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Why You Don’t Feel Like An Adult

Chimps vs Humans

My friend Dave must’ve been doing some late-night research around the psychology and the social development of humans, because he randomly emailed me the other day saying that a human goes through a much longer juvenile period than chimpanzees do. Turns out that’s true [1].

We humans are essentially teenagers – mentally and physically – for a lot longer than chimpanzees, even though chimpanzees are very close to us biologically (we share most of our DNA with them).

And Dave had question

Why do you think that humans have this evolutionary trait of slow development?

And the answer is: I don’t know. I’m not well researched enough in that topic to really give any sort of intelligent commentary.

But I do definitely believe that that’s what happens, and I’m not so convinced that it’s biological as much as it is cultural. There’s an idea floating around that men, in particular, get stuck in adolescence, psychologically and emotionally.

Stuck in adolescence

Now what does it mean to be stuck in adolescence?

Essentially it means that the strategies you apply to living – your psychological mindset – are those of a teenager or a child, even though physically you’re an adult. And when you think about it like that and you look around, you’ll see it everywhere.

We are surrounded by adults with the minds of children or the minds of teenagers, and I don’t mean this in terms of like intellectual disability. I mean this in terms of social strategy.

For example, as a child I developed a people-pleaser strategy. I became scared of confrontations for some reason, and my strategy to deal with that was to keep everybody happy. It’s a very childish strategy – very simple, very rudimentary, and very inaccurate. It was not the best way to to make my life good, it just worked for me with the cognitive problem-solving tools I had at the time – that was it.

That’s how a child solves a problem: “If I keep everyone happy then I don’t have to worry.” When I was 25, I was still using that strategy. That is a child/teen strategy being used by an adult. This is what it means to be stuck.

An adult strategy is to realize basically, “Fuck everyone; if they don’t like me they can move on with their lives, I need to like me so I’m going to live with integrity.” That is a more complex, more rational, experienced, mature strategy that adult psychology comes up with.

So when you look at the way people live their lives – and I’m going to speak particularly about men and guys with Nice Guy Syndrome – what you’re seeing is people applying a strategy that kept them safe when they were younger and traumatized.

What is trauma?

Trauma is simply a really painful emotional event. It can happen as a series of small events, like being bullied every day at school, or it can be a one-off massive traumatic event, like witnessing a parent die.

What happens with trauma is that the brain is so confused and so distraught about the emotions that occur at the time, that developmentally it kind of freezes. So when somebody’s traumatized what it means is that, at least in certain areas of their life, they’re still stuck at that age where the pain occurred. The “wounded inner child” as it’s sometimes referred to. They’re still in that mindset and they’re still using that strategy.

You can even see people become “childish.” Irrational outbursts, temper tantrums, revenge tactics – all the kind of things a child does because they don’t know any better. Trying to look cool and trying to make everybody like you – that’s teenage stuff. It’s very helpful in teenage years, it’s a real Lord of the Flies hierarchy in high school, so trying to be liked is a well thought-out strategy for a teenager.

Trying to be liked is a terrible strategy for an adult. When you get out into the adult world, trying to be liked only ensures that you’re gonna have a mediocre life, not a good one.

Strategies are fake

The best way to measure all of this is around honesty, which is what I always go on about. If you use dishonesty to avoid pain then you are stuck in adolescence, or even pre-adolescence, because those are child/teenage strategies. Deception and lying is a helpful tool that we learn when we’re very young to keep ourselves safe. We make-believe and we use pretense to avoid consequences we can’t handle.

The chief of the tribe – the man, the one who is the leader, the fully grown and matured adult – doesn’t need to lie. He no longer has those safety issues.

So if you use any form of deception to change the way people think of you, to make them think better of you (than what you imagined they would think were they to meet the real you), then at some point you were traumatized into believing that you’re unsafe, and you’re still using that traumatic strategy. You have the mind of a child or a teenager.

When you come to accept this, you‘ll realize that’s why you don’t feel like a man/woman. It’s why you feel like a boy/girl. It’s one of the greatest painful revelations that we have as we become adults: we don’t feel like adults.

Adults Tricked us

When we were kids we looked up to adults, they seemed to have all their shit sorted. They seemed to be smart; they seemed to be strong; they seemed to be wise – and we figured, “Well, that’s what we’re transitioning into.”

When I was a young teenager, I‘d look at my teachers or my parents and figure that they‘re my next stage of evolution. But as I got into my 20s I’m like, “Fuck. I don’t feel any different, I’m still scared of everything, I’m still silly, I’m still immature.” I could feel it in my brain. I could see it through my sense of humor. I could see it through the decisions I made… the terrible decisions I made.

The shitty job that I chose. The way I skipped out on exercise and nutrition. The way I just did what feels good rather than doing what’s right.

That’s how a teenager acts, and I could see myself acting as a teenager and it bothered me.

It’s like one of the greatest secrets that many adults keep is that they don’t feel like adults. They’re trying to raise children, and pretend to their children that they know what the fuck’s going on, but they don’t. They’re scared that one day their child will realize that their parents don’t know what they’re doing. That they’re just as lost – even more lost – than the child. A child even has more sense of direction, often, than their parents.

Change is coming

One of the reasons that a lot of men are turning to self development – thankfully – is because it’s time to realize they‘re still boys in their heads, and boys make silly decisions.

This is the reason teenagers aren’t given much power, because if they were they would fuck everything up because they’re ridiculous, right? I was ridiculous as a teenager and that’s the right time to be ridiculous.

Look at Donald Trump, or Hillary if you hate her – whichever one you don’t like – look how adolescent they are. Did you ever see their debates? It was two teenagers trying to win an argument. Trump is in his fucking seventies or something now – he’s still a child. He’s not the only one.

There are millions of us. We haven’t grown up because of the way our culture is these days. We get stuck in these traumas and we don’t process them properly, and we don’t grow up mentally. We don’t learn what our values are. We don’t learn to live with integrity. We’re surrounded by other boy-child’s out there dressed as men.

Get real

I don’t really have a solution to this other than honesty.

There’s a great book called Radical Honesty by Dr. Brad Blanton and he actually uses honesty as a measure of this kind of traumatic freeze that we go through, where we get stuck mentally in a former more dishonest age and we don’t develop out of it.

Honesty is what rescued me from boyhood. When I stopped lying, when I stopped trying to make people like me, when I stopped pretending that I couldn’t feel things, when I stopped trying to be cool, when I stopped trying to be attractive, when I stop trying to do anything deceptive to impress people, and just started letting them see the real me. The tired me, the antisocial me, the confused me, the excited me – all those things that I hid.

When started letting them see that, I felt myself transition into manhood. It took a lot of time but I could feel it happen. Every time I was more honest I felt like an adult. Every time I bullshitted in order to stay safe, I felt like a child again.

Those are just my thoughts on it, you’ll discover for yourself what it means. Get in touch if you want to discover your manhood too – dan@brojo.co.nz

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