Summary of How to Be an Adult by David Richo

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  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023
how to be an adult book cover

Short Summary: 2 min

Summary: 35 min (it’s a very important book)

Book reading time: 2h08

Score: 10/10

Book published in: 1991

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  • Transforming psychologically follows the same steps as the Hero’s Journey: Departure, Struggle, Return.
  • The Ego is the name given to the center of our conscious life.
  • The Ego is animated by two forces: the neurotic Ego, which is attached to how things are, and the functional Ego, which relates to the world.
  • You want to decrease the former as much as possible to the benefit of the latter.
  • The Self is the center of our conscious and subconscious life.
  • Alignment with the Self is prevented by the neurotic Ego.
  • The neurotic Ego is active in children because they have needs that their parents should fulfill; but it should not be as active in adults because they can attend to their needs by themselves.
  • Adults with an extensive neurotic Ego have childhood traumas that prevent them from using their functional Ego. They must solve these traumas.
  • Once the neurotic Ego is diminished, the functional Ego can align with the Self, which you can then embody.
  • You become fully “your Self” doing so.

Table of Contents

What How to Be an Adult Talks About

How to Be an Adult is a book written by David Richo. It’s a handbook that explains how people with trauma remain stuck in their childhood paradigms which prevents them from living normal healthy lives. The book explains how to solve traumas, find and live through our authentic self, and align the Ego with the Self to become psychologically healthy, fulfilled, and whole.

This book is a manual for becoming your own therapist. It explains from the beginning to the end the psychological processes one should go through to become psychologically healthy.

It starts with defining the Self and the Ego, and how unmet childhood needs prevent you from living a normal adult life. After explaining how to solve these traumas, it deals with relationships, and finally, once your true Self has been liberated, it deals with the integration of your Shadow (the parts you repress in yourself).

It’s amazing. God, it really is!

I was glad to have found something a bit deeper and more meaningful than basic self-help. While it’s great, it never really deals with the underlying causes of your issues.


Honestly, get the book. It will be much better than this summary.

This was to date, the hardest book to summarize, ever.

Not because it was written in a difficult way, but because it was extremely dense.

I feel like I didn’t really summarize a book, but…a summary.

It was in most cases, difficult to articulate better than the author his points and sentences.

So I stole lots of them!

Short Summary of How to Be an Adult

The path to psychological transformation is akin to Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey. First, there is a call to adventure. Quickly after, the hero must overcome the first obstacles.

Halfway through the journey, his “identity” and certainties die: he is born again into the person he needs to complete his mission.

He beats the villain, triumphs, and can finally go home, enlightened.

Psychological transformation starts with understanding the Ego. The Ego is the center of our conscious life. It has two characteristics:

  1. It is functional: making assessments, relating to people, etc.
  2. It is neurotic: when it becomes attached, addicted, or judgemental. This leads to panic, seeking control, drama, and entitlement.

The first step is to grow the functional Ego and let go of the neurotic Ego. Therapies such as assertiveness or CBT help you understand yourself so your ego is more functional rather than neurotic.

Healthy adults don’t have a neurotic ego (or a small one at least).

Unhealthy adults do because their needs for love and safety weren’t met in their childhood, so they are still waiting for them to be met – which won’t happen.

The only way to bring closure to these needs is to mourn them, and to do griefwork. These enable you to say goodbye to the bad memories and to the needs that have never been fulfilled.

These five steps help you bring closure to your traumas.

  1. Remembering the trauma.
  2. Full acknowledgment, experiencing, and expression of feelings (e.g. sadness, hurt, anger, fear), so that resolution (catharsis) occurs.
  3. Healing of memories by reexperiencing them with compassion and imagining yourself speaking up self-protectively to abuse.
  4. Get a ritual that shows you have accomplished your work. Eg: write about the memory, and burn it, then plant a tree with the ashes (and say goodbye).
  5. Go on with your life. You are no longer afraid to be kind to yourself, to treat yourself well, or to stop depriving yourself.

The second step is to align yourself with your Self in order to incarnate it.

What’s the Self? It is the center of your entire psyche. It balances and reconciles the two forces of the ego. It is pure, unconditional love, and whole.

Integrating yourself with your Self means tolerating the things you do badly, without trying to chase them away. eg: you may have bad thoughts. Don’t fight them. Let them be, without acting on them.

Part of the work in integrating your Self is to integrate your Shadow.

The Shadow is the archetype of the unconscious that represents the feared, denied, unaddressed, forbidden, and excluded parts of ourselves.

We can discover our Shadow by looking at the things that particularly annoy us in other people.

Eg: if we hate it when others are controlling, it means we are ourselves controlling due to our incapability to develop our leadership skills (the antithesis of control).

Once you have worked on the Ego by solving your childhood trauma, and on the Self by integrating yourself, you can let both the Ego and the Self integrate with each other. This happens when:

  1. The Ego becomes completely functional and not at all neurotic (that is when it lets go of attachment, control, and entitlement).
  2. You fundamentally accept anything that is occurring.

Summary of How to Be an Adult Written by David Richo

Introduction: The Heroic Journey of Human Transformation

When you are no longer compelled by desire or fear … when you have seen the radiance of eternity in all the forms of time … When you follow your bliss … doors will open where you would not have thought there were doors … and the world will step in and help.

Joseph Campbell

The Ego And Psychological Work

The center of our conscious life is called ego.

The ego has two characteristics.

  1. It is functional: making assessments, relating to people, etc.
  2. It is neurotic: when it becomes attached, addicted, or judgemental. This leads to panic, seeking control, drama, and entitlement.

When neurotic, the ego gets us stuck. Being psychologically healthy means living more from a functional Ego, and less from a neurotic one.

