Helping People Grow Up

Helping People Grow Up

Workshop Presenter: Alan Godwin

(notes by Erik Johnson)


Adults fare best when they enter adulthood skilled in four areas. If they lack any of these four skills troubles will occur when they make friends, get married, or work closely with others. Relationships can only be as healthy as the people in those relationships. They can fake it only so long before drama erupts.

Deficiency in these four skills will make it hard to juggle the two needs: closeness to others and avoidance of pain. The four skills are normal developmental, age appropriate tasks but for a variety of reasons people can enter adulthood deficient in one or more of these skills.


What are the four skills?


Bonding (usually with mom the primary care giver). Learning how to connect, trust, give and receive love when we’re kids serves us well when we’re adults. Those who don’t develop this skill might struggle with:


  • Being unsure of who they are, what they think, or what they feel.
  • Wearing masks, building walls, fearing opening up or being real
  • Presenting a “chameleon self.”
  • Reacting to rather than initiate things.
  • Lack of connection with others which leaves them sad, angry, and lonely. 
  • Trusting others.
  • Withdrawing (moping, pouting, stonewalling) at the first sign of conflict with others.
  • Developing an unhealthy isolation and self reliance (“I can’t trust others so I’ll cope alone”).
  • Using unhealthy ways to self sooth (having never learned healthy soothing as a kid).


Separating (individuating, differentiating) from others like when babies realize, “My mother is not me.” Becoming a solid/flexible individual, able to stand on their own two feet, protects them from emotional enmeshment and blurred boundaries. They become “comfortable in their own skin.” Those who don’t learn how to separate might struggle with:


  • Becoming people controllers (forcing others to comply so they merge).
  • Becoming people pleasers (sacrificing self so they merge).
  • Experience high anxiety when differences occur.
  • Saying no, setting limits, knowing what to tolerate and what to resist.
  • Worrying about their safety “I am vulnerable and can’t protect myself.”
  • Practice compliance, accommodating, yielding rights to their own detriment.
  • Being confused by emotions, their and others’. Not reading cues.


Integrating (tolerating the mixture in themselves and others of both good and bad). They can strive for the ideal but is realistic. They can internalize grace and truth. They can deal with their own (or others’) imperfections without a meltdown. The clue that a person isn’t integrated: they see themselves all good (grandiose) and their partner all bad (devaluing), or they see themselves as all bad (shamed) and their partner all good (idealized). Those who don’t learn how to integrate might struggle with:


  • Perfectionism
  • Debilitating guilt
  • Performance treadmill
  • Demanding, driven, driving others!
  • Inability to relax.
  • Judgmental of others (not seeing others’ good traits).
  • Idealizing others (not seeing others’ bad traits).
  • Anger at others for not being better (or for being better than them).
  • Intolerant of conflicting emotions (they don’t believe a person can be mad and loving at the same time).


Functioning (understanding capabilities and taking responsibility). The person with this skill recognizes their strengths and weaknesses, gifts, aptitudes, and abilities and exercises them. They welcome feedback (even negative feedback). They’ll take risks, do what they need to do, and exercise self discipline. From this place of functioning they will relate to others as equals, neither one-up or one-down. The person who fails to function might struggle with:


  • Underachievement
  • Irresponsibility
  • Criticism of others (usually in the very areas where he/she fails).
  • Being overly dependent (lets others take charge).
  • Procrastination
  • Superiority/one-up (covering up inferiority by making others look small)
  • Inferiority/one-down (avoiding embarrassment by being the first to criticize themselves).
  • Fearing disapproval.
  • Authority issues.


What’s the solution if we have any of these deficits?


In healthy childhood/adolescence these skills are learned in relationship. The person entering adulthood not proficient in these skills isn’t doomed—provided they recognize their deficiencies and work on them in relationship now. Better late than never. The individual who acts immaturely and knows it is in a good place. The individual who is immature and doesn’t know it usually blames, complains, and sows drama in most relationships. Where to begin?


Establish safe, healthy relationships where these four skills can be learned experientially. You can’t learn how to ride a bike by reading and you can’t learn how to bond, separate, integrate, and function from a book. A caring counselor can “re-parent” in a safe environment offering both support and appropriate challenges. With practice, stunted personalities can catch up with chronological age. Many adults still act like kids; doing so with a non-judgmental relationship coach can help persons identify their deficiencies and with well-timed exercises learn new skills. Old patterns are corrected in new relationships. 

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