The first time I heard the term adult child it made no sense to me.
It seemed an obvious contradiction in terms, like jumbo shrimp or compassionate conservative.
Twenty-five years of practicing therapy taught me to see it differently.
Now I understand that adult children are people who look like grownups on the outside but inside feel like kids.
That the Kids inside are collections of unmet needs, unexpressed feelings, unresolved conflicts and other unhealed emotional wounds.
That this part gets triggered by stress, and suddenly the adult feels exactly like the scared inadequate helpless kid he or she used to be.
Adult child was a term invented in the 1970s to describe the problems of people who grew up in alcoholic homes.
But since then it’s become obvious that a person needn’t have grown up with an alcoholic parent to carry the symptoms of an adult child.
Such symptoms can be caused by abuse, or neglect, or illness, or some other loss or trauma.
But they can also be caused by being forced to grow up too fast (Big boys don’t cry), or hide feelings (Don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about), or cave under peer pressure (Try it, don’t be a baby), or falsify who you are in some other way.
This is called socialization, and it happens to all of us.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting,” wrote the poet e.e. cummings.
I suspect cummings would have agreed with Malraux that there is no such thing as an entirely grown-up human being.
That each of us carries inside us a damaged inner Kid.
That we spend our lives trying to heal that Kid’s wounds.
And that, as a result, we are all adult children.
Part 7 of a series on monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.