You can do so through lots of techniques: assertiveness, processing experiences, bodywork, the catharsis of feelings, etc.

These techniques enable you to understand things about yourself and change, so you get better.

The Self And Spiritual Work

The center of our entire psyche (both conscious and unconscious) is the Self.

The Self creates a balance between the two forces of the ego. It reconciles effort and effortlessness, injury and forgiveness, control and surrender, awareness of defects and unconditional love.

The Self is unconditionally pure, which is all-inclusive love.

The work you must do is to incarnate and display this unconditional love that lives in you, and that wants to be visible.

The Self is always and already whole and perfect.

Psychological work changes us; spiritual work reveals us.

Spiritual work consists of a set of practices that enable us to transform, but without any guarantee.

These practices are: meditation, body disciplines, imaging, poetry, archetypal dream work, ritual, attention to inner wisdom, etc.

In mythology, stories tell about heroes going on journeys across dangerous places with obstacles, and they eventually return home with more knowledge and wisdom.

These stories have three phases:

  1. Departure: we let go of an attachment to illusions. It releases us from fear.
  2. Struggle: we work to become clear and responsible, toward integration.
  3. Return: we get a higher consciousness of our real identity as unconditional love (return to our original wholeness). The transformation has succeeded.

This is a simple metaphor for what happens inside of us as we evolve from the neurotic ego through the healthy ego to the spiritual self.

The neurotic Ego wants to keep control and fears the Self, because the Self accepts things as they are. Ironically, the scared ego fears the fearless Self -> the ego sabotages our integration.

Departure and Struggle

We are caught in ego when we are conditioned by compulsions to grasp and hold onto what we falsely imagine will make us happy or keep us happy.

We then feel compelled to stay in control of this territory we fought hard to gain.

To break free, you need to let go of the following illusions:

  • I am a solid entity separate from everything else around me. This belief explains why you distinguish “I” VS “they”, “good” VS “bad”, etc. This belief is also responsible for the conflict because you demand that other people change to fit your own template. As you progress in consciousness, you realize that everything is in fact, united.
  • There is something out there that can fulfill my longing and answer my needs, and this something can last forever. Bliss isn’t a commodity, and it’s not to be found externally. Bliss is already there, internally. But you’re missing it.
  • I need to be in control to survive. We fear changes, new experiences, the idea of overwhelming feelings, losing others’ approval, etc. All fear is fear of adulthood: confronting realities, leaving things as they are.

We never voluntarily let go of control. Something happens and then we understand we were never in control anyway.

Losses (or failure) are therefore necessary.

  • I deserve to be taken care of like I was as a child: entitlement is the last illusion to let go of. You may believe that everyone should trust you, love you, treat you well, and become angry when people don’t take you seriously, or love you unconditionally.

Our entitlement becomes humility in the face of the conditions of existence.

You then begin to understand that the bad experiences you had will help you build yourself if you integrate them instead of interrupting them.


  • Loss: Grivering (integrating) VS Denying, blaming (rejecting)
  • Rejection: Grieving and taking it as information VS Losing self-esteem, avenging
  • Making mistakes: Amending VS Blaming, lying
  • Natural disaster: Rebuilding VS Victimizing yourself

Effort and Grace

In mythology, heroes go on an adventure because:

  • They have lost something
  • They’re depressed
  • They made a mistake
  • They have been wounded
  • They really want to
  • They feel it’s their mission

When these things happen to us, we yearn for change too – we want an adventure.

Everything is meant to be lost, that the soul may stand in unhampered nothingness.

Loss enables you to gain!

To cooperate with the call is to let go of illusions and integrate whatever happens by personal work.

That is, you must let go, on one hand, the false things you believe, and integrate, on the other, the things that happen to you.

Heroes that do that always receive help from a mentor, a fairy, a God, or anything like that.

In psychology, you simply become stronger as you become more conscious.

Return with the Light

To return is to achieve our destiny.

It happens when you become conscious of the unconscious power within you.

The neurotic ego is transformed and serves the Self.

The Self is the treasure you bring back from your quest as you have realized your oneness with humanity and nature.

This makes the love you have unconditional and universal -> love becomes your true identity beyond ego.

Part One: Personal Work

Chapter 1: Growing Pains & Growing Up

Basic Needs

When babies are born, they need a high amount of love, safety, acceptance, freedom, attention, validation, and physical holding to grow up with a healthy identity.

-> the basis of identity is love.

These needs are felt and remembered by every cell of your body.

Yet these needs can be fulfilled only in childhood. In adulthood, these needs can only be fulfilled partially since they are no longer connected to our survival.

The Adult Whose Needs Were Mostly Met In Childhood

  • Is satisfied with his life and his relationship
  • Knows how to love yet will not tolerate being abused
  • Trusts himself first

The Adult Whose Needs Were Not Met In Childhood

  • Exaggerates his needs that become insatiable and addictive
  • Remains stuck in situations and relationships that reenact the original hurt and rejection
  • Does not notice how unhappy or abused he is
  • Does not show, feel, or share feelings
  • Repeats the childhood mistake of equating negative attention with love
  • Cannot receive the love of others because he didn’t as a child either

The Child Within

Our problem is not that as children our needs were unmet, but that as adults they are still unmourned!

We never really left the hurt child, still crying for what he missed and wanting to get rid of the neediness in every relationship.

Neediness isn’t solved by getting stuff from others; it is solved by grieving the past and connecting to our inner source of nurturance.

True/False Self: Unconditional/Conditional Self

Our parents taught us how to behave according to their own fears, which has transformed our True Self into a False Self.

The False Self was designed to fit our parents’ approval so we’d be accepted in the family. We learned that this False Self, contrived by the limits and boundaries imposed on us, was the only person we could be that was worth loving.

