The Skills of the Adult Self

Troy L. Love, LCSW
11 min readDec 31, 2022

In Mary Peiffer’s book, Reviving Ophelia, she identifies 12 skills that adults need to have in order to be successful and productive in life. I have found these skills are essential in helping us when our Attachment Wounds are hit.

You may want to rate yourself on how well you are doing in each of these skills using a scale of 1 -10, with 10 meaning you are a master of proficiency and 1 meaning you are a young Padawan.

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Skill Number 1: The ability to ground yourself.

How well are we able to sit in a quiet place and focus on our own thoughts and feelings without the Shadows of Shame® showing up to judge, criticize, and otherwise distract us from the present moment? Mindfulness is the ability to observe our thoughts, feelings and the interaction of this moment with curiosity and respect.

Try grounding yourself now. Sit in a quiet place. Place both feet on the ground. Breathe in through your nose and out your mouth and allow your body to relax with every out-breath. If your mind starts to wander (which is totally normal) just notice and bring your attention back to your breath. Observe from within what’s going on in your body. Do your best to leave your Judge in the other room so that no judgments arise during this process.

Adults who are able to ground themselves are less reactionary. Their ability to be proactive increases and thus have a greater capacity to adjust to the ups and downs of life.

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Skill 2: The ability to separate thinking from feeling.

Many of us make choices based on emotion rather than through thoughtful consideration. If I am not careful, my emotions take over and I make knee-jerk decisions that usually turn out to be less than helpful and sometimes get me into trouble.

While it is helpful to be aware of what we are feeling, the ability to distinguish feelings from thoughts is important. One of the ways to tell the difference between a thought and a feeling is by asking ourself, “What is it that I’m feeling?”

If my response starts with “I feel that….” chances are that I am not identifying an emotion. I am identifying a thought. For example, “I feel that this shirt is too big on me” is not a feeling at all. It’s a judgment about the size of my shirt.

If my response is more like, “I feel angry”, I have identified a feeling. The ability to distinguish both is a critical skill that a lot of adults have never figured out. This is very important when we’re trying to make solid decisions. Having a balance between the logical mind and the emotional mind and finding what Marcia Linehan’s DBT model calls the Wise Mind increases our ability to make decisions that are in our best interest and in the best interest of the people we love.

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Skill 3: The ability to make conscious choices.

Our ability to make choices aligned with our core values and guiding principles lessens our sense of shame and guilt. Many of us make automatic, impulsive, or unconscious decisions. Have you ever found yourself in front of the refrigerator scrounging around for something to eat? Are you actually hungry or is this a way of coping with something in your life? Chances are opening the fridge is more of a habit than a conscious decision.

Considering the pros and cons, evaluating how this choice is aligned with your core value and the guiding principles of your life can help you find great peace more quickly and lastingly than an impulsive decision.

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Skill 4: The ability to make and maintain boundaries

Saying no firmly to things that do not align with your values or are not in your best interest saves a lot of heartbreak, even if saying no is hard. Often our martyr tells us that we are responsible for others’ feelings and therefore saying no would make the other party feel bad. Sometimes we say yes, even when we don’t want to in an attempt to minimize rejection. Yet, in doing so, we end up rejecting ourselves.

Maintaining boundaries is much easier when we connect with our own sense of worth. Unfortunately, the Shadows of Shame® try to convince us that we are unworthy of love and belonging. If we buy into this deception, our ability to say no is significantly compromised.

When we master the ability to manage our boundaries, our relationships become healthier and life less complicated.

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Skill 5: The ability to define relationships

Similar to being able to manage boundaries, mature adults have learned how connect meaning to relationships. In doing so, determining how we spend our time and with whom becomes unencumbered. The Martyr, Judge, Politician, and even the Royal can dictate with whom we should spend our time — not out of love and compassion, but out of shame and guilt.

Oftentimes, we feel compelled to stay in a relationship with a particular person or feel guilty if pull away. Yet, if that person has a toxic influence in our lives and we choose to stay, that poison can damage our relationships with the other people whom we love.

How well are we choosing the people that we want to have in our life and who we don’t want? Do we reflect on whether this relationship is mutually beneficial? If not, do we know how to respectfully, courageously, and compassionately end it?

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Skill 6: The ability to state your needs authentically

Over the years, many of us, in our woundedness, suppress vocalizing our needs. Our Judge tells us we are too needy. Our Impotent One tells us that our needs won’t likely get met anyway. Our Politician tells us to pretend we don’t have any needs. Our Martyr tells us that we have to meet everyone else’s needs.

The truth is we are only as needy as our unmet needs. The ability to state our needs is absolutely critical in increasing satisfaction in relationships and finding peace. It is a courageous act that honors us and those around us. Those who are able to do this effectively significantly increase their chances of getting their needs met.

Asking for what we need seems easy in theory. But immature adults have not learned how to express what they need in a healthy way. They either remain silent or passive-aggressively hint around hoping the other people will figure it out.

Discerning what we need is the other part of this skill. Knowing our attachment wounds does make discerning needs easier, but even then, it may take some personal reflection to identify what we need. Chances are we’re going to get what we need a whole lot easier by asking rather than sending telepathic messages to our loved one and hoping they have amazing Jedi mind powers to figure it out.

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Skill 7: The ability to manage pain

If you are familiar with my work, you already know that pain is the yan to peace’s yin. They go together. And we do live in world where there is a lot of pain, so it may be helpful to learn how to handle pain.

