Mind Matters — Are You an Adult?

So you think you’re an adult. Reading psychologist David Richo’s book How To Be an Adult may have you rethinking that proposition. Within our adult frame we carry the baggage of family history, old longings and entrenched illusions.

Richo informs us of the illusions from which we must extricate ourselves in order to be truly “adult.” The first illusion he invites us to question is the idea that there is an “I” separate from others. Richo’s point here is if we can see ourselves only as a separate ego, then we don’t understand how connected we are to one another. He goes on to remind us that “this is the source of adversial conflict and demands that others change to fit my templates of perfection.”

Another illusion that keeps us from attaining true adulthood according to Richo is that belief that there is someone or something outside ourselves that will fill our yearnings and will take care of all our needs and that this fantasy world can last forever. Prince (or Princess) Charming will come and whisk us away to happy-ever-after-land. As long as we carry this illusion we sell ourselves short of the excitement, power, and aliveness that is within us. When we begin to let go of this illusion, we begin to discover ourselves.

Another illusion to let go of in order to make it to “real” adulthood is the illusion that we are “in control.” Letting go of feeling perfectly in control may mean facing the fear of change or the fear of “facing feelings” or the fear of losing approval. Often it is a crisis of some sort that brings us to the brink of letting go and recognizing that control is illusory.

Ah, and the last illusion that Richo notes in his little book is a classic—it’s the one we see in everyone else rather than in ourselves. And that is the illusion of entitlement, that state in which we believe we deserve to be cared for as if we were snug in the womb. We want to be the center of the universe. When others do not treat us as though we are special and deserving of respect, we get enraged. (Hence the origin of road rage: how dare the other do that to ME!) Such entitlement transforms into humility when we face the conditions of human existence and look upon the crises and circumstances that come our way as a part of life that needs to be integrated rather than denied.

Richo’s chart aptly notes our path of integration into “true” adulthood:

I accept: and I integrate it by: or I interrupt it by:

Loss Grieving Denying, blaming, regretting
Rejection Grieving and taking it as information Losing self-esteem or avenging myself on another
My Mistakes Amending Shifting responsibility or covering up or having remorse without amends
Illness Seeking healing techniques Denying or despairing
Natural Disaster Rebuilding Playing the victim role

This table, however, is just the beginning of the journey. There is much more to the process of becoming an adult.