Such “boundaries” became the long-standing habits and patterns that have been our limitations ever since.

In a way, the love you gained from your parents for being your False Self wasn’t for you: it was for that False Self.

Once we accept this loss, we release our inner True Self, live according to who we are, and notice how better we feel about ourselves.

People that are scared to reveal their True Self think that if people really knew them, they wouldn’t like them.

This should be changed to: “I am free enough to want everything I say and do to reveal me as I am. I love being seen as I am.”

Relationships in Adulthood

We all received love differently as children (from attention, touching, talking, playing, etc). As adults, we feel genuinely loves when someone shows us love that exact same way.

As a result, relationships work best when partners know how the other likes to be shown love.

While you can ask for love, you cannot expect everyone to meet your primal needs for it.

We all leave childhood with unmet needs, and so we’re doomed to be stuck in a cycle of trying to get them met.

The untreated traumas of childhood become the frustrating dramas of adulthood.

Eg: fantasizing about a perfect partner, staying in relationships that disappoint, or the constant drama about the same things.

We try very hard to get from other people what we missed. What we missed cannot be obtained anymore, it can only be let go.

Only then can you relate to adults, as adults.

Adults don’t seek to meet their unmet needs This type of behavior only recreates the childhood drama – it doesn’t solve it.

Only personal inner responsibility and griefwork lets the curtain finally fall.

Your body memorized scenarios of terror and abuse, but you don’t necessarily remember them. You just behave in such a way in your relationships, these are all the hints you’re getting. These hints reveal themselves when people get closer, or when you experience that you don’t like to ever be alone, etc.

When we finally get the opportunity to express ourselves, memories come back, we express them, which enables us to process and release the pain associated with them.

A healthy adult knows when he has a real conflict, or when his conflict comes from his past.

We want to hold on to the love we have received in the past, and let go of the pain from the same era.

What we should do in fact is to accept the love we receive in the present, and work through the pain we suffered in the past.

The love and the pain of the present are directly connected to the love and the pain of the past.

Mourning And Letting Go

Mourning is the appropriate thing to do when we lose something.

It goes through the following stages:

I. Reminiscence about any pain, abandonment, perfidy, or abuse we saw and/or felt. A sense of our deprivation is enough.

II. Full acknowledgment, experiencing, and expression of feelings (e.g. sadness, hurt, anger, fear), so that resolution (catharsis) occurs.

It’s important to say goodbye throughout the process of grieving.

Betrayal, abandonment, rejection, disappointment, humiliation, isolation, etc. are not feelings but beliefs. Each of these judgments keeps us caught in our story and blinded to the bare fact of loss.

Each of these beliefs justifies your hurt ego. They distract you from the true feelings of grief.

III. Healing of memories by reexperiencing them with compassion and with power, by imagining yourself speaking up self-protectively to abuse.

You do so with the following affirmation, divided into six steps.

  1. Remembering a loss with sadness and anger. “Loss” means any specific lack of fulfillment of a need, abuse, humiliation, rejection, or neglect.
  2. This teaches you to learn self-reliant ways to compensate for your loss. Remember and congratulate yourself for the ways you found to take care of yourself in childhood. Acknowledge that in a way, your wounds were a gift: eg: you had to be betrayed by your brother before you could achieve your destiny.
  3. Imagine yourself speaking up assertively and effectively as a child. Imagine one of these scenes of abuse. Now imagine yourself acting with full assertiveness and self-protection in that scene. This is reexperiencing as a powerful being, no longer as a victim.
  4. Forgive your parents. When you can do so, you likely solved your trauma. Forgiveness can only come after anger and sadness.
  5. Give up on the idea that others should fulfill this need for you.
  6. Take care of this need by yourself as well as you did when you imagined doing it.


• I am and feel sad and angry that my parent(s) failed to stand up for me.
• I am thankful that thereby I began to learn to stand up for myself.
• I imagine speaking up successfully in childhood.
• I forgive my parents for failing to stand up for me.
• I drop the expectation of getting others to stand up for me now (though I appreciate it
when they do).
• Now I stand up for myself with full power and effectiveness.

IV. Get a ritual that shows you have accomplished your work. Eg: write about the memory, burn it, then plant a tree with the ashes (and say goodbye).

V. Go on with your life. You are no longer afraid to be kind to yourself, to treat yourself well, or to stop depriving yourself.

Only those who can take care of themselves are free from the two main obstacles to adult relating: being needy or care-taking others.

Grieving helps you solve your problem both in the past and present. If your problem has not been solved in the present, you haven’t solved it entirely.


Mourning may appear terrifying, but it’s actually liberating.

Chapter 2: Assertiveness Skills

Assertiveness is the capacity to:

  • Be clear about your feelings, choices, and agenda
  • Ask for what you want
  • Take responsibility for your feelings and behavior

Helpful Principles

Maybe you learned as a child that you should not:

  • Show how you feel
  • Give and receive openly
  • Ask for things directly
  • Give your opinions
  • Take care of your own interests
  • Say “no” to what you do not want
  • Act as if you deserved abundance

These prevent you from reaching your own power.

In the beginning, when you’re being assertive, you may feel rude, or selfish.

Don’t listen to the voice in your head that makes you feel guilty for being assertive. Acting assertively will eventually silence the voice and your self-esteem will improve.

It’s important, when being assertive, to act as if you were already the healthiest person you could ever be.

Don’t wait.

Act while you fear, don’t wait to stop being scared.

When we “act as if”, we are already more advanced than we think.

We are playing with an old self-image and are creating a new one.

The art in assertiveness is to ask strongly for what you want and then to let go of it if the answer is No.