For most of us, our tolerance to pain is very small. That is why we are the most obese, medicated, and addicted group of humans that have ever existed on the planet. Learning to lean into the pain, to listen to it, and learning what messages are there for us, can be incredibly powerful. Pain can be a master teacher.

Leaning into the pain increases our pain tolerance. It provides greater direction, if we let it. It gives us an opportunity to discover what attachment wound has been hit and the clarity to know how to tend to the wound. It also gives time to identify whether we are accepting the negative core beliefs associated with the attachment wound as true and then determine what we would rather believe instead.

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Skill 8: The ability to modulate our emotional reactions.

There are four core emotions that we discuss in the Finding Peace model — anger, fear, sadness, and joy. For many of us, when these emotions rise to the surface, our Shadows of Shame® immediately show up to help us “cope” with how we are feeling.

If we buy into what they are selling, we likely will find ourselves going to extremes or black and white thinking. Giving ourselves permission to feel our feelings and express them in healthy ways honors us and models for those around us how to do the same.

Freaking out, losing our temper, isolating, withdrawing, or numbing is not the recommended way of working through how we feel. Rather, feeling our emotions and expressing them using our words, our tears, and our hearts in a safe way helps facilitate an environment in which connections can become a source of support and strength.

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Skill 9: The ability to find validation from within

Steven R. Covey discussed the social mirror that our society uses to determine our sense of worth. We look at others for validation about whether we are worthy or not. While this is a normal thing that we humans do, it is not the most reliable of methods to adequately determine our worth.

We are socialized to look for praise from others. We are addicted to the thumbs up and hearts from social media that our Politician uses to validate our standing in the world. When the validation and praise is scarce, our Judge, Politician, or Martyr may show up to do something about it. When our recognition is high, our Royal celebrates just how much better we are than everyone else.

The problem is that if our Shadows of Shame® run interference in our life, we are left with stories of heroism, entitlement, or victimization. The Shadows of Shame® block our core light and hide who we truly are.

Now, on a dark day when we are feeling lonely, it is really important to have people in our life to whom we can reach out for validation, acknowledgment, and recognition. But there are some days when we aren’t able to reach out and touch someone. People may be busy or unavailable. At these times we need the ability to connect with our own light and truth and validate ourselves.

You are a being of light. Your ability to connect with that light, instead of connecting with the Shadows of Shame®, is perhaps one of the most important skills on this list. As you master it, you will find greater joy and peace in your life and you will give permission to others to do the same.

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Skill 10: The ability to time travel

If you are like me, you may have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month or even a bad year. It’s during these times that we must time travel. I don’t mean by getting into your Delorian and speeding up to 88 miles per hour so you can back in time to fix an horrible wrong. Rather, to be able to visit your past via memory lane and reflect on the happy moments of your life and remember the people who have loved you.

We can also recreate the past. We can rewrite the narrative into a story that evolks a sense of purpose and peace.

We may also want to travel to the future of our mind to reassure ourself that painful experiences are not going to last forever. We can plan out what we want our future to look like using a vision board or other planning tools.

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Skill 11: The ability to be in the present moment

In the toolbox of your life, you may need the sculpting tools for skill number 10, but you will also need the ability to appreciate what you have created in this very moment.

Depression has sometimes been defined as being stuck in the past. Anxiety has been defined as being stuck in the future. While it is important to visit the past and learn from the lessons there or to visit the future to plan for where you want to end up, if you stay in either realm for too long, you will miss out on today.

It’s that concept of mindfulness that we have discussed earlier -being aware of what we’re experiencing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The more we’re grounded in this present moment — the only moment in which we can take action, the more effective we are at being a peace. Being in the present moment has been discussed by gurus, monks, prophets, and teachers for centuries. Be still and connect with Truth in this moment.

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Skill 12: The ability to experience the joy of true altruism

True altruism does not come from listening to the Shadows of Shame®. True altruism comes deep inside us as we connect with our light. Often, people are confused because they think,”Isn’t it important to do nice things for other people?”

Yes, of course it is. But what is the motivation behind our actions? True Altruism means doing something for somebody else because the other person is in need — not because the Judge or Martyr told us we had to. Not because the Politician is hoping it will win points for our reelection campaign. There is no selfish motivation. We are not doing it in hopes of receiving a benefit in return. We aren’t doing it in an attempt to prove to ourselves and others just how magnamus we are.

We serve and lift because it is part of who we are. The irony is that when we master this skill our sense of peace grows exponentially. We give and lift because we see how we are all connected on this planet. And we simply want to make the world a better place to live, love, and laugh.

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When Benjamin Franklin was alive, he strived to be a better man. He wrote down virtues that he felt were very important for a person to live. Every month, he would work on one virtue. He’d write about it in his journal.

Each month he’d pick another virtue and do his best to improve in that area. Week after week, month after month he worked on developing his character. Perhaps that strategy will work for you too. Or you may want to try improving each skill all at the same time. The choice is yours.

Practicing these skills is like mastering any other skill worth learning. It takes practice, and you’re not going to get it perfectly right every time. It’s in the failure where we learn the most about what helps us be successful.

Be kind to yourself as you’re improving on these skills. You will get better. As you do, your relationship with your loved ones, coworkers, friends, and associates will improve as well. As you change, they change — because we are all connected.

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Troy L. Love, LCSW

Amazon-Best Selling Author of Finding Peace: Healing from Loss, Neglect, Rejection, Abandonment, Betrayal, and Abuse. Learn more at findingpeaceconsulting.com.