Grow Yourself Up

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What does it mean to grow yourself up?

As grown adults, we are not beyond our emotional reactions to life’s situations. To react is to be human.

How we react is the key.

However, since most of us never work on ourselves, we react in the same, predictable, emotional ways issue after issue, year after year.

When we get “triggered” in life by circumstances and relationship challenges, we react. Most of the time the reaction happens so fast that it feels as if we do not have a choice.

For example, let’s say you initiate sex with your partner. But your partner is not in the mood to have sex with you. You then feel a wave of shame and anger, then you collapse and shut down. You make up a story that he or she does not find you attractive. You start to believe that you are “too much.” You feel rejected. Your story intensifies and you now believe you are not lovable or worthy. You feel like hiding now and you start to make your partner wrong in your mind. You say things like “Fine, then I won’t ask anymore, see how you like it.” Then you become passive aggressive and try to “get back at him or her” in some lame way.

Basically we feel young and are acting young, much like a hurt little boy or girl.

Later on when you have some distance from the situation, you might be quite surprised at how such a little event upset you so much.

But in the moment, specifically with those we love the most, we tend to react intensely to our own upset.

Why do people regress?

It is commonly understood in psychology that in the above situation and others like it, a few things are happening in a very short amount of time:

  1. we get triggered by a person or event
  2. we leave the front part of our brain and the hind brain takes over, thus rational thinking (front brain) goes out the window.
  3. We have now regressed to a childhood a time where a similar event happened when we were a little boy or girl
  4. We are now in a survival response and we do one of four things to “survive” the situation:

Fight–Lash out or fight back with verbal or physical aggression

Flight–Run away, go away mentally or dissociate

Freeze–Shut down or hide so it doesn’t happen to us again

Submit–Give up and collapse becoming depressed

In addition to your “in the moment” reaction is how it ties into past situations where a similar thing happened. You now “couple” it with other times where you were rejected. This is why it can feel so overwhelming at times.

But since most of us never learned how to work with our emotions and inner psychology and we were often taught to suck it up, we never learned what to do when we feel sad, angry, hurt or even happy.

Take me as an example…

Prior to any personal development work, I was a very reactive dude. All the emotions felt the same and I would end up having no idea what was going on. So I labeled it a “bad mood” or “my funk.”  I had no tools because as a kid, I was taught to stuff my feelings and taught nothing about emotions.

So, as I grew into an adult, I still believed being emotional was bad—that crying was weak, unmanly, and getting angry was “asshole” behavior. I was committed to not hurting anyone and getting others to like me, so I resigned myself to hide my emotions.

But the irony was that I was feeling everything but I had no clue how to be with it or even express it. Further, when I would get upset and reactive, I would act like a little boy.

When I got angry, I did anger like a little boy. I wanted to throw a tantrum and hit people. When I did sadness, I would shut down and hide. This of course is common for little boys who are not allowed to feel.

Kids repress their emotions because most often it isn’t safe to express them. And since it is hard to keep a lid on them, they explode when the pressure gets too great. Adults who have repressed their emotions do the same.

Time to grow up

So given this, what can we do now?

An adult with awareness doesn’t have to stuff their feelings, nor do they need to act out.  They have a choice. They don’t posture and they don’t collapse. An adult willing to grow, takes a break, feels everything fully, and then gets back in relationship with the person who they are feeling hurt by.

Just because we were robbed the opportunity to feel as a kid, doesn’t mean that we need to continue robbing ourselves from our emotional life as an adult. We have choices now we didn’t have back then.

If the external claim is that we say “I am an adult,” but the behavior is that we behave like a child in any situation, we are incongruent and this will have an impact on those around us.

Let’s just be honest. Let’s take responsibility that we sometimes act like a child and then let’s re-commit to doing what we need to do to grow ourselves up over time.

How to grow yourself up

  • Be open to the possibility that a little version of you lives inside of you
  • Take full responsibility for what is going on with you
  • Take note of this dynamic in your own life. Start noticing in what situations you act like a child
  • Feel your Feelings fully. When you feel like you are 5 years old and shameful, feel it completely
  • Go to therapy or counseling to get more tools to grow yourself up
  • Be an amazing parent to your inner child. Shaming him or her into oblivion does not work
  • Stop asking or expecting your partner to parent the little boy in you. Yuch
  • Join a relationship practice group or start one to get quality support
  • Stay engaged in your own personal development

Remember, it is likely that we will continue to react in life and even regress into child-like behavior. However, they key is HOW we respond.

With practice, we can gain more and more mastery with the little one in us so we can parent him or her when need be. Why? So that the adult in you is captain of the ship, not the child.

If you want additional reading on this, a great book is “Growing Yourself Back Up” by John Lee.


  • DKF

    Reply Reply September 28, 2009

    This is great, J. I can definitely see a few areas of my life that I act like a little bratty kid and shut down – this was a tough article for me to read, as it brought a few of these areas to light. So, now I’ve got work to do.

    Thanks for all you do, Jayson!

  • Joshua G

    Reply Reply October 1, 2009

    Good stuff….I certainly am seeing more and more how triggers from my experience with my father growing up generate a projection on to men today. I believe this book mentioned will be useful…already ordered it. :O)

  • Mia

    Reply Reply March 12, 2017

    Thanks so much for this insight! It’s really beneficial for me at this point in my life where I feel like I’ve been acting like a little girl in many instances (and know I shouldn’t have done certain things on hindsight. It’s always been reactive mode and I like how you suggest reparenting our inner child and reframe our perspective to a more active and proactive one where I am in control of my choices. My grownup choices.

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