Passive people don’t ask. Aggressive people demand or manipulate. Assertive people just ask.

In the beginning, it may look like aggression to other people. If so, tone down your tone a little.

No one creates your feelings. You are the master of your conditions. Don’t see yourself as a victim of other people.

Taking responsibility always leads to a revelation of what your next step needs to be.

Choose to be informed rather than affected by others’ behavior.

You may ask people to understand, hear, and acknowledge your feelings, but you do not need their validation. Your feelings stand on their own merit, and every time you express them you validate yourself.

Assertiveness may seem risky because you won’t be in control of other people. Wanting to control people is due to fear.

I. Assertiveness: Owning Your Power: The Way of the Healthy Ego

  1. Be clear: say yes when you mean yes, no when you mean no, and maybe when you mean maybe.
  2. Ask for what you want
  3. Take responsibility: Accept that others can make assertions to you; admit your mistakes, oversights, and offenses, and make amends.

II. Passivity: Giving Your Power Away the Way of the Fearful Ego

Passivity is:

  • Refusing to make a decision because of what might happen to you
  • Not dealing with other people’s hurtful behavior
  • Over-politeness: putting other people first
  • Acting because “you have to”
  • Smoothing over situations so that the real feelings do not emerge
  • Over-commitment: doing too much for too long for others
  • Abandoning yourself due to past abuse which you judge justifiable

What we are not changing, we are choosing.

III. Aggressiveness: Changing Power to Control the Way of the Belligerent Ego

Aggressiveness is:

  • Attempting to control or manipulate others.
  • Putting others down with insults, blame, or sarcasm.
  • Rescuing others: doing for other people what they can do for themselves.
  • Emotional or physical violence.
  • Competitiveness and attempts to prove people wrong.
  • Acting spitefully or vengefully toward people who are rude or hurtful to you.

Basic Rights of the Assertive Person

  • Ask 100% of what you want to 100% of people 100% of the time.
  • To not be hurt by anyone, whether emotionally, or physically.
  • Changing your mind or making mistakes.
  • To decide whether or not you want to help others fix their problems or take care of their need.
  • Saying “no” or “maybe” to a request.
  • To make an illogical decision.
  • To have secrets.
  • To have the right not to explain yourself.

To become assertive, you need to get rid of your fear, anger, and guilt. The three next chapters will deal with this.

Chapter 3: Fear: Challenge To Adulthood I


Fear is the feeling that arises in response to present danger. It is a No to what seems unabsorbable. Like all feelings, fear is based on a subjective belief that a certain stimulus poses a threat.

Appropriate fear leads to a fight-or-flight response.

Neurotic fear uses the fight-or-flight response, but never actually engages in it.

Neurotic fear shows us what we have failed to integrate.

Eg: fear of water is failing to integrate how to swim

Negative Excitement

Neurotic fear is unintegrated excitement. The energy in fear is simply blocked excitement that can be released by wholehearted, active engagement with the realities that threaten us.

Negative excitement is a stressful form of pain in which we both fear and desire the same object at the same time.

It’s addictive and comes from a dramatic complication in our childhood.

Negative excitement can keep us stuck for years in dysfunctional, abusive, or self-defeating circumstances.

It sometimes feels like going after a purpose since there is always drama.

When the object of our negative excitement is gone, we may feel depressed.

The best way to treat negative excitement is to see it as an addiction and work on it with a twelve-step program.


Every fear and addiction is upheld and maintained by rationalizations, reasons used to prevent change.

Rationalization maintains fear because:

  1. It helps us keep in control by protecting us from surprises.
  2. Rationalization prevents you from reaching adult solutions. You are too attached to your beliefs.
  3. We keep fearing what we refuse to confront. Rationalizing maintains fear.

Fear of Other People

What happens when we get scared of certain people?

  • You fear the fear they inspire. The only way to fight back is simply to mention the fear out loud. You can exaggerate. Eg: I am afraid that if you reject me, I will die!
  • Some people may be afraid of us. The best is to ask directly: Are you afraid that I might……?
  • Some people will elicit in others parental or childhood terrors. We may be too afraid to even defend ourselves. In that case, explore the origin of the fear, and do the griefwork described above.
  • Some people scare us due to a part of our Shadow we have not integrated into ourselves. We will explore this more in chapter 10.

Working on Neurotic Fears

  1. Admit your fear to yourself or to someone you trust. Admission cuts through denial.
  2. Feel the fear fully. Don’t suppress it or run away from it.
  3. Acting due to fear is cowardice. Acting in spite of fear is bravery. Act despite the fear.

Make sure you breathe deeply, think about something that increases serenity, and ask for support from someone you trust.


The approach highlighted above integrates what you fear so you don’t feel it anymore.

The energy the fear sucked is reinvested in your life. Once you have worked through your fear, you feel happier.

Every fear blocks a capacity; every integration of fear reveals and accesses a capacity.

image 4
Every fear blocks a capacity; every integration of fear reveals and accesses a capacity. Illustration from the book.

Chapter 4: Anger: Challenge To Adulthood II


Anger is a natural human feeling that everyone experiences often and that needs to be expressed to maintain psychological health. (..) It is a signal that something I value is in jeopardy.

The physical energy of anger comes from the “fight” from the fight or flight response. The psychological energy comes from the (real or not) sense of threat.

Anger can be expressed actively (raising your voice) or passively (passive-aggressive anger: tardiness, gossip, silence, refusal to cooperate, absence, rejection, malice to cause pain). Passive-aggressive anger isn’t a way to behave as an adult.

Strongly expressed anger is called rage. Strongly held anger is called hate. Unexpressed anger is resentment.

When anger is repressed and internalized, it becomes depression.

