Relationships, Part 2: Four signs that a person is an adult

adulthood

Marriage may be for adults only, but how do you know when you are an adult? True adulthood cannot be documented on a birth certificate. There are four signs of adulthood. The four indications of differentiation:

  • Responsibility. You make your own decisions and you realize that the decisions you make have consequences. You know that, when it looks as though you are not deciding, you are still making a decision. You don’t maneuver others into making decisions for you by forcing their hands. Once you make your decisions, you own them. You’re willing to admit them, even when they do not work out as you had hoped. You’re willing to accept the consequences, and you don’t manipulate others into cleaning up your messes. You clean up your side of the fence, even if the other guy hasn’t cleaned up his.

Being responsible improves your ability to get close to others. Others can trust you, so they want you around. When you make your own decisions, you don’t have to keep your distance from powerful people. You can say no. You can seek advice and let yourself be influenced by others because the final decision is yours anyway. You can change your mind when warranted. You can be flexible without losing your identity.

  • Composure. You soothe your own hurts and regulate your own anxieties. You don’t depend on other people or on some substance to do this for you. You’re able to sit with your feelings. You’re careful about practicing catharsis. Letting it all out scares people and the hurtful words you say cannot be retracted.

When you can regulate your own feelings and anxieties, you don’t have to be dependent on others. You can just enjoy them for who they are. Others won’t have to run when they see you coming; they don’t get sick of hearing you complain.

  • Moderation. You avoid over-reactions. When you make a mistake, for instance, when you’ve trusted someone too much, you don’t overcorrect by not trusting at all. When you over-react, you make the same mistake in the other direction. You make small adjustments and steer steadily down the middle. You avoid flying off into extremes. When others get anxious or emotional, you don’t have to. You remember that their feelings are their feelings and not yours. You keep yourself grounded.

When you practice moderation, other people find you reliable and consistent. They don’t have to be afraid to bring you bad news. They will try to solve problems with you. You will not have to keep changing course, or making corrections. You can focus on your goals and go further. You can be around difficult people and help those who most need help.

  • Meaningful Endurance. You accept temporary hardships for the sake of meaningful objectives. It’s natural to seek pleasure and avoid pain, but sometimes brief discomfort must be tolerated to attain better things. People are more successful when they forego immediate gratification.

 

However, be sure that your pain is meaningful. You don’t accept any hardship if the objective is unimportant. If you have invested in something that will never pay off, you get out of it and cut your losses. There is no point in suffering unnecessarily; there’s enough suffering anyway, you don’t have to go looking for it.

When you practice endurance for meaningful objectives, people will respect you, even if the objective is not important to them, but because it was important to you. When you withdraw from meaningless suffering, you can respect yourself.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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3 thoughts on “Relationships, Part 2: Four signs that a person is an adult

  1. victoriadougherty says:

    The best definition of adulthood I’ve ever heard – and the simplest – came from a friend who is a psychiatrist (but a good one – not the “crazier than their patients” kind. He said: “The clinical definition of a adulthood is the ability to regulate your impulses – nothing more” Thanks. Nice post.

  2. Sam Ruck says:

    Keith,

    how do you think adult attachment theory would inform the four points of this article? Do you feel it has? As you may remember my marriage is anything BUT healthy, but I try to do the best I can within the parameters of my wife’s disorder.

    Thanks,

    Sam

    • Keith R Wilson says:

      It’s funny you should ask that, Sam. A split has been forming between family therapy theory that focuses on differentiation, as is found in my article, and theory focused on attachment. Differentiation folks worry that attempting to apply attachment theory to adults infantalizes them. Children may need to be securely attached to develop properly, they say, but when adults require it, when they doubt themselves when they are not understood or when they need to have their feelings validated, it’s a sign that they are not grown up.

      To put it another way, attachment theorists contend that those with emotional problems had received too little love and support from their families. However, retreating into the security of infancy may not correct anything. rather, they should move forward and complete the process of growing up.

      Anyway, that’s what some differentiation based theorists say. I don’t necessarily agree. One can look at relationships through the lens of differentiation, or attachment. They are like apples and oranges. They appeal to different tastes and can be put to different uses.

      Keith

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