feel like I've been stuck at age 18 for the last 20 years?"

There are a lot of factors that contribute to that sense of not being fully adult.  

I hear it over and over again, women are struggling to live their lives as adults, with balance, with confidence.

More and more, research supports the notion of a newly defined developmental stage called adultescence, which is the stage between adolescent and adulthood that seems to be a growing phenomenon. However, this isn't what I'm seeing with my clients. Instead, like many counselors, I see women who are stuck living and believing as a child, not due to over-controlling, hover parents as is the case with adultescence, but as a result of the trauma of childhood abuse.  

For example, a woman who experiences a traumatic event at age 8 will often report that she feels like an 8-year old girl walking around in a 40-year old woman’s body.  Or a woman who was abandoned at age 15 is experienced by those around her as a grown woman who behaves as a young teen.

In fact, more and more, I find myself asking my clients, “So, what would a grownup do?”  

In all honesty, I ask myself that question on a pretty regular basis as well! I find that in asking the question, we are given not only a foundation for problem resolution, but also a path to discovering the root of particular issues or belief systems. It’s a pretty powerful question in a simple package.

What would a grownup do?

Here are some characteristics of adults that my clients and I have compiled over the past few years.  Look through them and notice which ones you excel at and which you might need to work on. on. That’s what grown ups do…when they recognize something they need to work on, they do the work. (This is in stark contrast to what children do...we'll look at that in a bit)

OK, here is my randomized list of things that adult do:

An adult:

  • Attends to her health and has regular checkups with doctor and dentist
  • Cares for her personal hygiene
  • Exercises regularly
  • Has an internal locus of control, knows she can make positive choices for her life
  • Has hobbies that bring her joy and engages in them regularly
  • Isn’t afraid to put herself first – gets her tank refilled so she can have something to give to those that she loves
  • Knows how to manage her time
  • Is fiscally responsible.  Yes, even independent.
  • Knows that she has the same value and worth as everyone else in the world
  • Makes and maintains healthy, intimate, authentic friendships
  • Has confidence in her abilities and recognizes her weaknesses
  • Knows that, as a human, she is not perfect and gives herself a break when she makes a mistake
  • Understands that she can’t be good at everything and makes an effort to improve where she can
  • Cares about others and is generous with what she has - time, energy, finances, heart
  • Is a good neighbor/citizen without need for thanks or recognition
  • Knows how to behave in public – doesn’t make a spectacle of herself to get attention
  • Tolerates others’ differing opinions without needing to be right all the time
  • Understands her emotions and is responsible for her own heart
  • Is reasonable and can compromise when necessary
  • Attempts to make peace with those around her, but not at the expense of truth
  • Knows her own reality and can speak it
  • Pays her bills on time and knows her credit score
  • Knows who she is and is not threatened by others who know who they are as well
  • Recognizes when she needs help and isn’t afraid to ask for it
  • Doesn’t expect others to: be perfect, meet her needs, make her the center of their universe
  • Is a good family/team member
  • Recognizes and deals with her shame core
  • Asks and extends forgiveness
  • Can say no and can accept no from others
  • Engages her spirituality and doesn't use it to hurt others
  • Develops healthy communication skills
  • Takes responsibility for her interpretations and what she makes up about others’ motivations and behaviors
  • Can give and receive love
  • Can accept constructive criticism and act upon it in a healthy way without catastrophizing
  • Makes peace with her body
  • Recognizes her unhealthy coping skills and defense mechanisms and strives to replace them with healthy ones
  • Engages her purpose in life either personally or vocationally
  • Faces life’s challenges with courage and accepts both support and correction
  • Opens her mail and returns phone calls
  • Is flexible and can live with balance, knowing that life is not black and white
  • Faces her fears and anxieties
  • Develops resilience to life’s difficulties and can keep things in perspective
  • Lives in reality...can ask herself, “what is real,” and takes responsibility when she doesn’t
  • Knows how to play
  • Knows when to play and when to reign it in
  • Knows how to balance her checkbook...and does it
  • Allows herself to have a voice
  • Is able to gather esteem from the inside out (has a healthy self-esteem)
  • Understands that by having contempt for herself, she gives powers to those who have hurt her
  • Doesn’t take advantage of others
  • Is able to make and keep commitments

OK, that’s a lot to live up to and I’m sure I’ve missed some important things.  Can you think of something to add? Please add them in the comments!