When anger is consciously suppressed, we choose not to know or show it. The motivation is usually fear but we seldom acknowledge the fear. Instead we rationalize the suppression as politeness or social amenity, configuring the expression of anger as unnecessary.

Fear of Anger

Some people fear expressing their anger due to:

  1. Not being loved anymore as a child when they expressed anger. However, anger is a valid feeling, and can coexist with love.
  2. Anger can be dangerous as it may have preceded violence, physical, or emotional. However, anger followed by violence resembles more drama than anger.

Drama and Anger

Anger is a true feeling. Drama is avoiding the real feeling. It takes lots of work to switch drama for anger because the neurotic ego loves drama.

But the adult functional ego wants to express feelings as they are.

image 5
Illustration from the book. Drama vs anger.

It is often said that anger masks other feelings, but it doesn’t. Drama does. Anger is a short emotion. What people hold onto is not anger, but a set of stories that generate drama.

Anger and Belief

Anger is caused by how we interpret events.

  1. An action occurs: what happens.
  2. Your beliefs interpret the action: what you believe.
  3. You get angry: what you feel.

-> anger is our own responsibility. 1 causes 2, and 2 causes 3. 1 does not cause 3.

Working on Anger

The way to deal with anger is to identify which belief is responsible for it.


  1. You didn’t keep your promise
  2. I expected to be treated fairly and that you’d be honest
  3. I became angry

-> entitlement, expectation, betrayal, and insult are broken promises, and they tend to make people angry.

Compare these beliefs with your own history, particularly from childhood.

If you were betrayed or insulted a lot in the past, betrayal, and insult today will make you angry.

-> anger shows you your old wounds.

Entitlement, expectation, and insult are neurotic ego issues.

How to deal with entitlement: adults ask for what they want and understand that people sometimes deliver, and sometimes do not.

How to deal with expectations: drop them and ask for agreements instead. Expectations is you “hoping” for something. Agreements are mutual.

Adults ask for apologies when they are insulted and push away those that refuse to apologize.

Affirming Anger

  1. Accept anger as healthy and examine the belief behind it and the personal
    history it evokes.
  2. Take responsibility for the feeling as legitimate and totally yours.
  3. Express your anger but choose not to act out aggressively by retaliation,
    vindictiveness, or malice.
  4. Embrace more adult beliefs about yourself and the world so that your anger now
    arises from an informed sense of justice without the “insulted, arrogant ego”

Lively Energy

Use the energy of anger to solve the problem that causes the anger.

Chapter 5: Guilt: Challenge To Adulthood III

Appropriate Guilt And My Truth

Appropriate guilt precedes or follows unethical behavior. It flows from an internal organismic resonance (conscience) that evaluates action in accord with personal conviction.

Feeling guilty is our functional ego telling us that we’re out of line.

We let the guilt go with the admission of our wrongs and restitution.

Neurotic Guilt And Their Truth

Neurotic guilt is a learned (non-organismic) response to an external injunction or demand that we have internalized.

Neurotic guilt happens when others make us feel guilty for something we don’t believe is bad.

This guilt hangs on and leads to a conflict.

Guilt is not a feeling, but a belief or a judgment.

Appropriate guilt is self-confronting and leads to resolution. It is resolved with accountability. Neurotic guilt is self-defeating and leads to unproductive pain. It is revolved with punishment.

Guilt Tricks

Neurotic guilt is a tactic we use to avoid feelings and truths.

  1. Disguise for fear: we may feel guilty after a choice due to fear of assertiveness, of not being loved (if someone we like didn’t like the choice), or fear of reprisal for knowing ourselves in a new way.
  2. A Downplay of Responsibility: neurotic guilt forces you to take one path only. This guilt can also be there to minimize the power of choice. We feel less responsible if we also feel guilty, which creates a false sense of righteousness.
  3. A Mask for Anger: If we believe it is wrong to get angry at someone (the Pope, for example), and we end up being angry at the Pope for something the Pope has done, we may disguise this anger in guilt instead.
  4. A Dodge of Truth: Maybe you felt guilty for not meeting your parents’ expectations, not accepting that they didn’t love you, etc. This way, the act of love becomes your fault.

Working With Guilt: Moving Toward Health

Neurotic Guilt

You can’t eliminate it completely. So let it be, just do not take it into account -> make choices with guilt, not because of it.

Think about what your guilt may cover up, then acknowledge it as a signal of some avoidance.

Fear is blocked excitement; anger is ignited excitement; guilt is mistaken excitement.

Appropriate guilt

Don’t eliminate it, it may be dangerous.

Work on it with the triple A technique.

  1. Admission: Admit that you hurt the other person, or acted irresponsibly.
  2. Amendment: Make amends in two ways. First, stop the behavior. Second, make restitution.
  3. Affirmation: congratulate yourself for acting like an adult.

-> you become compassionate towards others and yourself.

Chapter 6: Values and Self-Esteem

A psychologically and spiritually conscious person acts from a consistent—though always evolving—sense of values. To value is to esteem the worth of something, to declare that it has meaning for us.

Characteristics of Values

  1. Values arise out of you in a natural way.
  2. Your values were chosen among alternatives. To know your values is to know yourself.
  3. Your values are revealed to others through your behavior.
  4. You are more capable of embodying your values as they become more conscious.
  5. The deep-seated, inflexible beliefs about how the world, you, or other people ought to be are based on rigid judgment or fears, not value. This keeps you unfree and prevents the emergence of the self.

Judgment and closure are the greatest dangers to one who wants to retain the psychic mobility of an explorer.

Personal Values and Identity

Our values are who we are. If we act out of fear, it means we are not respecting fully our values yet.

