How to be an Adult

Posted in: 

I'm reading an amazing book right now, recommended to me by my friend who passed away earlier in the year. I wish I could thank her for bringing this book into my life, but since I can't I'm going to make sure to share it with as many other people as I can. I've been sharing bits of it on my various online channels, but I wanted to write a bit about it here for anyone who's not able to see my other posts. Every one of you should read this book! 

It's called How to be an Adult by David Richo, and it is basically a guide to how to behave and think like an adult - responsible, assertive, self-actualized, healthy relationship boundaries, and all that good stuff. It's so clear and specific, and it's a short book but it's absolutely packed with insights.

The basic premise is that you go from "ineffective habits through adult responsibility to spiritual consciousness" (not to be confused with religion; apparently this is all based on the "Ego/Self Axis" from "Jungian individuation"). It starts out comparing people who had their needs met in childhood vs. those who did not. And then for those who didn't, it sets out a method for working towards being able to move on from those affected thoughts and behaviours.

Our True Self, with all its free energy, impulses, feelings, and creativity, may have threatened our parents. They, after all, may have been victimized in their own childhood and never came to terms with it. They taught us how to behave in accord with their fear-laden specifications. Some of this led to legitimate socializing. Some of it was violence to our identity.

We then designed a False Self that met with our parents' approval and maintained our role in the family. We felt that safety was possible only within those boundaries. Such "boundaries" became the long-standing habits and patterns that have been our limitations ever since...but now may no longer be serving our best interests. They usually please others but diminish us. 

Once we grieve this loss, we release our hidden inner world of unused and unrevealed qualities and notice how much better we thereby feel about ourselves...

Then, the book moves on to several short chapters all about assertiveness - what it really looks like, and what usually stops us from being truly assertive. This passage really helped make sense of some situations for me, where (especially earlier, clumsier) attempts at assertiveness have resulted in very unexpected reactions:

Your assertiveness may be interpreted by others as aggression... You do not hurt others' feelings by assertiveness. "Hurt feelings" in others may mean:

  1. you are [actually being aggressive not assertive]
  2. they are not open to interacting with an assertive person, or
  3. the assertiveness has triggered fear or sadness from their own past...

In the section on anger as a barrier to adulthood/assertiveness, there is an amazing explanation of the difference between anger and drama. So simple now that I've read it, but it illuminated some past confusion for me as well. (The following are only a few examples from a large list.)

We distinguish anger (a true feeling) from drama (an avoidance of true feeling). It takes heroic work to drop drama and show responsible anger...

Drama... Is meant to silence the other
True anger... Is meant to communicate with the other

Drama... Is violent, aggressive, out of control, derisive, punitive
True anger... Is nonviolent, always in control and within safe limits

Drama... Insists the other see how justified one is
True anger... Needs no response

[Applied to the experience of rejection...]

Drama is a belligerent reaction to rejection that punishes by further distancing
Anger is an intimate response to rejection that bridges the distance or allows it without long-held resentment

There's an equally interesting discussion of values and how they build identity and self-esteem, and then the section on "Personal Work" ends with a review of "Declarations of a Healthy Adulthood". A few examples of these declarations:

  • I trust that "darkness and upheaval always precede an expansion of consciousness" (Jung). 
  • I let people go away or stay and am still okay.
  • I reconcile myself to the limits on others' giving to me and on my giving to them. 
  • When change and growth scare me, I still choose them. I may act with fear, but never because of it.
  • I am still safe when I cease following the rules my parents (or others) set for me.
  • I reject whining and complaining as useless distractions from direct action on or withdrawal from unacceptable situations.
  • I grant myself a margin of error in my work and relationships. I release myself from the pain of having to be right or compensate all the time.
  • My self-acceptance is not complacency since in itself it represents an enormous change. 
  • Wholehearted engagement with my circumstances releases my irrepressible liveliness.

It's hard to even choose what to share here, there are so many insightful nuggets, and they make a lot more sense when you are actually reading the whole book! I'm only just into the second section now - all this was from the first; for a book that's only 118 pages long, it's pretty crazy how much dense information there is. It's almost better to read it slowly and in small chunks so I can absorb it all...

To summarize, please read this, you'll be glad you did. Especially if you're in a place where you're working on making big changes, or healing from big hurts from early or more recent life, it's so very helpful.