As her 18th birthday approached, Gracie was scared. She was about to enter official adulthood. In the world of residential treatment, by federal law adults cannot be housed with minors, which meant she would have to move homes. Moving always involves a big transition, and transitions are especially difficult for Gracie.
Even more than the move, Gracie was simply afraid to grow up. Growing up meant that she would have to take on adult tasks like getting a job and living more independently.
A few weeks before her big birthday, Gracie declared she wanted to go straight from being a child to being retired. She wanted to skip the middle part of life completely!
At times, I can relate. Most of us occasionally share Gracie’s desire to feel safe, taken care of, and free from overwhelming responsibilities. The desire for stability—and the security of knowing how things are and will be—is basic human nature.
Why invite change when life is going well?
Gracie had more or less mastered her life as a minor in residential treatment. Things were relatively stable. She didn’t want to go through the process of learning and growing, or to have to adjust to a bunch of unknowns.
Although much of Gracie’s 17th year was spent helping to prepare her for the inevitable march of time, deep within herself she never really believed it would happen. So turning 18 hit her hard.
She responded in a way that is also human nature. She regressed, doing things she had done in the past, such as arguing, crying, and throwing fits. She knew these behaviors weren’t effective, but they lent a sense of comfort and familiarity.
In fact, a few days after she turned 18, Gracie was throwing a fit in the living area of her house. Her therapist came out of her office to see what all the fuss was about.
This wasn’t supposed to be happening
“I’m not supposed to be here anymore!” Gracie cried to her therapist.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s been a mistake. Peter Pan was supposed to come for me and take me away to Neverland. I shouldn’t be 18!”
Resistance is futile
Most would find Gracie’s resistance to turning 18 absurd and her total denial mind-boggling. Outside of an early death, we all turn 18. None of us can prevent the planet’s march around the sun, no matter how hard we resist or convince ourselves to believe otherwise.
The reason Gracie resisted so much, of course, was fear. Fear of change. Fear of being overwhelmed. Fear of being unable to manage. Fear of the unknown.
Her deep and unrealistic expectation was to remain a child forever, but that didn’t happen. So, Gracie returned to behaviors she knew were unhelpful when the gap between what she thought Should Be, and the reality of What Was, became too extreme.
There’s a bit of that in all of us
It’s not only special needs children who resist change, experience fear, or have unreasonable expectations. We all share these tendencies from time to time. Yearning for a fantasy Neverland—where life remains stable, predictable, and exactly the way we want—is tempting.
And in fact, a child’s acting out behavior in the face of fear is so common that we parents can use signs of regression as a signal to look at what might be really bothering them. It’s a heads-up that they may need reassurance or help through a challenging time.
But avoiding change can be counterproductive
If there really were a Neverland, most of us would quickly become bored with its monotony. It is through change and new experiences that we learn and grow.
A healthier response to change and to undesired situations is to embrace them as best we can—despite the fear, despite the unknowns. These are the times when turning in trust to the wisdom and love of a higher universal power higher helps immensely.
Are there changes or situations in your life that you are resisting or denying? Consider how you are responding to them. What adjustments can you make in your attitude to narrow the gap between what you think Should Be versus What Is? What actions can you take—including those of self-care—to accept the changes or situation more positively, healthfully, and peacefully?
I’m glad to report that after the initial shock of turning 18, Gracie adjusted. With assistance, she realized that while being an adult does mean more responsibility, it also brings more freedom. She was able to shift her thoughts away from the negatives of her new circumstances and more toward the positives.
A year later, Gracie is now working part-time, and with oversight, she is in charge of buying her own groceries and preparing all her meals. She now enjoys more freedom of choice than ever before!
It didn’t happen overnight. It was a process.
How about you? Can you begin to embrace and celebrate the positive aspects of changes or situations that may be causing you a flicker of fear?
You may find in time that these circumstances were actually blessings in disguise.