When adults regress to child behaviour

This week I revisited my youth, at least emotionally. I’ve been thinking about regression lately, spurred by reviewing ideas put forward by John Lee in his excellent book, “>Grow Yourself Back Up, and I’ve been looking for instances where I’ve returned to child-like attitudes or behaviour.

It happened — no surprise — at work. Our jobs thrust us together with people we wouldn’t choose as friends (although it’s lovely when friendships develop) and with whom we’re forced to get along with just to get a job done.

First, I have to review some emotional issues I faced as a child. The first lesson I learned was to be independent. I was the youngest child of three, and the older two tended to do their own thing. I learned to amuse myself and figure things out on my own. The family dog was my companion as I explored the nearby beach or found a quiet spot to think about things.

My mother read books, which took her to an imaginary world. Today I can’t stand to hear people eat apples like Mom did while absorbed in a book. Something about the crunch of an apple takes me back to that childhood feeling of coming in second place to a work of fiction. This reaction is very much that of a child, a time of life when we expect everything to revolve around us. Little narcissists. Still, interaction with our mothers, good or bad or neutral, help us develop into adults we become.

It makes perfect sense that I became an independent adult with trust issues, who loves dogs (and cats). When I was interviewed for my current position I made it clear that one of my flaws is a reluctance to ask for help. There are times when I have to get others to lend a hand, but if I can get a heavy item like a pressure cooker off a warehouse shelf on my own, I’ll do that. Retail work can be hard, physical work. These jobs are also generally the work of a team. If I lack the upper body strength to put that pressure cooker back up on the shelf, a male colleague will assist. I’ve always been irked by people who can’t make a move without taking a poll of everyone they know. They’re terrified of making a wrong choice when any choice will work. I’ve never been like that. I detest those who seem to fall into helplessness and despair.

This week our team’s routine changed. It was a surprise to me and a female colleague that the overnight crew would leave it to us to restock all the grocery shelves. The overnight crew seems to be made up of at least 10 people. They were never completely done by the end of their shift, and four or five from our dayside crew would finish up. But with no warning, it became clear that I and my female colleague (who’s smaller in stature than me) were to restock the entire dry grocery section. (Fresh, frozen and chilled products are handled by others.) A few team members, including our on-site lead, were on days off or sick. Others were working in other parts of  the store.

“This will take us all day,” I said.

I was supposed to restock another department after grocery, and it seemed highly unlikely I’d get to it. If there’s anything I hate, it’s a lack of communication. Why didn’t anyone from up above come check on us, and pull others in from elsewhere to help us? The shift was three-quarters over when a manager finally had us stop with the groceries. We were barely a quarter-way through the task. I was able to move on to restocking the other department. My colleague came and helped me, for which I was grateful. This is how people should behave when there’s a need. By this point, our backs ached and our emotions were taut. The child inside me was furious.

I felt I’d been abandoned by those who should be supporting me, a feeling that resonated from those days of childhood. It was an old feeling, accompanied with a vague sense I could easily cry. I wanted an upper manager to come see the enormity of the task we faced, and offer support. At least, acknowledge us. Nobody came. No one from higher up seemed to give a shit. This lack of caring made me angry. If I managed the department, I’d be helping out and not avoiding the area. But this is my retirement job — I’ve made it clear I want a position with minimal stress. Sometimes stress is unavoidable.

I realize as an adult that the child inside me is still there, guiding me emotionally. While I wrestled with Little Sandra feeling abandoned, an upper manager may have been regressing to a child who got through hard times by avoiding trouble. I avoid things too, except when I have no choice but to confront difficulties.

Like many retail operations, the composition of teams is always evolving. Next month, I’ll be switching to another team with another boss. After this week, I’m looking forward to the change.


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