Don Cobb
The Miracle: Baby Boomers stuck in the 7th grade?
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By Don Cobb
August 3, 2009

Emotional immaturity isn't hard to find. The emotional obsessiveness of youth is obvious, and understandably so. Young people haven't had much experience in managing their emotions. In fact, many, if not most young people, don't even know that emotions can be managed. The reason so many children don't know is because they've been raised by a generation who vowed early on never to grow up, and many of that generation have been faithful to that commitment. That's right, I'm talking about the Baby Boomers, mentally and emotionally stuck in the 7th grade, addicted to the idealism of their youth which comes with, btw, naivete', ignorance and misconceptions caused by inexperience and immaturity. Gen BB pledged to never grow up, to never get old and funky like our parents. Throw in pot and other drugs, and the opportunity to stay stuck in the 7th grade is almost guaranteed because the recipe for addiction is firmly in place.

Having been involved in helping drug addicts and alcoholics recover from the stranglehold of addiction has been both rewarding and surprising. Over the years I've learned much about the Human condition, and have discovered the basic root causes of addictions of all kinds. Emotional immaturity is always present, as is extreme self-centeredness. Many drug and alcohol treatment centers, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous, NA, MA, FA and other 12 Step recovery program members treat the symptoms and tend to ignore the causes. Of course, when practiced and followed faithfully, the 12 Steps not only relieve a person of the active grip addiction has on them, but also facilitates, as the 12th Step states clearly, a "Spiritual awakening." What that means is that following that program to the best of one's ability facilitates a relationship with God, to one degree or another, and definitely a far deeper relationship than one may have had prior to working the Steps. We are, after all, spiritual beings having a Human experience, and our Creator can, thank goodness, help us overcome and heal any and all of our scars and wounds.

One of the reasons that emotional immaturity is always present in an addict has everything to do with self-centeredness. Some of my observations over the past two decades are these: When a child's needs aren't met or when they don't feel safe (raised in an environment which cultivated fear of Mom and Dad, for example), they, and their attention, almost always retreat to the safest place they know: inside themselves. When children are talked down to, scolded on a regular basis, beaten, intimidated, treated as if they are a pain in the ass rather than the blessing that they all are, they disconnect from the family unit emotionally. Because of their inability to change their environment and/or location (legally they cannot leave the family), children tend to retreat into Self, becoming self-reliant in their thinking, in their focus, and doing the best they can to build up walls, emotionally speaking, in order to keep those people out who seem not to have their best interests at heart (parents, siblings). Emotional growth comes to a grinding halt, and any semblance of growth during the adolescent and teen years is commonly minimal, for without healthy mentors (i.e. parents, older siblings) to encourage, support and model love and healthy communication, it literally becomes impossible for a child to grow. One cannot help but sequester one's self deep inside where it is safe when his/her living environment is one which produces anxiety, fear, dominance and the suppression — even the destruction — of a child's spirit by using fear in order to try to force them to comply with the parents' wishes and demands.

People aren't born as addicts, as some recovering folks believe. I can understand why some folks believe that, as they've never not experienced fear and anger and anxiety in their lives. No, people commonly experience family dysfunction long before they're out of the womb, feeling what Mom feels, and hearing what Mom and Dad are saying, their tones, their emotions, while she's carrying her child. For some children, they are born afraid. For others who might not experience family anger, fear or dysfunction pre-birth, the clumsy social skills and terrorizing of a child takes place after they are born as parents do their best to 'control their child,' most commonly using fear and intimidation to get children to behave.

Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of, is it? (Rhetorical question.) But it is the stuff that the vast majority of Americans experience during childhood. And it is the reason so many people have retreated into self-centeredness as a way of life. In their minds, it is safer inside than it is outside. No one is yelling at them or staring them down or talking down to them or criticizing or punishing or intimidating them into doing their homework or cleaning their room or just to be still.

