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What Age Are You Acting?
ANDREW HEIMANN

Have you have really thought about who you are? What makes you, you? And how does that impact your relationships?

We walk around every moment with a feeling of self. Many factors determine what defines us: For instance, we each have a “normal” chemistry that varies from person to person. A high-stress person may feel normal with a high-strung nervous system. A depressed person might feel normal with a depressed nervous system.

Additionally, we are beings who exist in three-dimensional space. The tightness of our muscles determines how easily and freely we are able to move through space and impacts our understanding and feeling of ourselves.

When we are young, we don't have a sense of self. We depend on the reference and recognition of others to help reveal us. They teach us to integrate the influx of reality into digestible bits, to assimilate change and evolve. If we have bad references of self—if we confuse self and other, if we don't learn how to exist and digest experiences or stages—we can carry that with us, which can inform our present reality.

If most people were to look into their minds, they would see wall-to-wall televisions blaring different channels in different languages in different time periods, steering the working sense of “I.” The distorted feed to the brain would reporting old news, projecting it on the people and places of the present. Sometimes it would get confused. It would transform present people into objects sometimes, participating in the working reality of the past. For instance, one station might project the experience of a 5-year-old, with a 5-year-old physiology and a 5-year-old brain.

Assuming a working present reality, to be triggered is to enter into the past station feed. To confuse the past feed with the present feed is to compel the past into the present. This can be detrimental to relationships.

If you are triggered as a 5-year-old, you exist in the reality of a 5-year-old. The mind is limited to the extent to which the child can understand the world. In a child's mind, depending on the emotional developmental stage, everything may be more extreme or may be tinged with shame or guilt. If one is triggered in this state, then one’s partner can become the object in this reality and the possibility of resolve conflicts becomes less likely.

Additionally, when we interact this way, the issue at hand becomes about solving the 5-year-old’s problem and not the adult’s problem. The child inside may demand parenting and care, the information that was lacking earlier in life.

It is not the job of a partner to fix this. It is important that you find a way to work through this with help from someone else. After all, the adult inside you wants to be empowered and seen, not confused with the child. The struggle is for the adult to find the tools to differentiate his or her reality from the child’s. Once this happens, the adult can begin to support and give to the child, but from a different support system than the child recognizes.

Asking your partner in a relationship to show up any other way than as an adult in a relationship with you, recognizing you as an adult, is a recipe for conflict. Someone who can recognize you, give you space to reconnect with yourself and who supports the adult you is priceless.