What do you think about when you think of the word ‘neutral’?
Do you think about Switzerland?
Or do you think about not taking sides, or about not caring either way about a particular issue?
DEFINING ADULT NEUTRAL
Well, I have a completely different definition of Adult Neutral for you, a behavioral one that has to do with what I call True Adult Emotional Competence.
When we are behaving in an adult neutral way, we are behaving in an ’emotionally clean’ way.
In other words, we are NOT reacting based upon our past hurts and subconscious agendas.
Adult emotional neutrality is a deliberate mode, not a reactive mode. We are ‘clean’ of our childlike states of mind and habits, where there is usually someone to blame or where we are somehow a powerless, agitated victim who is enraged, rejected, abandoned, or betrayed.
Though these things may really have happened to us in childhood, they are often NOT really happening the same way in our adulthoods, but the feelings ARE the same. The problem is that we are often BEHAVING and REACTING based upon these old wounds and feelings without even knowing it, thereby hurting the people around us in our lives today.
So, for example, when I am behaving in an adult neutral way with my spouse, I am NOT in a reactive mode with her, letting all of my childlike impulses and conflicts rule my behaviors with her. Instead, I am behaving in an emotionally clean way, without all of the emotional noise of my past controlling me.
“Honey, there’s been a change in schedule and I need to take the kids to an extra rehearsal tonight, so we’ll have to postpone dinner until late.”
Non-Adult Neutral Response: “Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me! Again! This is always happening now, ever since they got that new music teacher….”
More Adult Neutral Response: “Wow, …okay, so we’ll have to figure out how this will work. Call me later, hon.”
Notice how, in the first response, I went with my knee-jerk, reactive, childlike response to a particular turn of event in life, which happens all the time; there is really nobody to blame, but I blamed and became angry anyway. I created a maelstrom, or maybe a tornado. Batten down the hatches, here comes the angry victim child!!!
Not very adult. And definitely not emotionally clean of my childlike behaviors and reactions. The past has ruled the day, and my present, true adult self is buried somewhere deep beneath it.
AND, now my wife has another child to deal with; not good for the trust or the intimacy between us. (See my other posts on trust as a vital component of Emotional Credibility in marriage, or read my book, Don’t Get Married! Unless You Understand A Few Things First, for more on this kind of trust.)
IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME
My friends, we behave in non-adult neutral ways all the time.
At the store.
With our neighbors and friends.
With our kids.
This last one is particularly damaging, because we lose our professional role as parents when we treat our children in non-adult neutral ways and we become their peers.
“Dad, can you help me fix this?”
Non-Adult Neutral Response: “What?! Again? What did you do?! I’ll help you, but this is the last time!” (Like a child throwing a hissy fit; might as well be a non-cooperative, selfish, not-so-nice friend instead of a parent. And that’s exactly the amount of respect and trust that will be earned by the ‘parent’ here.)
More Adult-Neutral: “Fine, but you’ll have to give me a couple of minutes, I’m in the middle of something.”
In the first response, the father is upset at being interrupted and pulled away from whatever he was doing (or from nothing at all in particular). His childlike, reactive self feels put-out, cheated, and perhaps even threatened and betrayed by his child’s request. Maybe subconsciously he’s still a child who is fighting to not be controlled or intruded upon by his mother or father.
Plenty of noise there from the past. Not clean. Not adult-neutral.
Of course, he doesn’t actually consciously know any of this; he just reacts to it.
Although these examples may seem a bit obvious and extreme to your particular situation, they do illustrate what we ‘supposed adults’ do all the time.
That is, we may LOOK like adults and we may do our jobs like adults, but, often, in the way we comport ourselves with others (especially with our loved ones), we do not BEHAVE like neutralized adults; we are, instead, still ruled by our pasts.
EMOTIONALLY COMPETENT BEHAVIOR IS ADULT NEUTRAL BEHAVIOR
True, adult, emotionally competent behavior is Adult Neutral behavior. It is clean of the voices and hurts of the past which have embedded themselves deeply into our subconscious minds and therefore into our behaviors and reactions. Whether it was our parents’ reactivity towards us as children or other early influences and traumas, you can bet that these voices and hurts of the past ARE HERE, NOW, big time within us!
You can also bet that they will have continued rule over us, and our current behaviors, unless we constantly work to neutralize them.
It’s okay to fail; just don’t ever give up.
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First)