Traversing the Inner Terrain

The search for the Authentic Self.

Peter Pan Grows Up!

Overcoming the Fear of Adulthood

The issue for the person with the identity that has been named by various people with various titles, including Peter Pan, mascot, clown, Party Dude or Dudette, or for the purposes of this blog, the Big Baby, is that the idea of growing up is so overwhelmingly frightening, that he just cannot allow himself to do it.  He believes that growing up means facing difficult, even painful challenges, running up against insurmountable obstacles and dealing with odious responsibilities.

 

As a young person, this child was either very overprotected from any real world problems and issues, indeed, so much so that she began to believe that she was entitled to such protection; or she saw adults living extremely painful realities that they declared to her were a direct result of being an adult.  If she was overprotected, her entitlement may manifest as demands, even temper tantrums if she doesn't get the exact kind of overprotection she thinks she needs.  Overprotection generally has just the opposite effect intended, for it generates fear rather than a sense of being loved and attended to, as many of its progenitors intend.  The child senses that there must be a reason for such hovering, and begins to fear what must be behind it. In fact, what is happening is that the child is picking up on the parent's fears that harm will come to the child if the parent is not around to protect her.  Thus, she becomes quite dependent on the parent to always overcompensate for any real life issues. In the case of Big Baby, this means that she insists that she must not be allowed to grow up, because there must be something big, bad and scary there that she must protected from having to face.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

 

When children are told by adults that being an adult includes pain and suffering, this usually takes the form of frequent statements like:  "Just wait'll you grow up, then you really know pain;" or, a repetition of the mantra "Life is hard," from parent to child so that the child understands that it is really adult life that is hard; or another mantra repeated, "Yeah, these are the best years of your life, you better enjoy them now, cuz when you get older it's tough, man, it's a tough old world out there." Our kids are watching and listening, and we are training them for adulthood all throughout their childhoods. These kinds of statements, often accompanied by a general complaining attitude, teach children that they just shouldn't grow up, for to do so entails pain and suffering that they just don't want.

 

Either way, the issue is a deep and constant fear of growing up. And this fear is based in some faulty beliefs. But beliefs can be changed. The truth is that life is only as hard as we make it, and joy is around every corner if we know how to maximize the moments. Adulthood can be enchanting and enlivening and an adventure of untold proportions-if we know how to live, fully alive in our authenticity.

 

The problem for most Big Babies is that they don't even realize that there's a problem They are too busy playing to stop and look at the consequences that their play is bringing to them.  Typically, there are only two ways that the Big Babies will begin to get it: 1) if the consequences of their choices come home to roost in such a way that there is no other deliverance but to grow up, or 2) someone of great significance to them begins to point out the problem.

 

But the problem with these two potential hopes for recovery is that Big Baby has usually surrounded himself with several people who will rescue and fix his problems. And the person of great significance is often one of these people. But sometimes the person of great significance begins to realize what's going on and go to therapy or confront the issue in such a way that it really makes sense to the Big Baby.  And sometimes the Big Baby just runs out of rescuers.

 

But generally that's what it's going to take as a vital first step-others have to stop rescuing. And then, as a second step, the Big Baby has to begin to face the fear and realize that it is telling her a lie: that adulthood is only the awful, odious thing that she thinks it is if she doesn't grow up. The word responsibility has to be changed from one that means doing things you hate and pretending to like it, to a totally new definition:  the ability to respond. And as long as Big Baby is Big Baby there is no real ability to respond to life's callings with authenticity and its joyful rewards.

 

And the word adult is going to have to take on new meaning as well, for in truth what it could mean is freedom.  Freedom to live life as he chooses, with all of the incumbent rewards and consequences. What an adventure, Peter!

Andrea Mathews, L.P.C., is a Cognitive and Transpersonal Therapist, internet radio show host, and author of Restoring My Soul: A Workbook for Finding and Living the Authentic Self. more...

Subscribe to Traversing the Inner Terrain

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?