As a result, we feel unworthy and our self-esteem decreases.

Acting out of value though does not mean that our actions and motives are pure either. An altruistic decision will always contain some selfish motivation – we’re only humans.

Awakening Values

Some of our values have become dormant. Here’s how you awaken them:

  • Trust your intuitions about what to do, and what not to.
  • Make more choices to feel good about yourself.
  • Check out motivations and choices with someone you trust.
  • Notice which values you admire in others and act with these.
  • As you increasingly act based on values, self-esteem flourishes.

Part Two: Relationships Issues

Chapter 7: Maintaining Personal Boundaries in Relationships

In the beginning, we were “one with our mother”. The first thing we did as we grew up was to establish boundaries between ourselves and her, first through birth, when we became split from her, then as we kept on growing up.

This splitting process may have felt like abandonment, loss of power, and security to some people.

And this may be why you hold onto people so much today.

Boundaries aren’t abandonment: they’re a condition for the relationship to grow.

Boundaries lead to interdependence instead of dependency; personal accountability instead of entitlement; honor of another instead of control.

Boundaries do not create alienation; they safeguard contiguity.

Giving up boundaries means abandoning ourselves to others. This prevents the establishment of a healthy relationship. The inner core of yourself must remain intact in a relationship, or it won’t work.

You can relate to others by being open while still being yourself. It’s great for your self-esteem to be in touch and intact.

In intimate relationships, the ego becomes involved. You care about your partner’s welfare, opinions, and treatment. You are vulnerable to their rejection. This is perfectly normal.

In functional Ego investment, we give power without being diminished (vulnerable as lovers, not as victims). Committing to someone does not mean losing boundaries.

In neurotic Ego investment, we lose the ability to protect ourselves. The actions of our partners determine our worth and state of mind, rather than merely affecting us. We live by reacting instead of by taking action.

Those who were abused in childhood and had no way of defending themselves, have the most trouble in making a healthy ego investment in relationships.

This is how childhood can impact adult lives.

They never learned to establish boundaries on one hand, and the need to relate to others prevents them from building a functional ego on the other.

The only way forward is to grieve past abuse.

You become co-dependent when you can’t let go of what doesn’t work but it feels like you can’t let go of what could work.

You mix up what doesn’t, with what could.

You maintain personal boundaries by:

  • Asking directly for what you want.
  • Practice inner self-nurturance. You may need therapy for that.
  • Maintain a bottom line: once people have hurt you “enough”, make a final decision on their status.
  • Understand others can never be 100% trusted. The only person that can is you.
image 6
Boundaries in relationships. Illustrations from the book.

Chapter 8: Intimacy

Elements of True Intimacy

Here’s what we are able to offer once our ego is healthy:

  • Self-nurturance so we’re not needy and dependent on other people.
  • Trust that we will receive loyalty and handle betrayal. Relationships are not built on trust but unconditional love, knowing that the person we love will change.
  • The ability to give and receive: disclosing your feelings and receiving the love from your partner.
  • Acceptance of the other’s needs.
  • Genuine listening and focus on your partner.
  • The ability to simultaneously be angry at the person while still loving them.
  • A commitment to a bond that keeps the relationship together whatever happens.

Fears That Arise in Intimate Relationships

Primal childhood fears are carried into adulthood.

  1. Fear of being abandoned: this makes us cling or be possessive.
  2. Fear of being engulfed and losing oneself: then we distance ourselves from others.

These fears are normal. But when their intensity changes our behavior, then they become problematic.

Adult relating is in the capacity to commit ourselves without being immobilized by the fear of abandonment if someone pulls too far away, or by the fear of engulfment if someone gets too close.

These fears are old fears but they still control our present.

They’re also false.

An adult cannot be abandoned, only left. He cannot be engulfed, only crowded!

image 7
Illustration from the book.
image 8
Illustration from the book.

Working With Abandonment And Engulfment Fears

Some relationships stimulate these fears, others allay them.

When it is stimulated, you can work through it, and when it is allayed, you can risk becoming more open.

You know a relationship matters to you in a healthy way when you are willing to act over the awkwardness of the small but scary steps that lead to change:

  • Which of your behaviors leads to problems? Admit the fear behind the behavior, and admit the fact that you need to change.
  • Share those fears with your partner even if you fear losing them doing so. Your self-esteem will increase, and you will find out your partner’s true intentions.
  • Fears tend to come after the romantic phase in the relationship, under both fear and thrill. These can be addictive. Admitting it will free you from it.
  • If you fear abandonment, let your partner slowly drift away, without their reassurance. Notice how you survive.
  • If you fear engulfment, let them get closer to one inch per day.
  • Fear of engulfment is the fear that closeness will diminish you. Deal with it by freely giving yourself: show a feeling, admit a vulnerability, or self-disclose.
  • Fear of abandonment is fear of being alone and self-confront. Set a time daily when you spend some time alone.

If there is a fear of falling, the only safety consists in deliberately jumping.

Karl Jung

Practical Skills For Intimacy

Processing Feelings

Processing the feelings that arise from events leads to a sense of closure and getting on with our life. We depart from the story, struggle through the process, and reintegrate at a higher level of functioning.

How to process feelings:

  1. Identify the underlying feeling and name it to yourself. Explore its origin. Does it arise solely from the present context or does it trigger your own past distress from early life or from a pattern of old experiences?
  2. Once you have understood and identified it, express it to your partner, verbally and non-verbally
  3. Ask your partner to acknowledge the feeling and the role they have in triggering it.

Containing Our Feelings

Feelings are meant to be expressed and contained. If someone hurts you, don’t be vengeful by expressing that feeling in order to hurt. This is childish. Take responsibility for the feeling, voice your disagreement, but don’t blame the other person.