Ultimately, and don’t skip this part, the mark of an adult is that she can live with balance, balance, balance.  She knows that living on either end of the irresponsibility/hyper-responsibility spectrum will be self-destructive.  So, if you take away just one thing, remember this – moderation, responsibility, self-acceptance and self-forgiveness are the keys to being an adult.

Don't run away just yet! 

I know, I know, this doesn't sound FUN.  It doesn't sound EASY.  Maybe, even, you find yourself saying, "I don't want to be a grownup!" 

But let me tell you, and this comes from a heart that is FOR you and FOR your greatest good, being a grownup is worth it

Let's just quickly take a look at the antithesis of some of those grow-up characteristics:

A child in an adult's body:

  • Gathers (even extracts) her esteem from others because she doesn't esteem herself
  • Does not care for her hygiene
  • Does not create time to engage in activities that bring her joy
  • Looks to her husband/children/community to define her identity - lives vicariously through others
  • Expects others to affirm her every decision, even those that are counter-productive
  • Is overwhelmed because she can not manage her time or priorities
  • Cannot say no
  • Expects others to know what she needs or makes her requests in abstract terms 
  • Blames others for inadequately meeting her needs
  • Does not know her own value
  • Does not have intimate, authentic friendships
  • Is not confident in her abilities
  • Feels intense shame
  • Projects her 'shadow' on others because she is to fearful to face the pain of self-reflection
  • Does not live out of a sense of reality
  • Is prejudiced, thinking of herself as being better than others
  • Behaves as if others should place her at the center of their lives, anticipating and meeting her needs so she doesn't have to
  • Does not ask for or extend forgiveness - holds on to bitterness
  • Does not engage her spirit
  • Does not have a voice
  • Lives with in a perpetually black and white world. When she reads this list and one thing doesn't apply to her, she will disregard the whole list and call herself 'healthy'

OK, that last one wasn't meant to be a dig.  

Know that black and white thinking is a pain-reducing coping mechanism. So, if that was your response, just notice it and ask, "what am I trying not to feel or recognize?" And move forward from there.

Alright, I want to end this by telling you that none of us can be perfect adults and none of us has all the answers, but I believe in you and know without a doubt that you have what it takes to become one of those people who walk with confidence and strength as an adult in an adult's body.  

Pick one thing that you might need to work on and get working!

*I used the pronoun she/her because most of my clients are female, but these characteristics apply to men as well.

**If, after reading through this list, you think you might need help to work through the story of your chilchood and develop more adult behaviors and belief systems, click here to find out more about making an appointment to discuss making a plan for healing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


It may be months, even years, since the last time you spoke with your therapist. You had a good experience, learned skills to cope with your struggles, overcame some hurtful things and gained valuable insights.

I could be that you stopped therapy knowing that you would need to return at some point or that you and your therapist agreed that you were doing well enough to gradually scale back and, eventually, complete therapy altogether.

So, how do you know if it might be wise to check back in with your therapist, even after some time has passed since your last appointment?

Here are some indicators that it might be wise to schedule appointment:

There has been a change in life’s circumstances

Whether it’s a change in job or relationship status, the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one, life’s circumstances are always changing and with that change comes stress.

Sometimes we are able to make appropriate adjustments to deal with the stress, whether positive or negative, and process the associated emotions, but sometimes these things become overwhelming.

If you feel overwhelmed with stress, grief, anxiety or sadness, it’s time to talk to someone objective who can walk you through this time with gentleness and compassion.

