Do You Feel Younger Than You Are?

The year was 1987 unimportant. I was in college, and I was having an unusually candid conversation with one of my college professors.

He was forty-three at the time, and he remembered sitting on a hill with his friends when he was twelve, back in the country of his birth.

He told me he hadn’t changed since then; he was exactly the same young, bewildered boy he had been… only now he had a job as a university professor.

He was an adult, he said, only on paper.

Recently I was talking with a woman who was turning 60. She mentioned that she still feels “like a little girl” inside, despite her advancing years.

These two people are not alone. I know from personal experience that it’s not unusual to feel younger on the inside than you are on the outside.

Stuck in Neutral

When I began therapy at the age of thirty, I discovered that I felt on the inside like I was only five years old.

It took me by surprise but it explained, at least in part, why I felt like I wasn’t self-actualizing (spoiler: I’m still working on that).

The problem with feeling younger inside than you are is that on some level, no matter how much you accomplish, you’re not moving forward.

Something’s stuck in Neutral.

In order to become who we are, we need to grow up. Not just on the outside, but on the inside.

But how does one do this? How do you resume maturing if you notice the clock has stopped?

Restarting the Clock

I began to grow up only when I decided to be where I was, instead of struggling to get to where I wanted to be (i.e., an adult). I started consciously inhabiting my 5-year-old frame of mind.

It might sound kooky, but this meant allowing myself to experience adult things as confusing or even frightening at times.

For instance, I remember riding the subway to work (I lived in New York City at the time) and spontaneously thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be on this train by myself. I’m only five.’

I shared my curious experience with a supportive friend. She got me a colorful birthday card that read:

“5 is happy

5 is fun

5 is what you are!”

It was a humorous but validating gesture from a true friend.

I decided to just go with feeling five and see where it led…

The minute I began letting myself experience my life with the heart of a 5-year-old — hopefully a process that was invisible to others — the clock started moving forward again.

I’m not saying I ate ice cream for dinner every day. I didn’t avoid riding the subway, either.

I didn’t act like I was five.

I simply paid attention to the fact that I felt five. Awareness is a powerful force for change.

As a new 5-year-old I experienced the insecurity of being a small person in a big world.

An ignorant person in a savvy world.

A weak person in a world that favors strength.

Those feelings are real, and they’re not just for children. Don’t we all feel small, ignorant or weak sometimes?

I needed to embrace those experiences — those truths — in order to grow up.

This is the paradox: To get somewhere, you must first fully BE where you are. It’s like you have to hit the Pause button in order to get going.

At various times over the next few years I felt eight, then ten, then thirteen and so on.

It’s been seventeen years since I felt five years old. I guess that makes me 22 now, which feels about right.

That 5-year-old girl is still there inside me, but now I also have a young adult self to comfort and guide her when times are tough.

My adult self is still developing, and I hope that I never stop growing emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

How about you? How old do you feel?

Photo courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 comments on “Do You Feel Younger Than You Are?

  1. multnoma says:

    re Pause button
    staying where I am requires expending energy. I have to stop that (be) in order to move forward.

    All the inner childness isn’t fear or insecurity.
    The best moments of growth (for me at least) are like the experience of first learning to read
    and when I get one, I think “I still got it.”

    thanks for your blog !

  2. Well, I’m 64 on the outside (my way of saying that)…but I’ve never really thought how old I feel on the inside. Late teens or early 20s?? I was always very mature for my age (on the inside) and now I’m starting to look younger again on the outside. WHAT?? Yup.

    My very favorite t-shirt, in my friend Joanne Fink’s beautiful multi-colored calligraphy, says: YOUNG AT HEART.
    Slightly older in other places.

    • Being mature for your age on the inside and yet starting to look younger again on the outside seems like the best possible combination in adulthood, Miss Maura. Lucky you!

      Love the T-shirt slogan. I might start using it myself. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Peggy says:

    I love this one Tina. I’m 70 years old and just realizing that being stuck at an immature age of a child has cost me a lot of joy in my adult life. Children need to be protected,because they feel fearful in the world. The realization that you don’t have to be afraid of the world is so freeing ! I have finally wrapped my head around that truth. I think I just cured my fear of flying. Oh MY Gosh, I can and will take care of my self in any situation. Talk about a light bulb moment…..Tina you have changed my life today…..

  4. christine says:

    I have never fully understood why I feel 40 years younger then I am. Your post opened my eyes to WHY. I guess I’ve known why, but the “fear” never clicked. WOW!

    • I’m so glad this post resonated with you, Christine. I’d hoped I wasn’t the only one who ever felt like a child in a grown-up body.

      Thank you very much for taking the time to leave a comment, and letting the rest of us kids know we’re not alone.

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