Dealing with Emotionally Immature People: When The Terrible Twos Go on Too Long

Children don’t learn to care about other people until they reach the age of three or four. Unfortunately, some people grow into adulthood without every developing this ability. How do you deal with them?

Latino Children Play Swing (Photo credit: epSos.de)

From birth until about the age of three, a child is almost totally inner directed; aware of the existence of others, but lacking the ability to demonstrate empathy, and seeing ‘others’ as primarily existing to satisfy its needs and demands.  By the age of one, most children understand ‘no,’ although they might not respond to it, and they’ve discovered themselves in the mirror.  They start understanding the use of “I” “me” and “you” and can copy their parents’ actions, but are very rigid in their habits, resisting any and all changes to routine.  It is only around the age of three or four that a child learns to ‘share,’ or cooperate with others.  Emotions range from fear of strangers to temper tantrums and other violent emotions.

When the ‘Terrible Twos’ Last Into Adulthood

Amazingly, a lot of people never advance emotionally and intellectually beyond the age of three.  We all know such people; unable to care about how their actions negatively impact others; seeing every issue in terms of themselves; and fanatically resisting any kind of change.  They range from bosses who are obsessively narcissistic and demanding, throwing adult tantrums when things don’t go ‘their way,’ to politicians who frame every issue in intensely inner-directed terms, and who engage in often irrational behavior and rhetoric.

Raising a child is difficult, and the only way I found to deal with that period of selfishness that kids go through was to be patient, and ignore the tantrums until they ran out of breath.  I can forgive a child, though; after all, they’re born helpless, and this is probably an evolutionary survival mechanism.  With adults, it’s harder to be forgiving, and one’s patience can often be strained to its very limits.  The one thing, however, that is a definite essential, is not letting childish adults get to you. Whether you’re dealing with an overbearing boss or an obstinate politician, sometimes the best way to cope with it is to ignore them until they run out of steam. 

Coping Strategies For Dealing with Immature Adults

I once had a boss who took pleasure in catching me and others on the staff in public situations and doing or saying something that was designed to embarrass us.  My first reaction was to tell him what a pill he was being, but I quickly realized that this was what he was angling for.  It would have given him an excuse to ratchet up the harassment.  After the first incident, when I had to take several deep breaths and then go away and meditate for several minutes, I found a way to put cold water on his efforts – I simply smiled and ignored his outbursts.  Three or four incidents like this, and, presto, he quit bothering me.  In fact, we actually became friends of a sort.

In my work life, I’ve encountered a number of politicians and government officials who’ve been the same way.  Every conversation is a verbal duel in which they blame me, my government, and my country for every ill their country suffers, never accepting any personal responsibility for the results of their own greed and stupidity.  In addition to ignoring them, I often simply change the subject.  I’ve left more than one senior official sitting gape-mouthed at my lack of response to his diatribe.  In many cases, they’ve even come around and ceased their dysfunctional, childish behavior and gotten down to real business.

The world, unfortunately, is overpopulated with people like this; people who’s emotions and mental state haven’t progressed much beyond the terrible two stage of childhood development.  They can, if you let them, really ruin your day; so, my advice; don’t let them.

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  1. Whilst your handling of sticky situations is appropriate for disrespectful officials who shuld knw better n might hve taken one-2-many..it smacks of extreme arrogance if this is now your standard response whnever smeone challenges u on any distasteful official US policy.I thnk u shuld at least try n engage the person n use the opportunity 2 educate the both of u. Just merely brushing off or ignoring such people (who might genuinely trying to engage u) mght actually betray your own intolerance and underdevelopmnt vis-a-vis emotional maturity.I wuld engage everybody bcoz I AM the bigger person and wuld only dump/abandon the conversation if the person becomes irate, irrational, foul-mouthed !

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