Everyone behaves immaturely from time to time. It’s a normal part of being human. Not natural, maybe, but normal. Because, for one thing, every adult has to go through childhood before becoming a grown-up. For another thing, every childhood offers difficult experiences. And for a third thing, every person attempts to avoid the hard feelings those difficult experiences created.
So everyone grows up with immaturity stuck somewhere inside. Because avoided pain from childhood gets stuck inside us.
Lesson #1 about immaturity: We all have it
The first thing to know about immaturity is that we all have it. By understanding this, we crack open the door to compassion. For while everyone’s problems show up differently in the world, underneath, we’re all fighting the same dragons. With the rare exception of a prophet, we all come to Earth with inner issues. And the reason we are here is to heal them.
Our issues come with two parts. As already mentioned, there is immature behavior. The reason we act immaturely is that a part of our psyche gets stuck at the young age in which we experience wounding. As a result, we harbor immature feelings that didn’t get a chance to mature. And when they are triggered, we act them out.
The second part of the equation is a wrong belief, which is now attached to these immature feelings. Because at a very young age, we start to draw conclusions about how life works. The Pathwork Guide calls these beliefs “images.” It’s like we took a picture of “how I believe the world is,” and then put it on the shelf in our mind. We do this to tell ourselves how to navigate life so we can avoid ever experiencing such difficult feelings again.
The big problem with images
The big problem is that some of our conclusions about life—which we formed at a young age—are wrong. They are misunderstandings that follow the limited logic of a child. For example, if a child witnesses violence at home and is not able to do anything to stop it, the child might draw a conclusion about themselves, like “I’m a coward, because I can’t protect someone I love.”
To a child, painful feelings are akin to death. So rather than feeling the pain of being terrified and helpless, the child might conclude “I’m a coward.” And then the child cuts off those painful feelings. Later, the child will see all future events in life through the lens of “I’m a coward.” This belief and the painful feelings associated with it are now lodged in the person’s unconscious.
From there, our emerging adult logic no longer pushes back on this wrong conclusion. Because the belief operates at a level that is out of our awareness. In other words, we don’t think to challenge the premise it’s built upon because we are no longer fully aware of it. Which is why we don’t pause and say, “Wait a minute, what else was I going to do at that age? I was only a child. I really was helpless. And terrified. And that was painful. But that doesn’t mean I’m a coward.”
Note, images are almost always created in previous lifetimes and carried forward into this one. Our childhood experiences, in fact, are specifically designed to bring them to the surface in this lifetime, so we can heal them. When a painful experience happens that is not related to an image, a child can usually express the pain and move on. But with images, everything gets stuck.
Lesson #2 about images: They hide in plain sight
When we uncover one of our images, or wrong conclusions about life, it won’t be entirely foreign to us. In fact, it will be more like seeing a relief map rise up out of the water. And then we’ll suddenly see, in stark relief, what’s been driving us our whole life. This is what we really believe is true.
For images make us act as though our mistaken conclusions are a fact. And we all do this. Have you ever reacted to a situation far beyond what the situation called for? When have you misread a situation so badly that you lost your mind for a minute and behaved like a child? If you don’t think you have ever done so, then you don’t know yourself very well.
How images cause “emotional reactions”
It’s not really that we’ve completely forgotten about this hidden misunderstanding, or about the experiences that led us to develop it. It’s just that our wrong conclusions are no longer in our conscious awareness. Until, that is, they rise up to the surface and reach out and slap someone, either literally or figuratively.
It’s almost like something comes over us. And, in fact, it does. A split-off immature fragment of ourselves can become triggered, setting off what the Pathwork Guide calls an “emotional reaction.” These can show up without warning, and we literally go into a trance and act out.
The tragedy of living in a trance
Whenever we’re in a trance, we overlay the entire person of our parents—or whoever hurt us when we were little—onto the person standing before us now. And again, we all do this. For example, our co-workers are often stand-ins for our family of origin. This means we experience their behaviors through the distorted lens of how we felt our parents, siblings or other relatives treated us.
And the people we form intimate relationships with are going to be dead ringers for one or both of our parents. In the way we attract them and react to them, that is. The hard part, as we do our work of healing, is to tease the slides apart so we can start seeing the person standing in front of us in their true reality. In current-day reality.
Note, it’s our reaction that’s now distorted. Whatever pain we experienced as a child was real. But our emotional reactions become stuck in us. And they will remain there until we unwind them and release them.
Lesson #3 about images: When we act from an image, we are not in reality
There is a term called “transference” that is important to understand. And it is often confused with the term “projection.” Here is an excerpt from a chapter of Living Light, in which the Pathwork Guide responds to a question about the difference between the transference and projection:
“Transference is what happens when we harbor certain feelings we aren’t aware of towards one or both of our parents. We then go about life directing these same unresolved, conflicted and often contradictory feelings on other people. Our demand is that they fix their problems so we won’t have to feel this way.
“…Projection, on the other hand, is when we have certain traits in ourselves that we can’t quite accept, so we shy away from looking at them. But when they show up in someone else, look out, because there, they will irk the bejesus out of us.
“In other words, we project what we can’t accept in ourselves onto other people, and then react toward them the way we truly react toward ourselves…Both, however, are nothing but mirrors for what are actually aspects in ourselves.”
An emotional reaction that hit home
In my own life, I had a big emotional reaction a few years ago that still has me shaking my head. I had moved to a small town in Western New York to be with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and I went to the local library to get a library card. There was a question on the form asking if I lived in the town or village, and I said I didn’t know. So the librarian asked what it said on our mortgage. And that simple, innocent question surfaced a whole cascading waterfall of buried feelings. In short, I launched into an emotional reaction.
