This week in The Brain BS Blog and Podcast, we are going to explore the concept of emotional adulthood that was described to me by my teacher Brook Castillo. As humans, we want to blame everybody else for how we are feeling but that is total brain BS. I am going to explain why how we feel is never anybody else’s fault. I will share personal examples of how I was able to take myself from victim mode to feeling powerful by adopting these principles and argue the case that taking responsibility for our own emotional health is critical for living a deliberate life with peace and joy.
Okay, let’s start first with what I mean by emotional adulthood and how we were actually raised in a way that did not serve us. When we were little, we were taught that other people could hurt our feelings. For example, we might come home from school crying because little Jimmy called us a name or said something mean and our parents would get really upset. Sometimes they would get upset enough to call the parent of the child who said something or even the school if the parent was not handling the situation the way we thought they should. They would complain that little Jimmy should be nicer and should not be making kids feel bad. Essentially, we were taught that other people have more control over the way we feel than we do. We learned that the way to feel better in life is by trying to control what other people say and do, instead of focusing on how we respond to them and manage our minds. This is in direct contrast to what emotional adulthood is all about.
Emotional adulthood stems from the belief that thoughts create feelings, those lead to actions, and give us our results. If this is true, the only way we can feel anything is because of what we are thinking. This explains why sometimes people can say something we perceive to be really mean or critical, but we just roll our eyes and don’t buy into it at all. The reason for that is because circumstances do not cause us to feel anything. It is always what we are thinking about circumstances that trigger an emotion. In this instance, the circumstance is what the person says to us. The thought in this case might be something like they do not know what they are talking about or maybe we think they are clueless. This could possibly trigger a feeling of certainty, and lead to the action of us rolling our eyes and not believing what the person says. The result would be that our emotional state is not impacted by the other individual and we have peace of mind. On the other hand, a different person might hear the same words and be in the same situation and have a totally different thought that would lead to different results. For example, they might actually kind of believe what the person said, and the thought might be oh my gosh, what they are saying might be true. This might inspire the emotion of fear or doubt and lead to obsessive worry of what everybody else is thinking. The result then would be totally different, and our emotional state is impacted in a negative way. These two different scenarios illustrate how the same circumstances can impact people differently depending on the way they are thinking. We can either choose to be at the mercy of what other people say and do, or we can manage our minds to keep us in an emotional state that works for us.
So you are probably wondering how do we do that? Well it begins with increasing our self-awareness and becoming more insightful regarding our habitual brain habits and patterns when we are in default mode. This gives us really valuable information about how our brains are automatically working to give us our current results. For example, if we unknowingly but frequently think that somebody is out to get us and we are being taken advantage of, we will most likely experience anger or resentment on a consistent basis. Or if we tend to believe that the world is out to get us and we are a victim of the times, we may feel powerless and even hopeless. Another common theme is the thought of not enough (this is not good enough, I am not good enough, nothing is good enough.) It usually goes hand in hand with thoughts that everything should be better than it is. People who have these thought patterns struggle to ever be happy. They spend a great deal of time feeling inadequate, insufficient, and unworthy. Whatever our brain habits and patterns may be, it is critical to be aware of them first in automatic mode if we want to then purposely create different results in our life.
After we become more self-aware, it is time to actively manage our minds. This means that we decide if our current thoughts are serving us and if we want to keep them. Yep, that is right, our thoughts are optional and even if we believe them 100%, they still may not be useful for us to hold onto them. We can choose different thoughts that will trigger different feelings, that inspire actions to give us a different result. For example, instead of focusing on increasing crime and violence in our country, we might decide to focus on the belief that our fellow humans are overall good. This can lead to feeling peace of mind and satisfaction with life on a regular basis. Another example might be to change the thought that everything is happening to us, to everything is happening for us. This would get us out of victim mode and trigger curiosity about how to reframe the situation in a way that could be helpful to us. Regardless of the thoughts we choose, emotional adulthood maintains it is always up to us to determine how we want to feel. We can experience life and our emotions from default mode, or we can do it deliberately by managing our mind and choosing our thoughts on purpose.
Now that we have a better understanding of emotional adulthood, I will share a few personal stories about how taking responsibility for our emotions is the quickest way and most effective way to reclaim our personal power. Before I joined the Life Coach School to get certified as a life coach over a year and a half ago, my default mode brain habit pattern at that time was I felt fat, old, insignificant, and like the best years of my life were behind me. I truly felt invisible at times and at other times I wished I was, because I hated the age-related changes my body was offering me. I constantly questioned everything about myself, thought I was always doing something wrong, always thought people were thinking negatively of me and I hated to look in the mirror. It was EXHAUSTING!
