Derailed by chronic childishness

A fully developed talent is a paradox of wisdom and innocence. As the slight inclination toward a possibility becomes a fully realized capability, we become as insightful as tribal elders and as unassuming as children. We approach the gifts we found inside us with a sense of all-knowing insight and not-knowing what the mystery will bring to us next. The talent is not a thing to cling to or show off. It eludes our thinking and deepens our lives.

The cultivation of hidden talents can go awry by getting trapped in chronic childishness. We embody a "wounded inner child" and act out our incessantly, immature impulses. We play the part of the powerless peasant in those under-developed countries ruled by tyrants. Like the problem with a toxic inner voice, there appears to be no escape until we are fully aware of the patterns in the problem.

Here are the seven, most common ways that I've seen childishness interfering with the cultivation of hidden talents:
  1. Infantile grandiosity: Our talents remain under-developed whenever we become over-impressed with ourselves. We over-sell our limited capabilities and over-extend our scarce resources. It appears we are over-compensating for some perceived lack by showing off and acting like royalty before our unruly subjects. We are so full of ourselves we cannot admit to errors, other responsibilities, our effects on others or other potentials to find within ourselves.
  2. Morbid dependency on authority figures: We arrest the cultivation of hidden talents when we act like we need a mommy or daddy figure. We depend on an exalted superior to tell us what to think, decide and choose. We cannot make up our own mind or question their authority. We play it small and keep ourselves in a lowly position out of deference to our adopted parent figure.
  3. Attachment disorder: We make it impossible to develop our talents when we get into toxic relationships. Our lives become overly dramatic. We start throwing tantrums like irate kids. Everything is a crisis requiring frantic thinking and desperate action. We're attracted to people who trash our confidence, commitments or health. We grew fond of these types from earlier experiences with internalizing "tainted love". We learned from primary caregivers to think we're receiving love when we are getting abused, deprived or terrorized. It feels like home to get mistreated that way. We miss it and we want more of it even though we've supposedly grown up. We instinctively know where to get it and then get hooked by it without hesitation.
  4. Persecution complexes: We can make our hidden talents one more thing to feel victimized by. When we've been shocked by persecution, we become vigilant about anything out to get us. We try to avoid feeling powerless again on the basis of profound self-pity. We only succeed at re-enacting an episode of getting persecuted in familiar ways. Our victim story goes into endless reruns while our talents remain in deep denial.
  5. Inferiority complexes: We can unconsciously deprive ourselves of acting talented, resourceful and gifted. We may believe we are not worthy of admiration, respect or recognition. We assume we are inferior, incapable, and powerless to change anything. We live in a state of torment and anxiety that drowns out any inspiration to think better of ourselves. Our wishful thinking and escape fantasies avoid anything as realistic as cultivating our hidden talents.
  6. Negative parent wounds: We're in no shape to shape up or grow up when we've been devastated by a negative father or mother. We experience having an insatiable need to change our mood in a hurry and to escape our perpetual misery with a quick fix. We feel guilty about who we are and apologetic about existing. We cannot justify our existence or stand our ground with any conviction. We fill this chronic, aching emptiness with any of a number of thrill-seeking addictions. All the while, we neglect our potential and dismiss our unique traits.
  7. Hostage situations: When we're desperate for companionship and plagued by loneliness, cultivating hidden talents would ruin everything. We're making a show of neediness that hooks caring people. We're making a play for sympathy that baits others to feel sorry for us. We're taking hostages of others with our neediness and punishing them if they act independently or self-confidently. Developing our own talents would appear like we valued solitude, satisfied our needs with our accomplishments and had no use for sympathy. Our hostages would be set free and we would be left to our own devices.
My numerous run-ins with these forms of childishness have taught me that "cultivating hidden talents" is "too much too soon" for many adults. These patterns are amazingly robust and defiant of the ways my mentoring serves people with more resourcefulness. Rather than keep trying what usually works for me, I've learned that chronic childishness calls for me to provide some clean structure.

Commiseration with childishness fails horribly. Dirty structure comes across as controlling, manipulative and contemptuous. Breaking up any of the patterns succeeds when people are shown the respect implied by open frameworks where they choose how to take action. They can get something done and take pride in their accomplishments. They then can take responsibility for cleaning up their mistakes without getting shamed, blamed or castigated. In the process, they grow up and outgrow their chronic childishness. They become capable of eventually cultivating their hidden talents.


  1. Hi Tom - I like the way you still assume that everyone has talents to be tapped even if the masked by a variety of issues. It is just about choosing the right approach and time to access them?


  2. Hi Chris
    Almost everyone likes to be pictured with more potential. It's hopeful of me and gives them optimism. Yes to your question. It is a question of timing and approach. There's much to learn from the person to get those two things right.


  3. Tom,

    Way to go: everyone is gifted in some way.

    Referring to talents being "masked" is a really helpful approach. Your shopping list can be easily used by people who are wondering what might, mysteriously, be "getting in the way."

    Keep writing...

  4. Thanks Steve!
    In my experience, catching oneself being childish is very rare. It takes lots of confidence to face one's shortcomings. Identifying a childish pattern in one's own conduct/outlook amounts to an act of power while feeling powerless. It usually takes a coach with sensitivity to timing, confidence level and wording of the feedback to use the shopping list effectively.