Take care of the pain yourself by:

  1. Accepting what the other person has done.
  2. Feeling the pain, without acting on it.
  3. Think about which childhood events does this feeling/event remind you of.

Why not react? Because the pain of the present feeling calls on childhood pains. To release the present pain, you need to grieve the past feeling. The solution is hence in the past, not the present.

Vengeance in general prevents you from grieving.

Solving your resentment enables you to commit more. Avenging it prevents commitment.

To let go of the need for retribution releases you from the pain more powerfully than vengeance ever can.

Every relationship requires conflict before commitment. Adults recognize that feeling hurt is universal, always expected, never inflicted.

Your purpose then is to handle pain, not run away from it.

It takes just such evil and painful things for the great emancipation to occur.


When hurt is too much, it becomes abuse.


Don’t hold honest feedback. Be willing to receive it too.

Being Right

Give your partner the chance of being right when it comes to their perception of you.

Sense of Being Owed to

The abiding sense that you are being cheated or that something is owed to you can lead you to take from others unfairly or to be ungenerous about giving.

Simple freely give to those you think owe you something to get rid of this feeling.

Sense of Owing

The abiding sense that you owe something can lead you to be people-pleasing, overly generous, or always to “settle for less” in relationships. You may find that you cannot receive from others unless you owe them something. You may believe that you have to purchase others’ affection, that it will never come unsought or unbought. (The price is always our own self-emergence.) ‘Work with this by asking for a stringless gift—one that requires no gift in return—from those you think you are indebted to.


Every one of people’s negative qualities is a form of pain. No one wants to be afraid to be close to other people…

Compassion helps you understand the issues of your partner and adapt to them, while their compassion towards your compassion may mean they will work on these issues to make it easier to live with them.

Time Out

It’s nice to break the routine and be with your partner for every minute of the day, or to do the opposite, and get away for a bit.


In matters of the heart, thinking (ironically) leads only to more confusion.

What works best is simply noticing:

  • What you feel
  • How you act
  • What your intuition says

Trust this process. When it comes to deciding to be with someone, take your time.

At the End

There are many steps of loss throughout relationships that didn’t work out.

Certitude the relationship will work -> Hope it can work -> Struggle to make it work -> Realization that it will not work.

Ideally, each partner should grieve all of these losses as they come. Most don’t, and when they do need to grieve, it’s too much, and they become bitter and resentful. The breakup becomes highly emotional and violent.

Griefework helps build intimacy, which, ironically, strengthens the relationship.

Part Three: Integration

Chapter 9: The Art of Flexible Integration

The process of personal integration is one of containment, not of elimination. We have integrated a healthy ego when we comfortably contain the full spectrum of our thoughts and behavior, both the positive and the negative.

Don’t aim at the total elimination of your shortcomings – that won’t happen.

To integrate is to contain comfortably both ends of the spectrum of change. It is a rearranging of the proportions of life. Now we are more open and less guarded but both styles still appear in our overall behavior.

Once we acknowledge that true change does not have to mean becoming totally different we become lighter and happier.

The idea is to increase positive attributes, and decrease the negative ones.

Instead of attempting to rid myself of my old beliefs, I simply no longer act on them.

  • Accept challenges while still feeling afraid.
  • Trust someone while still doubting.
  • Choose pleasures that may have an element of risk.
  • Let go of punitiveness while still feeling vengeful.

You’re not integrating when you reduce all of your feelings to a single statement. Eg: “I am not a good person”.

This is a childish and inflexible version of yourself. A more accurate statement would be “sometimes people can count on me, but sometimes I let them down”.

Don’t try to be perfect as you will fail – and it will only create more suffering.

Chapter 10: Befriending the Shadow

The Shadow is the archetype of the unconscious that represents the feared, denied, unaddressed, forbidden, and excluded parts of ourselves.

This is usually power that we have not dared to integrate into ourselves and that we project onto others and strongly react to.

The negative Shadow is composed of our own unacceptable and disowned defects that we strongly condemn in others. What we are unconscious of in ourselves, we become emphatically conscious of in others.

The positive Shadow is composed of the good qualities hidden in us that we strongly admire or envy in others. We consciously respect in them what we inwardly disavow in ourselves.

The Shadow turns some of our “I” (what is really ourselves) into “It” (which seems to exist only in others). Befriending the Shadow means restoring our “I” to its wholeness by taking back—recollecting—all our projected, banished parts.

When we exclude a part of ourselves, it only grows and hurts us.

When we acknowledge these parts, we can let them back in. We drop our defenses as we admit that the negative out, is now in.

When Beauty accepts the Beast, he transforms into a Prince.

Integrating the Positive Shadow

To integrate the positive Shadow is to acknowledge our own untapped potential behind the awe we have of others.

First, we act “as if”, but we then access our hidden powers and grow.

Integrating the Negative Shadow

To integrate the negative Shadow, we admit—without at first seeing the justification —that we have the very characteristic we so disparage in someone else.

We then see the positive counterpart of that negative quality. In everything negative, there is something positive.

Negative only means not yet redeemed by conscious integration.

What follows is a list of counterparts of the Negative shadow. Look at the items you strongly hate in others, and consider the items you are not using enough yourself.

how to be an adult
Working on your shadow.

Here’s how you work on your shadow. Look at the list of things that make you angry in other people.

Then follow the example:

  • I am strongly upset when others are controlling.
  • I acknowledge that I am controlling, though I may not see it right now.
  • I have efficiency and leadership skills that I have not fully used.
  • I choose to act as if I had a high level of leadership ability without being controlling.

A shift will then happen.

  • You will no longer be upset when others are controlling.
  • You will stop being controlling.
  • You will access your leadership skills.