Yes my weight was up from where it was five years before by about 10 lbs, I was five years older, cellulite was visible on my thighs and gravity was taking a toll on my skin and it was sagging in a way it never did before. Because I was so judgmental of my appearance and everything else about myself, I really did not think I could ever be happy again like I was in the past. The theme of “not good enough” was EVERYWHERE in my life and caused me so much suffering. Well true to form, it is usually our darkest days that finally lead us to the light, and this is no exception. Because I was so desperate and unhappy, I was inspired to pick up Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth which introduced me to the ego. This was my first introduction to the idea of living consciously and that we are not our thoughts, we are the observer of them, and most of our thoughts are not even true! I was like what??? I could not believe we were not our thoughts. I literally wept in relief.
That marked the beginning of a domino effect that led me to getting certified as a Life Coach and becoming a blogger amongst other things. Now I look in the mirror with love because I know everything is happening exactly as planned. I know aging is a totally normal progression if we are lucky to be alive long enough. Once I chose compassion and love for myself instead of disgust and judgment, I lost those 10 extra pounds. The cellulite and sagging skin are still there but instead of hiding it and wishing desperately that it was not there, I record podcast episodes on age related changes to empower other women to accept their new normal without shame or judgment. I let go of the thought that the best years were behind me based solely on appearances and superficial criteria. I created a much more meaningful way to measure myself and live my life moving forward. I absolutely love my life now in a way I never did before and know 1000% that the best years of my life are still ahead of me. I transformed my experience in life not by changing anything or anybody around me but by letting go of the thought pattern that nothing was enough. Instead, I started to focus on what was enough and how I could make it even better. I took responsibility for how I was feeling and no longer blamed my suffering on the circumstance of aging. I reclaimed my personal power when I adhered to the principles of emotional adulthood.
Okay, let me give you an even more recent example of how choosing emotional adulthood permitted me to reclaim my personal power and reduce my suffering. In the past, family time has triggered a lot of anxiety in me and the immediate thoughts that would come up were I just need to get through it, I just need to go with the flow, I just have to do what everybody else wants me to do. I am sure that being #9 out of #10 in my family of origin and thinking nobody cared what I wanted or thought had something to do with it as well. In terms of my immediate family, being a stepmom sort of permitted me to bring those same faulty thought errors with me. To be clear, my anxiety had nothing to do with lack of love or even enjoyment of my family, it was more about feeling like I could not be authentic in the family setting. The truth of the matter was I was addicted to people pleasing and worried incessantly how everybody would get along and how uncomfortable it could be if they did not. I was a big phony and had a lot of resentment about having to do things I did not want to do.I am not gonna lie. I usually had a certain amount of dread about being with family because I allowed myself to stay in my brain’s default mode for decades. Because I had so much fun with my family though, this had never made since to me. However, there is no denying it had always been there. I guess you could say I always felt like I lost myself somehow when we all got together.
Flash forward to evolving and stepping into emotional maturity and I just finished up my first family trip with my immediate family with no dread or worry beforehand. Woo-hoo! I did this by taking complete and full responsibility for everything I felt leading up to the trip, on it, and afterwards. Instead of wishing that family members would act differently so that I could feel better, I accepted them for who they were and did not make anybody’s behavior a problem. If I felt like something was happening to me, I changed to the thought that it was happening for me. If I did not like the way a certain day was going or I was maybe a little bored, I decided that the present moment was perfect no matter what it was like. Instead of thinking it should be different, I fully accepted it exactly like it was. If I felt like something was important to me, I spoke up and shared my point of view even if it was uncomfortable. If I felt the need to create a boundary and reinforce it, I did it in a kind and loving way. Instead of trying to control everybody else, I literally focused on controlling myself and my mind. When I came up a bit short and could not quite buy into everything being good enough, I knew the only problem was the way I was thinking. I did not blame the way I was feeling on anybody or anything else other than my brain. Because of that, I showed up in an authentic way to my family and instead of losing myself, I found my inner-being and it was empowering.
I will be taking that authentic self I finally found with my immediate family, into a wedding weekend in Ohio, where I will be getting together with my family of origin for the first time since Covid. Happy to report there is no dread whatsoever and I am really looking forward to it. We are still the same family with the same personalities, but it no longer causes me stress or anxiety because I changed the way I was thinking. I became mo