The Adulting Illusion.
All adults are frauds!
Wonderful; now that I've got your attention, let's dive straight into the a discussion that has been playing on my mind for the last week.
When having a conversation with my parents recently, we arrived onto the major point of trauma and how there is a big conversation in society at the moment about dealing with trauma, especially trauma stemming from childhood. Our understanding of mental health and our willingness to openly discuss trauma and its impact has drastically improved since my own parents were my age. We are no longer taught to bottle up how we feel, but rather speak about it and try to work through difficult emotions and traumatic experiences.
However, even with this turn in the right direction, adults can still be so hard on themselves; they can say the cruellest things to themselves, such as, ‘You’re nothing, you’re not good enough, why would anyone love you?’ The list of selfdegrading statements unfortunately goes on and on.
Now I am no psychologist, but I would say that I have read enough self-help books in the past to gain some sort of understanding into why certain people say such mean, undermining things to themselves.
I explained how these people may have heard such phrases as they grew up; children are like sponges: the things you tell them on repeat can become engrained into their memories, into their sub-conscious, and can materialise as a negative outlook on themselves in the future.
The discussion delved into the ‘inner child’ work that many people in society are engaging in at the moment. I know quite a few people who have pictures of themselves as children taped to their bathroom mirror, or saved as their phone wallpaper, so that every time they think of saying something negative to themselves, they try to imagine saying it to their five year old self. Would you say something so cruel and hurtful to a child? Of course not; the child is only trying to do their best. So why would you say it to yourself?
No one wants to experience trauma, but the reality is that there are very few people in the world who have gone throughout their entire childhood totally unscathed and untouched by trauma. It’s sad, but it’s true.
So, although we can’t change our past experiences, we can however change the way in which we treat ourselves. Rather than belittling ourselves, speaking insults and negative comments at our own reflections, we can speak kindly to ourselves, offering compliments and loving words to the person who stares back at us in the mirror.
At the end of the day, we are still just that little child in the picture, but we are hidden beneath the exterior of an adult - children disguised as grown-ups.
Of course we mature, we gain knowledge and life experience but, sometimes, do you ever just feel like a child playing pretend? Putting on your shirt and tie, or your high heels (or both!), standing in front of other pretend adults, leading meetings, engaging in deep, intellectual conversations about the state of the world. Often when I’m in these situations, I like to look around and think, ‘How the heck did I get here? I was building huts in the woods five minutes ago.’
An element of this is definitely imposter syndrome, feeling like you’re not qualified enough to be in your position. Often I feel it’s also because we are all absolutely winging it. We are pretending to know what we’re doing.
Your boss that you think is a pro at the business? Totally winging it. Your colleague who seems to have their life altogether? Winging it and is probably pretty proud of the fact. Your parents, who you placed so much trust and faith in growing up? The biggest wingers of all (especially if you were the first-born child). It’s only when you get to the age your parents were when they had you do you realise how much they probably didn’t have it altogether; they must have had crazy imposter syndrome after being lumped so suddenly with a child.
I used to get crazy imposter syndrome when I was a teacher – I would stare out into a sea of young faces, all staring back at me, struck by the terrifying thought that I was in charge. ‘But I’m only a child myself!’ I would think. ‘Who put me in charge? I don’t know what I’m doing!’
Being the sole responsibility of 30 children is rather horrifying at times, especially during fire drills or school trips (particularly if you’re having to navigate the underground in London during rush hour with a class of children – I thankfully never lost anyone! Although not really sure how).
There were times when people would come to me with important questions that needed to be answered, or decisions that needed to be made. I would look left and right for the responsible adult to consult, then realisation hit like a tonne of bricks: that’s me. I’M the responsible adult…(‘But I’m just a little girl!’ my inner child would yell; she’s really rather petulant at times.)
After realising that so many people agreed with my despair at being the responsible adult, I felt comforted - I thought it was just me who didn’t want to be chief decision-maker, who would rather be given instructions than create them.
The term adulting is how I, and many other people, now refer to this phenomenon as.
Adulting is a verb, explaining how humans have to actively try to adult in their daily lives.
Some adults are very good at adulting – think of your big business people, parents who run a busy household full of kids and basically just anyone who manages any sort of team. Adulting can be very tiring and there are many days when I despair at the thought of having to adult for another full day ('But I already adulted all day yesterday!')
So, when you next feel intimidated by a boss or senior colleague, just remember that they are the same as everyone else: children living inside the bodies of adults, actively adulting every day to keep up the pretence of being a grown up.
When you feel bad about where you are in life, have a day of low-confidence or are being quite hard on yourself, think of that five year old version of you (bet they were super cute). We are all just trying our best and