I’ve been kicking around the idea of “being an adult” with my apprentices in TACO, my online apprenticeship program. What does it actually mean to be an adult—to really be “grown up,” and no longer simply pretending to be?

In these columns exploring Conscious Relationship, I have written about various ways the child parts of us pretend to be what they are not, and pretend to not be what they are, in order to be accepted by the outside world. We are looking for love, but of course, the real love we all long for is that simple acceptance of ourselves—just the way we are, and just the way we are not. We cannot pretend our way to that love. It is an inside job.

Unless we were loved absolutely without conditions and in pure acceptance as children, we adopted strategies and learned to play roles that would get us the approval, love, kindness, acceptance, safety, worthiness, or freedom from violence we needed. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. It is amazing how resourceful and clever we were—we owe those youngsters we once were a big gratitude for surviving, thriving, and getting us here where we are today.

And here we are today. If those strategies and roles were needed and worked, we may find ourselves locked into continuing them in our adult lives. When you were young, did you learn to get your needs met by being a star performer, were you invisible, did you rebel, did you learn to argue to defend your innocence, or were you a sneak? Perhaps you relied on your intellectual mind or your dramatic emotions… were you shy, boisterous, a jokester, or a procrastinator?

Were you a bully to protect yourself? Did you learn to be a princess to get your needs met? Did you learn to fantasize and drift off into some other world to avoid your present situation? Or did you learn to use drugs, alcohol, food, or sex to deny the pain of being made wrong or numb the fear of being hurt?

These strategies we learned in childhood often become our adult personalities-- are you aware of the imprint of your childhood on your “adult” life? Take a moment and explore this for yourself. Are there ways you are continuing to use your childhood strategies now? How do they create and affect your relationships? How would your life be different if you let go of those strategies? What would you risk if you let go? And what would you gain?

A definition of an “Adult” that emerged from my apprentice conversations is: “An adult is a human who’s life is no longer controlled, distorted, or contaminated by the experiences or wounding of his or her childhood.” When we are possessed by the dream of the child within, we are that child. When we are being the child we cannot be the adult.

Of course there is no good, bad, right, or wrong here, but it explains the cause of much of the suffering in “adult” lives. As children we suffered from our experience of powerlessness in the face of “adults” who dominated us and controlled us, threatened us, or punished us. When the child within is projecting that dream out onto the world after our bodies have matured and our parents and other domesticators are no longer a threat, we continue to suffer the pains of the past-- and those pains and fears distort and contaminate what could be our mature adult reality.

The work of our personal evolution seems to be about healing and releasing the past of our childhoods and stepping fully alive and present into each moment— as adults, dancing in joy with life.

May I have this dance?

Author's Bio: 

Allan Hardman is a relationship coach, author, teacher, and Toltec Master, trained by Miguel Ruiz in the tradition The Four Agreements. He teaches in Sonoma County, CA, and guides “Journeys of the Spirit” to sacred sites and tropical beaches in Mexico and beyond. He is the author of The Everything Toltec Wisdom Book, and co-author of two books with Deepak Chopra and others. For information about his work with The New Relationship, spiritual coaching, journeys, and to subscribe to his free e-newsletter, visit:www.joydancer.com. Or call (707) 528-1271. E-mail comments: allan@joydancer.com.