Chapter 11: Dreams And Destiny: Seeing In The Dark

Dreams are messages from the unconscious that show us where we are on our path, where our struggle lies, and where our destiny awaits us.

Dreams are the light of Consciousness helping us gain access to parts of ourselves we normally don’t have access to.

Dreams reconcile consciousness and unconsciousness. They are agents of change.

Recurrent Dreams

Recurrent dreams help:

  • To compensate for a deficiency in conscious life.
  • To anticipate a change, transition, or spiritual transformation.
  • To assimilate a physical or psychological trauma (since a shock is best absorbed by repetition).
  • To demonstrate normal anxiety about unpreparedness, lateness, loss of control, world disaster, immobility, or rescue fantasies.

Let the dream show you where your anxiety lies. The recurrent dream will stop once integration succeeds.


A nightmare is shock therapy from within. It’s important to let the nightmare continue, confront the scary characters, and ask about their purpose (impossible within the dream itself).

You can do so by reimagining the dream upon waking up.

Active Imagination

Active Imagination is a Jungian technique for engaging with symbols of the unconscious and locating their unique meanings. It is cooperative work between conscious and unconscious whereby we dialogue with dream figures to discover and activate their message.

Consciously exploring an image that has arisen from the unconscious is to experience the deepest part of oneself. Active Imagination is to the Self what therapeutic processing is to the Ego. Images are to the Self what thoughts are to the mind.

In Active Imagination, symbols reveal and activate hidden truths about ourselves. Anything that can be visualized and then engaged imaginatively thereby becomes a vehicle of self-disclosure and spiritual transformation.

Here’s a technique to use Active Imagination:

  1. Empty your mind with meditation.
  2. Affirm a willingness to listen to your unconscious: I open myself to inner messages; I am ready to know what I need to know; I acknowledge my imagination as a faculty of healing.
  3. Dialogue with the image in writing, drawing, or movement without interpreting it.
    1. Look at the image as you receive it, not as you prefer it.
    2. Hear what it says with no prompting
    3. Respond without recourse to logic or discursive thought.
    4. Be spontaneous.
  4. Create an affirmation that declares any result that has come from this process, e.g. “I forgive more and more.”
  5. Create a ritual or action that enacts the result and honors the gift received.
    1. Draw a circle with a picture or word for the image in it and with eight lines as tangents to it. Write an association with the image on each line. Do not use synonyms, definitions, or simple descriptions. Do not base one word on the preceding word, as in free association. Return on each of the eight lines to the original image and let a word or phrase arise spontaneously.
    2. Choose the most striking or surprising phrase of the eight that has been evoked.
    3. Turn it into a question to you or a request of you.
    4. Respond without thinking.
    5. Evoke the power of the original image to translate this response into a practical plan.

Chapter 12: Ego/self Axis: Where Psychology And Spirituality Meet

The Synergy Of Ego And Self

Psychological work is a linear chronology leading us from problem to solution, from inadequacy to competence, from dysfunction to high level functioning. Spiritual work is a journey from the compelling attachments of the neurotic ego to a Here-and-Now centered Self.

Both of them are necessary and should proceed separately.

The ego’s ultimate work is to create enough sane ground so that the Self can grow its single imperishable Rose that lives by light.

Ego and spiritual work combine effort (going through pain) and effortless shift (gain through grace).

The steps we take in ego work shift us gently and automatically into insight and into healthier ways of being and relating. Spiritual work shifts us into enlightenment.

Both psychological and spiritual work is dealing with childhood trauma. Psychologically, we work through the emotions by grieving the past and by self-parenting. Spiritually, we work with the past experiences as present healing images.

Axis For Individuation

Self-realization only happens when spirituality takes ego and body into account, and when the functional ego is aligned with the Self.

In this case, the Ego never holds onto anything. It grasps and lets go. Gives, and receives.

Then the Self accepts the past, present, and future.


Meditation helps us get in touch with the part of ourselves that enables us to do nothing. It is the complete opposite of the state known as “focusing on a goal”.

We do not meditate to become serene, but only to be here now.

You do so by letting go of everything that prevents you from being here now.

You don’t have to be caught in the drama in your head – you can just watch it.

Steps In Psychological Work Leading to Change

  1. Letting go of neurotic ego attachments, control, and entitlement
    1. NOT: “This has to come out my way.”
    2. BUT: “I let go of having to have this come out my way.”
  2. Unconditional acceptance of what is occurring in events, feelings, circumstances: “I allow this fully. I trust it without having to know why.”

Shifts In Spiritual Self Leading to Transformation

  1. Something new appears and with it the…
  2. Power to act in accord with the exigencies that face me.
  3. Now I have the intuitive vision to see:
    Where I held on and thereby was held back.
    Where I can let go and thereby go on.
    Where I said No and thereby interrupted my journey.
    Where I can say Yes and thereby advance my journey.

Chapter 13: Unconditional Love

Love is our finest human grace. It is unconditioned by expectation, neediness, or the desire to change, control, or rescue anyone.

Our very identity is unconditional love. It is not something to be achieved. It is what we always were and already are. It is experienced uniquely and differently by each of us.

In a very real way, we are who we are because of the love others have shown us. Our every adult asset began as a gift from someone who loved us as we were and thereby encouraged our unique self-emergence.

Love is not an emotion but an unsentimental Being-Here-Now: generously, non-hurtfully, powerfully, truthfully, consciously.

The starting point of our love for others is our sane and fearless love of ourselves.

When we look in the mirror and see a scared face, we are only seeing habit and conditioning. Our real image is of power and love, waiting to be acknowledged.

Our life will always feel strangely deficient until unconditional love happens.

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