Do you wonder sometimes why people act unreasonable and childish sometimes, often many times during a single day? Childish reactions are the cause of most conflicts and relationship issues. This known as age regression. Many people don’t recognize it when they do it, and instead believe that they were provoked by other people or circumstances.
Our brains constantly scan our environments and compare our present experiences with our memories from the past. When something triggers our past memories, our brains check those memories for additional information, such as possible consequences and possible responses. If there are unresolved or intense emotions related to those memories, they also will be triggered.
You won’t be aware of those memories and the internal process of searching memories, but you will be aware of emotions that come out. Such emotions might make you react as if you were reacting to the past situation, not the present. You might lose awareness of your adult understanding and adult resources, and resort to behaviors you learned as a child.
Some people, for example, are not certain whether to trust themselves or other people’s persuasion. They might be conditioned by childish guilt, shame or other emotions. In such circumstances, it’s important to distinguish between adult and childish guilt, or adult and childish shame. Some other people might need to find out if their anger and resentment is realistic, or comes from their past. Learning to do so might prevent many unnecessary conflicts.
Immature emotions can influence every part of your life and most of your decisions: from your plans for what to do or not do today, to your choice of intimate partner. Once you learn to recognize them, your whole life can change.
Here are some differences between adult and childish emotions:
- The intensity of adult emotions is appropriate to the situation. In everyday situations, it’s usually mild discomfort, like a warning.
- Adult emotions motivate us and give us energy for appropriate action, such as defending our boundaries and integrity.
- We usually have no problem expressing adult emotions. Those parts of us were able to mature because they could be recognized and expressed within our families. We might feel problems and tension, though, if our adult emotions are mixed with unhealthy feelings and guilt. This is most common, since many people learn at an early age to feel guilty if they express their feelings sincerely.
- Adult emotions do not leave behind tension and discomfort left once the situation is resolved.
- Adult emotions allow us to perceive both sides of the story.
- Adult emotions do not make us feel humiliated or bad about ourselves, nor do we feel a need to humiliate or hurt others.
- Childish emotions are either overly intense or suppressed.
- Childish emotions are followed by an inner conflict, usually between guilt and shame on one side, and anger on the other, accompanied by unpleasant bodily sensations. This conflict can persist long after the unpleasant situation is over. Even if you are objectively right, such emotions can show you that there is a part of you that either is frightened or feels guilty. Some childish emotions can feel good temporarily, but the inner conflict remains.
- Childish emotions sap your energy and, if prolonged, result in stress and fatigue.
- Childish emotions convince you that you are primarily right, and the other person primarily wrong. (Sometimes it is the other way around, although that is more common with children or extremely abused people.)
- Childish emotions make you feel uncomfortable and doubt yourself, which may motivate you to criticize and find even more faults in other people.
Sometimes, details in other people’s behavior trigger strong emotions. We can become easily convinced that such strong emotions are justified, even if our common sense tells us otherwise. This often happens in intimate relationships, since they arouse our deepest emotions. In those moments, it is difficult to stop thinking about the other person’s behavior and take responsibility for our emotions — but at those very moments, this is most important and brings most benefits.
Be aware that in many situations adult and childish emotions might be mixed, i.e., you might feel adult and childish anger, or adult and immature fear in the same time. It takes some practice to be able to distinguish between them and decide which emotions to follow. However, learning to do so brings great rewards.