It wasn’t what I expected. I thought by the time I was officially an adult, the schemes, betrayal, and petty snipes of junior high (or middle school for those younger than 45) would be over. Adults know how to behave like adults, right?
My first hint that not every adult-aged person behaves as an adult came from someone I thought was a friend.
But the phone call that day devastated me. To be fair, in hindsight, there were some valid points. What hurt was the laundry list of grievances shot at me like buckshot from a gun. No discussion, just an unexpected character assassination. Motives judged. Integrity questioned.
In less than three minutes, the phone went dead.
That was it. I collapsed onto a chair in stunned silence.
No chance to apologize or make amends. Just like junior high, vicious words broke a relationship, leaving the wounded party embarrassed, shamed, a blubbering mess. Thankfully this time I was in the safety of my home not a cafeteria or playground.
That verbal-blast phone call felt childish.
And it would be easy to leave it at that with my finger pointing squarely at her, but how many times has my childish behavior smacked of junior high too?
Do you ever have the out-of-body experience of watching yourself do something surprising and inappropriate? Something childish?
I can still see this person who looked a lot like me (because it was me) behaving in a most un-adult-like manner. How could this be? My age said I was an adult; my behavior indicated I was a child.
How does this happen? My immature, childish behavior resulted from:
1. Unmet expectations.
Unfulfilled expectations are painful whether we realize it or not.
- We expect our spouse to love us always in exactly the way we need.
- We expected our parents to provide for our needs and always be there.
- We expect our friends to be loyal and have our backs.
- We expect our children to behave in public because that’s what we’ve taught them.
- We expect our boss to acknowledge our faithful work instead of taking the credit.
Not one of these expectations will be met every time. People fail you just like you fail them.
And when this happens, you struggle to understand why, forgetting that every person is human with faults, fears, failings, and foibles. You easily identify their sin, forgetting your sins glare as brightly.
The resulting emotion is anger and a sense of betrayal. How you respond to these unmet expectations reveals much about how adult you are.
“When tempted to choose between mercy and judgment, let’s offer the gift we received ourselves.” Jesus forgives my sin daily. How about yours? The key isn’t to lower your expectations. It is to extend to others the same treatment you desire.” Suzanne Eller
2. Trampled rights.
This one gets me way too often. Some people are born with a heightened sense of justice. What a valuable gift if used on behalf of the greater good.
However, when you allow your sense of justice to jump and attack each time something doesn’t go the way you think it should go, you leave many wounded strewn along the path. You blurt scathing words without thought. You assume the other person is attacking you.
Being quick-tempered isn’t a virtue. It’s allowing your justice strength to function without restraint.
An adult accepts constructive criticism with grace and thought. A child demands their way.
An adult looks at the situation from multiple sides, earnestly seeking to understand another’s point of view before making a judgment call. A child insists they are right, talking over the top of someone else to make sure they are heard.
3. Hidden hurts.
You have them whether you acknowledge them or not. And, when someone steps on one, you respond negatively. Not as an adult. Your hurts color how you see your world.
Depending on the depth or type of pain, you may not know why you respond the way you do in similar situations. That was me watching myself respond like a three-year-old when someone unknowingly stepped on my wound. I lashed out in unexplainable anger. Shocking behavior for a wife and mom who is old enough to know better. What I discovered that day was, I had some deep soul searching to do—after I apologized for verbally torching the other person and running away.
Who does that? A wounded person who feels the threat to their safety is real.
4. Broken boundaries.
When someone blows through a personal boundary, it’s difficult to maintain composure. But responding in like manner doesn’t alleviate the tension in the situation.
It’s important to realize that some people don’t know how to respect boundaries because they don’t have any themselves. But you don’t have to allow another to repeatedly trample a boundary. Decide in advance, when dealing with a boundary-less person, how you will handle various situations. Then, when it happens—and it will—you calmly carry out your plan.
If you are the person who doesn’t have healthy boundaries, you often feel like people don’t respect you or walk all over you. You’re right. You allow it. No one is responsible for setting your boundaries but you. And, they are the most loving thing you can do for yourself and others. Boundaries indicate a healthy self-perception. Your boundaries indicate you have moved from childhood to adulthood.
When you encounter this inappropriate behavior, wisdom says to stop and evaluate before you respond.
- Look in that person’s eyes. What do you see?
- Ask questions before you answer.
- Try to discern what else may be going on.
- Call that person to a higher standard in the same way you’d like someone to do that for you.
- Allow for the person to be having a hard day. We all have them.
- Smile. A lot.
- If necessary, leave the room to grant the other person time to calm down and compose themself. You need it as well.
If you struggle with your childish behavior, ignoring it won’t make it go away.
Instead, choose to do some deep soul work like I did. There is a reason for your actions.
Working with a coach helped me do the soul work.
It was one of my smartest moves. If you find yourself in the position I did, please reach out. I understand deep wounds and the work it takes to get healthy and happier than ever before. It is possible. You can choose to be an adult. From one overcomer to another, it is time to make difficult choices to claim your worth, define your healthy boundaries, and seize God’s best for your life.
Which of the above childish behaviors do you recognize in your life? Are you busy lying to yourself by thinking it won’t happen again?
Let’s explore practical steps to mature beyond the pain for a better life for you and your loved ones. A few weeks of coaching changes how you feel and react when someone tramples your rights, boundaries, or leaves your expectations unmet. You’ll see. If you need help, please reach out. I promise to listen without judgment and help you take the next step.