A recurrence of previous therapeutic themes

Having worked through issues of trauma, codependence, or other issues, you had been doing well, but things are starting to come up again.

This is a natural, cyclical process of healing. Often, in therapy, healing occurs in what I call an upward spiraling cycle. We deal with an issue, learn new skills and practice living with new insights and healthier ways of coping until the process cycles around again and we seem to be dealing with the same issue AGAIN.

As we work to reprocess the issue, new insights are gained…insights you may not have been ready for before or new issues with the same theme reappear ie. You processed your codependency with your kids, but now you need to work through it in your relationship with your friends.

Each time the issue reappears, you are able to process and come to resolution more quickly, but the odds are that it will come up again in another iteration that will necessitate a call to your counselor – this is quite a normal occurrence. Your counselor will be happy to work with you toward deeper healing.

You’ve reverted to old, unhealthy coping skills

Whether your ‘fix’ came from shopping or controlling, anger or substance use, if you find yourself reverting to old coping mechanisms that you can’t seem to stop, it’s time to call your counselor.

Just like an alcoholic who reverts to drinking after years of sobriety, you might find yourself struggling to stop a behavior that you know to be self-destructive. It is important that you contact a helping professional to prevent these behaviors from interfering with your work and relationships and to become so overwhelming that more intensive, long-term treatment becomes necessary.

Life is feeling unbalanced

Often, in therapy, we talk about health as achieving balance in life. It’s fine when our beliefs, thoughts and behaviors fluctuate just slightly off-center and we are able to make the appropriate adjustments to get back on track.

However, when these things (unhealthy defense mechanisms, behaviors, thoughts, emotions) move far off-center, with great intensity or for prolonged periods of time without your being able to re-center and find balance, it might be time to contact your therapist to uncover the ‘why’ of the dysfunction and determine how to recover.

You feel overwhelmed

Everyone experiences anger or sadness at different periods in their lives. This is normal. However, it’s important to make note if these emotions are becoming intense and are impacting functioning in work, school or your relationships.

Are you spending hours ruminating in sadness or anger? Are you catastrophizing your circumstances, feeling hopeless and powerless? Is your anxiety become so intense that it impairs your life? Are you lashing out at the people around you or isolating out of a need to avoid life and its hardships?

If so, it’s probably time to talk to someone.

You have unexplained physical symptoms, exhaustion and general malaise

Emotional and relational problems often manifest in a wide variety of physical ailments. If you are experience headaches, stomachaches, frequent illness and fatigue your body may be converting stress into physical symptoms.

Muscle spasms, neck pain, even difficulty breathing can all be signs that you are carrying stress in your body. When we feel these things, we know to talk to a physician, but it might be helpful to talk to a counselor as well.

You feel disinterested in previously beloved activities

At one time, you felt joy in your hobbies, friendships and family activities, but something has changed. If these once life-giving activities now bring seem mundane and pointless, bringing no joy or happiness, speaking with a counselor may help uncover the reasons for the change, bring clarity to the situation, and allow for a shift toward greater fulfillment.

Your love ones are concerned

Often, the people who love you will notice changes in your behavior and patterns that might be hidden even from your own awareness. If your friends and/or family share their concern, consider their perspectives wisely. If they suggest talking to a counselor or ask if you’re talking to someone, this is a sign that you might need to check in and get some support from a professional.

Even more concerning is if your relationships with your loved ones are strained, communication is failing and connections are being cut off as your friends struggle to engage with you. This is a red flag that it is time to call in reinforcements to determine what changes can be made and healing can be facilitated.

If you are noticing any of these patterns, shifts or situations are happening, please don’t hesitate to contact your previous therapist for help regaining balance and health.

If you don’t have a therapist or are seeking a new counselor, please feel free to contact me at to set up a half-price, 50-minute consultation so we can connect and make a plan for your healing.