When We Don’t Grow Up

This article is the most personal for me to date and will continue to be because there will be a Part II. I would argue that this topic is as much about me, as you. Our Father has called us to maturity in our view of ourselves, others, Him and the world. Many situations can hinder our development of actually fully entering adulthood and this article will not be addressing those, rather I will focus on how we/I can “live adulthood from the one-down child position”(Cloud, 1990, p. 231). 

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Living from a One-Down Child Position

Before looking at the mindset prevalent of someone living from a one-down child position, let’s define this position. In simplistic terms it means acting as a child, in an adult world. It is continuing to relate to parental like figures is our lives with a childlike mindset and never fully growing into “an equal standing as an adult” (Cloud, 1990, p. 209) with them. We are to become equals with other adults and that includes our parents. It means we honor our parents (Ex 20:12) (Eph 6:2) because of their position given by God and also grow-up in our mindset from relating to them through a child’s lens to an adult lens. 

It is a challenging journey not only with our parents, but as stated, any parental like figure in our lives—boss, pastor, spouse (yep I said it!!), etc. I find comforting 1 Cor 13:11 which says “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 

Now let’s take a look at indications we, you, I have not fully grown up. This truth can hurt before it heals. Let’s begin!

Signs That You Have Not Fully Grown Up

Fear of Disapproval

Having excessive anxiety and preoccupation when an authority figure is present. Such anxiety can sabotage our work performance, cause us to feel emotionally unsafe within our relationships, blame ourselves, feel like we are the ones who are “bad, wrong,” and create an inability to trust yourself and your perspectives and emotions.

Sexual Struggles

When we feel like we are in a one-down position to authority it can show up in how our sexuality gets expressed. “The reason is simple: they(individuals) have not gone through the adolescent passage of disagreeing with their parents and therefore overcoming guilt and repression. Sexuality is still “no no” to them because psychologically they are children who “shouldn’t think about such things.” Since children don’t have sex, their thinking interferes with their sexual functioning. They can suffer from inhibition (which is usually fear of parental criticism), lack of orgasm, guilt, loss of desire, or performance anxiety” (Cloud, 1990, p. 233). When we feel like equal adults to our spouses, we are free to choose to share our  bodies and have permission to be pleasured and to pleasure. One person is not one-up or one down, rather there is a mutuality of reciprocity. 

“You Can’t Do That” Syndrome

This belief limits creativity and ensures that nothing new is explored or if it is explored there is a sense that it is bad/wrong/not how it should be. There is also the sense of being out of order with the authority figure. If our parents happen to be “limiting and punitive” we will identify with them to an excessive degree. We end up never separating ourselves from their rules and rather live out of them even as we get chronologically older. We never create our own lives only regurgitating our parental figures lives, as our own. 


When we have not established within ourselves an equal stance with our parents, this can lead often times to competition with the same sex. An expression of this competition is always trying to “win” and if this doesn’t happen, it makes a person feel like they are in a one-down inferior position. This person does not feel equal with their parents and therefore sees interactions competitively. 

Loss of Power

God has given each of us power which we can either toss to not use, which, by default people who are controlling and domineering will gladly pick up and use against us. We also have the choice to give our power to another and obey them as a child would their parent. 

Impulsiveness and Inhibition

Being so angry towards authority that there is a bent towards lawlessness and impulsivity–this is behavior of an “out of control adolescent adult.” On the opposite end, there are those who are not even aware of their strong desires and filled with guilt. They are timid, restrictive and experience shame. There is no freedom to truly experience pleasure in life and from their emotions. 

Parenting Others

This proclivity is birthed out of seeing one’s self from a one-up position not from an equal stance with other adults. These individuals believe that they know what others “should” do. There is a lack of awareness of their own restricted knowledge of a person’s circumstances or that other person’s ability to handle their own issues. They don’t recognize or respect the inherent responsibility of others deciding how to solve their own personal problems. They see themselves as the authority figure to be listened to because they know what “should” be done.

Idealization of Authority

It shows we have not grown up when we hold the perception that someone in authority is fault free. Now this may not be a conscious thought, but our reactions will reveal if this is a belief beneath the surface. 

Idealization of Childhood

When we experience conflict around growing into adulthood, we can idealize our earlier years of life as though it held the “only” period of satisfaction. Adulthood is viewed as lack luster living, purposeless and pointless. These individuals therefore can be resistant to do the work required to grow in maturity within themselves, with others, with God and with the world.

This list is by no means exhaustive and if you are interested in learning more about this topic please pick up the Book “Changes that Heal” by Dr. Henry Cloud. Could it be that some of our internal and relational issues are a result of immaturity? Once again I did not discuss the causes that can lead to us not fully developing but it continues to be our responsibility to grow and transform. Next article I will dive into the skills to become a mature adult.   

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