For many days, I processed my way through all that was coming up. It had to do with the fact that I was not on the mortgage, and due to Scott’s wounding around his divorce, I wasn’t sure I ever would be. My biggest inner reaction came from the recurring phrase that went through my mind: “Another woman got here first and there is no room for me.”
An alternate tape playing in my head said, “Another woman got here first and sucked all the air out of the room”. This was my experience of childhood, with my mother taking up all the oxygen in the room, so none was left for me. I was the lone girl with two older brothers.
In my memoir, Walker, I shared about walking through the doors of AA over 30 years ago. I heard them talking about low self-esteem, and I thought, “I don’t have low self-esteem. Actually I have no self-esteem. I don’t feel I deserve to take up the space that my own body occupies.”
I needed to see that whatever had happened between my now-husband and his former wife looked like a re-creation to me. But I was not actually being threatened or hurt personally. Nothing that had happened in his first marriage was about me. But my view of things made me feel, in an immature part of myself, like I was under attack.
The rewards of doing the work
As I write about this now, there is no more sting about any parts of this story. I have been doing my work. But the pain that surfaced during the days just after my visit to the local library was intense. Further, the conclusions I had drawn about not having a space in the world really colored the way I showed up in life. And it was only by seeing all this and releasing those old feelings that I found my way to the other side.
What I didn’t do was act out. I didn’t blow up at anyone. I didn’t make a snotty comment. And I didn’t lash out at Scott. Because I have been doing my own personal healing work for a long time, and I know what the territory looks like. I know it’s very hard to cross through these rough places. And I also know that I can do so without acting immaturely.
It’s not that our work is to squash down our reactions. But we must learn to navigate choppy waters while, at the same time, limit the impact our process has on other people. In my situation, I was in a relationship with a man who has also done a lot of deep healing work. He knew I was going through something difficult and that I would stick with it until I came out the other side.
When I was ready, I was able to share with him what the journey had been about. Interestingly, I found I could express myself best using little hand-drawn cartoons. For a lot of this wounding happened at a very young age.
Embedded in my process was a communication with Scott about how his hesitancy to fully commit to our relationship was affecting me. But that’s different from blaming him for my reaction. Scott chimes in here to add that by doing my work, he saw that I truly was the person he wanted to wholeheartedly commit to. And so we both received what we truly wanted.
Lesson #4 about images: They cause us to act against our own best interest
The last thing to understand about images is that they never do us any favors. Because they are not in truth. The result is they cause us to act in ways that are not in alignment with the truth of who we are, or the truth of the situation.
Let’s underscore “they cause us to act in ways.” It is our own images that cause us to show up in life acting in ways that make them seem to be true. For example, without getting through my piece that surfaced, I may have started to resent Scott for keeping me at arm’s length. I may have started pressuring him to commit. I may have stomped around the house, angry that I didn’t feel I had an equal place to that of his former wife. And any of those things could have cost me my place.
As one can imagine, when we’re in a snit about something old, we don’t tend to make a lot of sense. But our errant behavior may easily push the hidden buttons of the other person, creating a much bigger mountain than the original mole hill warranted. Because people react to us based on how we behave. And we all behave in ways that are driven by deeply buried old stuck feelings and beliefs that are no longer a match for reality.
The worst part is, the way our immature feelings and buried images affect our actual current-day reality, it makes us believe our wrong conclusions were right. And the wheel keeps turning.
Immaturity and images alter our reality
Immature feelings are always very old. And at the same time, they are very young. They are part of the Lower Self that some call the Little-L Lower Self. This is the part of us stuck in childhood that hopes to avoid feeling the feelings we couldn’t handle back then. (Or at least we thought we couldn’t handle, believing as children do that feeling pain is the same as dying.)
This part of ourselves doesn’t yet realize that there is now an adult version of ourselves available to help us walk through hard things. That we can now safely release that old pain, and we can mature.
We know images are an aspect of the Lower Self because they are not in truth. And we know that the existence of untruth is connected with every disharmony in life. In other words, when there is conflict, there is also a misunderstanding. And since images are basically buried misunderstandings, it makes sense that they’re involved many of our conflicts in life.
And they are not going to go away on their own. A person can have a luxurious, well-crafted life built on hard work and talent. And an emotional reaction can show up at any time and take us to our knees. None of us can afford to ignore our images.
Experiences are intensifying
Here’s something else we need to realize. Things are amping up right now. Collectively, the world is experiencing an influx of energy that is helping to shimmy our images to the surface. For that’s the only way we’re going to see them and heal them.
This influx, then, is coming to help us heal. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand—along with our immaturity and images—and hope things will just all work out well in the end. For there is a Lower Self script running in the background of every person’s life. And if Lower Self is directing our show, the ending will always be sad.
Many people go through many lifetimes stuck in old patterns. These ways of reacting and behaving become deep, well-worn grooves. And the longer we take to course-correct, the harder it becomes to change direction. When it comes to personal healing, then, sooner is far better than later.
Over time, if we are truly doing our personal healing work, maturity becomes our steady state. Then if immature feelings arise, we have a clear indication that we’re no longer in true reality. We’re in an emotional reaction and we have another piece of work to do.
We can heal
No question, images are at the root of much of our work. The Pathwork Guide gave four lectures in a row on images, to underscore the importance of this topic. Once we start to uncover our images, they will stitch together many of the strange behaviors and attitudes that have been showing up throughout our life.
It will start to make sense, for example, that someone with unhealed childhood wounds and a conclusion that they are a coward, will later become a bully. After all, such a person unconsciously believes they must prove—to themselves and others—that they are fearless, strong, invincible.
These days, it’s popular to see bullies as villains. But bullies are not the bad people of the world. They are simply people with wounds. Just like you and me.
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