When you were a child, were you enlisted into adult conversations?
When the joys of youth could have been your top concern, were parents or guardians seeking your emotional and intellectual support? Were they involving you in complex discussions of divorce, financial hardship, parenting stressors, sexuality or physical health complications?
Trying to fill shoes two sizes too big is not uncommon for kids. But when the roles of pseudo-parent or pseudo-partner are repeatedly (and unwittingly) thrust upon youth, debilitating stress, anxiety, and obstacles with intimacy can emerge in their own adult lives. Can you relate?
If so, you might be asking, “What now?” What can be done now to address it?
Offer yourself some compassion. I know. Easy to say. Harder to do.
When caretakers encourage us to shoulder undue responsibility they can instill a sense of obligation; to carry or “fix” the burdens of partners, friends, and colleagues. Consequently, shouldering others’ woes induces fatigue, causing us to feel overburdened and irritated even in times when we are properly asked for guidance. While these behavioral outcomes pose challenges, they are valid, logical and adaptive results of an “adultified” childhood.
Individuals raised in an adultified childhood are often noticed by their peers as “wise beyond their years”. This emotional wisdom can be magnetic for those in need of support. Thus, the adultified child’s work has only begun once they hit adulthood!
In your own social circles, striking a healthy balance between the role of “The Stoic” and “The Unpaid Therapist” can be tricky, but it is not impossible.
Begin by simply noticing the impulse to run away and/or run towards and ask yourself, “What would happen if…”.
For example, “What would happen if I didn’t ‘solve’ the cryptic email from my partner’s boss?” Or, “What would happen if I offered space for my friend to vent about the fight they had with their mother?” And lastly, “What would happen if I sat and listened while remaining divested from resolution?” This practice can release the ingrained pressure to control what is beyond our means.
It is perfectly okay to be an active listener and a passive player in the hardships of our loved ones.
So, if you had to grow up too fast, if you have been called an “old soul”, if friends (or even strangers!) in need tend to gravitate your way, give yourself this moment to slow down and take a deep, long, breath.
Remember: a complex mosaic of influencers (culture, socialization, family history, a sense of Self) are constantly working in concert to determine when and how we overextend and retract in our adult relationships. This is the nature of being interconnected human beings!
Learning to identify patterns in behavior and speculate (with curiosity rather than judgment) about why they show up can help us to detach from unsupportive narratives about ourselves. After all, more times than not, those narratives cast us as the antagonist in our own stage show.