Acting Our Age

 How Relationships Help us to Grow Up

I have begun many relationship and emotional adulthood workshops with statements such as the following: “Regardless of your age, educational background or religious / life philosophy, it is very likely that you have acted like a child from time to time in your important relationships. If you’re the boss of a company, you’ve probably thrown a tantrum or two….


If you’re a parent, you’ve probably acted the same age as your child or children…


And if you’re in an intimate relationship, well… have you ever seen the way a couple fights?”


As long as you are motivated by the need to belong or the need to be important – and who isn’t? – there will be occasions when you act out a behaviour such as attention getting, power struggle, revenge or assumed inadequacy.1 These behaviours are the

direct result of unmet needs, and the degree of intensity they convey is directly related to the level of discouragement in the person carrying out the behaviours. These four behaviors are simply ways that we attempt to gain some sense of control over the heartbreaking discouragement that results from our needs not being met by the important person or people in our lives.

The pattern of such behaviours is designed by your unique personality, but the motivation and type of behaviour is universal. The four patterns are easy to identify in children because they haven’t developed the level of sophistication required to disguise the need while at the same time trying to get it met. Let’s look at it from the child’s perspective first and see if you can identify those same behaviours and influences in your close, present day relationships.

A child has a need for inclusion and a sense of significance, and grownups have a need for inclusion and sense of significance or importance.


If the child feels that the need is not being spontaneously recognized or satisfied, the child experiences discouragement.

Ditto for grownups

Discouragement inevitably leads to various forms of manipulative behaviors that include the following:



Power Struggle




Resignation (“Assumed Inadequacy”)


In both children and grownups, it seems that the discouragement goes unnoticed, and the reaction to the unmet needs leads to habitual behaviors intended to hurt and/or manipulate the person we have made responsible for our needs. But if we were to face and accept our discouragement, we could become aware of it’s painful influence, with its accompanying feelings of disappointment, heartbreak and loss. Relaxing more deeply into the center of that experience inevitably leads to peace, the recognition that no one can give us what we think we need, as well as growth in emotional maturity. It is then that the grownup becomes an adult.

Quick Quiz

If you were to examine your behaviour in your most important relationship, how would you describe your actions when you are engaged in:

  • Attention Getting?
  • Power Struggle?
  • Revenge?
  • Assumed Inadequacy?


Which is your most habitual behaviour when you feel discouraged?