To start to answer the question of why some people don’t grow up, we must take a journey through the human psyche.
If our parents were disorderly and destructive, as children we had to see them as orderly. That’s how we are wired when we are the small, weak creatures that children are.
Children naturally love truth, so the disordering voices became true.
Thus we embarked on an endless journey to understand our parents’ actions (so we could love them).
We thought, ‘They must be saying true things in my best interest, they must love me as I love them, so I will please them’.
If that meant seeing ourselves as weak, incapable and prone to anger (as opposed to the reality that our parents provoked us), then we conceived of ourselves as weak, angry and incapable of understanding.
If that meant seeing ourselves as sexually deviant — as opposed to understanding the reality that our parents used us in sexually deviant ways — we did that.
Likewise, we willingly understood our own cowardice. As opposed to understanding that our parents demanded we avoid conflict and then abused us for the results of avoiding.
We willingly understood ourselves as lazy. As opposed to understanding that our parents overwhelmed us with inconsistent rules and chaos.
We think these things because that is how a child thinks. With no boundaries and no discrimination.
If that meant acting out in a way that gets us rejected, we did that to love our parents’ disordering voices.
If that meant putting things off, we will, to bond with the voice that tells us we are lazy.
“I must be a social outcast and a pariah. This must be true because my loving parents always tell me how antisocial I am, and look! That girl gave me a nasty look! She must hate me, too! What a loser I am, I should just give up and disappear”.
Then we just carried on thinking this way into adulthood.
We could not understand that our parents created a self-fulfilling prophecy in us. We could not grasp the disordering voices of our parents as anything but correct and therefore lovable.
I remember my younger brother as a child. My parents abused him for not knowing complex things at the two or three. At an age when no child could know the things they attacked him for not knowing. As a result, he took on the belief that he was ‘stupid’.
For me, loving them centered more around believing that I could not conduct myself in an acceptable way in any social setting — whether with adults or children — because that is what they told me, day after day, with examples and reasoning that seemed irrefutable to my child brain.
So how does one grow up?
By understanding one’s childhood programming. And as an adult, by acting in opposition to it.
By acting in opposition to the childhood vows that led to our self-sabotaging obsessions, we can undo OCD vows such as “I’m so stupid I should avoid this mental task.” or “I’m such a social cripple I should avoid socialising”.
By ‘trying out’ a practice of acting in opposition to our programming, we discover who we really are.
Who are you, if you don’t believe you are lazy? Who are you, if you instead act in a way that affirms conscientiousness to yourself? You can make the choice to act from a new belief.
Who are you, if you don’t believe you are socially inept? And you instead act in a way that affirms social confidence to yourself? You can choose to act in a way that opposes your programming.
You then discover your true strengths and weaknesses.
You may still be lazy, that may be your character, but you might not be stupid. You may still be messy, but perhaps you have charm.
All this is very hard.
What can help is telling someone who listens and attempts to understand your story correctly; as opposed to simplifying it and offering advice. A rare thing indeed when people are blind or hypersensitive when it comes to stories of childhood programming.
It works because when someone knows your story, and they can repeat it back to you, and they make an effort to recall it when you are in trouble or when you succeed; then they know you as well as anyone can. Being seen assists you to begin to act from a new story.
It can turn the world from a subjective place of hate and fear due to what we believe are irreconcilable flaws, to a place to explore our own mixed bag of actual flaws and virtues.
I can imagine this is why 12-step recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA) work so well. People listen to each other correctly, which reduces their sense of otherness for a time. I imagine it’s hard to keep up the idea that one is separate and isolated when one’s story is continually heard and understood.
I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that we can’t wait in isolation for the parental voices to abate. If unattended, we can run through our entire life with the mind of a child.
We have to push back the voices of the past and act. To discover who we could have been without them. Who we could have been if our parents had given us a more functional environment.
From this exploration, the person we could be in the future naturally emerges.
“Who could we have been? Who can we be?”
These questions answer the original question. ‘Why don’t people grow up?’ Because when you know yourself, you know others.
Then you grow up, and not before.