I came up with the mnemonic “REALADULTS” as a way to give people the ten major adult skills we need in order to become emotionally competent, mature adults. My thought was that, once memorized, people could take the REALADULTS mnemonic with them wherever they went, referring to it often, in any situation they’d come across in their lives.
REALADULTS stands for:
L=LVAC (see my previous 2 posts for the meaning of the adult skill LVAC)
U=unconditional positive regard
L=living with pain and failure
T=saying Thank you and I’m sorry
Now let’s briefly describe each of these.
This is a major adult skill, which is why I placed it in the first position of the mnemonic. Think of some of the people you know. Now think about how many of them show restraint in their lives. How about yourself? Do you quickly react or respond or are you quick to judge or try to fix or somehow make a comment? Or do you try to restrain your first impulse and see what happens when you hold back a moment and let things unfold a bit? This is especially important when interacting with your children or spouse, when sometimes all that’s needed is a little restraint before you unload on them or project shame or blame onto them that can affect their lives for a very long time. In the case of a spouse, it could severely limit your Emotional Credibility with them (see previous post for meaning of E.C.)
By this I mean engagement in your life. How much mastery do you have over your life? Do you like your life? Or are you generally a person who feels overwhelmed or miserable a lot of the time? Engagement is when we are REALLY plugged into our lives: the people in it as well as the activities we’re involved in. It’s the unleashing of our truest selves upon our lives, complete with joy, creativity, energy, committment, and connectivity, among other things. If you spend a lot of your time feeling empty, bored, or disengaged, it’s time to explore ways to get engaged with your life!
I use this to mean the ability to deal with our anxiety. In order to practice the adult skill of Restraint (above), we must also work on our ability to manage our anxiety while we are restraining ourselves. When people have minimal skill in modulating their anxiety, you can see it in the way they need to react “right away” or have to have “an immediate solution” or “talk to someone right away” about a problem. In other words, they are VERY uncomfortable with uncertainty, fear, lack of control, loose ends, etc. Not practicing the adult skill of anxiety modulation can lead to trouble in our relationships as well as in other parts of our lives.
From prior posts (and my book LVAC Nation!) we know that LVAC itself is a mnemonic I made up (because I LOVE mnemonics and analogies!) which stands for Listen, Validate, Ask, Comment. It is actually a trademarked technique I invented to remind us to Listen first, then Validate the person who is talking to us. Then, as appropriate, we should Ask them open-ended questions about what they are saying or feeling before we, at last, Comment. The problem is that we tend to Comment FIRST because of our lack of anxiety modulation skills and our need to judge, fix, or otherwise communicate our agenda to the other person instead of putting ourselves in a position of Listening first and seeking to truly learn about the other person is trying to say (see the “LVAC Stance” post.) When we fail to do LVAC regularly with children, for examle, we slowly, over time, replace their budding inner agendas with our own anxiety ridden ones. They eventually lose touch with themselves and, instead, identify with OUR inner conflicts, anxieties, and limitations. We essentially hamstring their development with our Comments and they turn out feeling empty, lonely, and disconnected which is a recipe for disaster and acting out behaviors in adulthood, whether large and obvious or small and subtle.
Same idea as the anxiety modulation skill, only this one involves anger. We often don’t know how to handle the anger emotion. We either try to suppress it, repress it automatically, or perhaps overreact and blow up. We need to learn more about how to express our anger simply and without fear or shame. We are often afraid to show our anger because we’re already in a mode of constantly trying to take care of other people’s feelings and reactions. This only makes matters worse and helps turn “innocent” anger into rage (anger + fear), or depression (anger turned towards the self.)
Simply put, living deliberately is the opposite of living reactively. You can therefore see how living deliberately involves other adult skills we’ve talked about so far, including Anxiety modulation and Restraint. Living Deliberately, in a nutshell, means putting things into our lives that we want there and NOT putting things into our lives that, in our truest selves, we DO NOT want there. So, if we are acting out by drinking, having affairs, or going on buying sprees, we will deal with results and consequences of those behaviors which we DO NOT want in our lives. It’s time to start living deliberately; choosing purposely and purposefully how we want to behave, what activities we want to pursue, and what relationships we want to have.
U=unconditional positive regard.
This is very different from unconditional love, which we can really only ever get from our parents or caregivers from childhood. The problem is that many of us did not get unconditional love in childhood, but instead, conditional love. We then seek unconditional love for the rest of our lives, including from our spouses, leading to chronic disappointment and chronic anger. What were the conditions of love from our childhoods? Well, whatever was contained in our parents’ and other caregivers’ Comments (see LVAC above.) Children learn and observe the adults around them VERY carefully and thoroughly. They quickly learn what they are allowed or not allowed to say, do, think, and feel, based on our Comments which can either be words OR behaviors. These Comments are the conditions of their love for us. Unconditional positive regard simply means “benefit of the doubt”. While we can no longer get unconditional love, we should be shooting for unconditional positive regard from the people around us, especially our spouses and other peers. Save the unconditional love for your children, if you have them. They need it and should get it!
L=living with pain and failure.
The second “L” in the REALADULTS mnemonic stands for the adult skill of living with pain and failure. You might be asking, “What else are we supposed to do with pain and failure if not live with it?” The answer is that rather than living WITH it, we can also choose to LIVE it. Simply put, when we act out our pain and failure to the point where it BECOMES our lives we are LIVING it; not good. There is a fundamental choice we have here: either learn to live WITH our pain and failure or continue to act it out (i.e. LIVE IT.) Example: having an affair=LIVING your pain; talking about wanting to have an affair because of feelings of disconnect, alienation and despair=living WITH your pain. Aim for talking and connecting about it, not for acting it out. Let’s learn to live WITH pain and failure, not LIVE our pain and failure.
T=thank you and I’m sorry.
Very simple. I noticed long ago that, and especially with married people, we are very bad about being able to say these two things to one another. Part of this, I think, is that we come into marriage already preloaded with resentments and other “buttons” that we subconsciously transfer over to our spouses so that we’re already less emotionally generous with them (i.e. less unconditional positive regard) than we would be even with a perfect stranger. Work on reversing this. The harder it is for you to say “thank you” or “I’m sorry”, the more you will grow stronger by forcing yourself to say these two things.
What many of us are not good at whatsoever. Oh, we know how to GO GO GO!! In our culture we are taught from a very young age to get up, get out there, and perform! It is no wonder why, after so many years of childhood schooling, plus college and graduate school or tradeschool for some, then years working, people have such a hard time adjusting emotionally to being retired. We don’t actually know how to be still! Practice this adult skill and learn to feel the pressure within you that says you must keep moving. Our goal with this skill is to overcome the inner pressure (or external pressure from a spouse, activities, lifestyle, etc.), and learn what it feels like to actually experience tranquility and inner peace naturally.
Well, as they say, “Those are them!” Now go out there and practice your REALADULTS skills, and start living like a real adult!
(Next time, I’ll tell you about a trick you can use to practice the adult skill of “Stopping”.)
A. Ferraioli, M.D.