There is a great paradox to parenting and growing up. Developmental psychologists conceptualise this in different ways, but essentially to become a healthy child our parents have to lie to us - they have to lead us to believe that the world is safe and that we are at the centre of this world. Babies need strong safe hands and available nurturing breasts! The wonderful thing is that for the majority of us, we do experience the world in this way in our early life. It is also wonderful that it continues to be partly true of the world - the world can, and often is, a safe place, and people in the world will, very often, meet our needs.

However, to flourish as adults in this world we need to learn that this is not a full description of reality. In fact, like all lies, these are so effective because they are half-truths. Yes, the world is safe, but it can also be hostile, mean and destructive. Only as we experience this, adapt to it, modify our childlike expectations of an all-good, all-safe world, can we develop the resilience we need to succeed with life as it actually is. Similarly, it is true that our needs are often met by others, but it is also true that everyone else has needs, that ours aren't at the centre of the universe, and that sometimes, many times, our needs won't get met exactly how and when we want. We have to learn that we are in a constant dance with other people, meeting needs and getting needs met. Only as we learn this dance of other-person-centredness can we develop healthy adult relationships. 

This kind of growing up is hard work. Many people prefer the illusions of childhood. Our consumer culture works best if it can relate to us an emotional infants - after all what better customer could there be than a cashed up adult with no capacity for delayed gratification, but who believes that their needs are the most important thing in the world? Gosh, as long as my product offers the promise of safety from a dangerous world, or gratification from a withholding world, you will buy whatever I am selling!

If we fail to unlearn these half-truths we end up stuck as fragile, anxious narcissists. We are toxic to ourselves and toxic to the people we work with and the organisations we lead (even though we might in fact get rewarded and promoted as a result of our dysfunction).

So what is the solution? Grow up. It's not easy, but it is good. Learn to live in the truth. This is the only path to true freedom.

What do you think?

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