Self is a safe place for a child. The problem is that no one grows up in there. How many times have you said or thought to yourself, regarding your own parenting style "I didn't turn out so bad" as you utilized your parents parenting tools (fear, discipline, bullying) on your own children? The truth is that for most of us, it's true: We didn't turn out so bad, considering what we endured as children growing up. Very few of us in America had the benefit of having parents who understood that Love must be the basis of any healthy personal relationship. Having been yelled at, beaten, abused and neglected themselves, the next generation of adults have never been armed with healthy parenting skills, and so they use "what worked for me": fear, intimidation, bullying.

Collectively speaking, today's children are experiencing the same kind of parenting Hell that their parents, and their grandparents, and their great-grandparents experienced. It's called the generational curse of the father and it is a rare individual who overcomes it without God's help. The molested boy oftentimes becomes the molester as an adult. The molested girl has been violated and scarred with scars which will often last a lifetime and likely will affect every male relationship she ever has in a negative way. When grandparents are alcoholic, one can know that it's not likely that Mom and Dad learned any healthy parenting skills, and in fact probably unconsciously used the same methods their drunken parents used on them: fear, yelling, hitting, intimidation and bullying. Some children seem to weather such upbringings just fine, relatively speaking. Others, who are more sensitive emotionally, are devastated and sometimes destroyed by such parenting, becoming angry adults, criminals, drug addicts, alcoholics and/or become obsessive/compulsive and controlling.

This is why politics in America seems to be played out on the same level politics in the 7th grade played out. Slogans and posters win elections, no matter how big a jackass a person might really be. In the 7th grade, a typical 13 year-old thinks they know everything, and so oftentimes becomes unteachable. You can't teach someone who thinks they already know everything. Throw in the all-too-common family dysfunction which manifests as self-centeredness and you have someone who trusts no one (or practically no one), whose fears are both unreasonable and debilitating (socially speaking), who, when they discover alcohol or pot find a peace and relief from the fear and anxiety they're living at home and at school among friends who are just as emotionally broken and tortured by the fear and anxiety which is too often an ongoing thread that runs throughout the first 18 years of our lives and beyond. Moderately or excessively, they medicate themselves.

That is, by the time a child reaches 13, without the benefit of loving, kind and nurturing, self-sacrificing parents, they are commonly convinced that adults are stupid and that child officially becomes unteachable. Emotional growth, if any, comes largely through pretending to be mature in the midst of peers, yet even some of that pretend behavior begins to stick. That, or by a profound change in their personality, often brought on by tragedy, complete failure or the loss of relationship(s) that are most important to them, some life-changing event such as incarceration or homelessness. It seems that only then do children of dysfunctional childhoods become teachable again. As religious folks and 12 Steppers alike aim to practice, loving their neighbor as themselves becomes the pathway to healing, and for many, an entirely new life.

For those who've yet to crash and burn who have been raised in the American tradition of fear, intimidation and bullying, they are busy and hard at work, as self-centered as ever, if not more so than ever, leaning on their own understanding, keeping up walls to keep other people out, pretending to be who they want us all to believe they are, emotionally stuck in the 7th grade and still focused on I, Me and My, while acting as if they are serving the rest of us in whatever career choice they've stumbled onto or chosen. In order to feel worthy, they've done their best, the most broken of them, to position themselves in places of leadership, that we might think great things about them. Even a casual glance at their personal lives or professional relationships, however, reveals the wreckage of their dysfunctional childhoods. Lying, stealing, selfishness and secrets are discovered every day about those in leadership who are still emotional shipwrecks. They still gossip and envy and let foolish pride drive wedges between others every day of their lives. They still pretend to be who they want us to think they are because they've never come to term with whom they really are: the products of dysfunctional homes, broken, emotionally immature and selfish beyond anyone's imagination. They've been active, but without the kind of healing that only comes from God, they are still stuck in the 7th grade.

("The Miracle" is an ongoing series of articles by Don Cobb regarding the process through which an individual and/or a group of individuals or even a nation get and stay right-side up. Addiction, sexual, life, social or relationship issues, regardless how deep or serious, are all resolved through this miraculous transformation.)

© Don Cobb

 

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Don Cobb

Don Cobb, RAS is an addiction recovery professional and serves as Executive Director for North Bay Recovery Services in Sonoma County, CA. Don recently published a book entitled 12 Steps: NOT For Dummies... (more)

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