June 25, 2023


Benjamin Franklin said, “Some people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until seventy-five.” When I first read that quote, I was amazed how it coincided with my Resolution Focused Therapy’s (RFT) theory on emotional age being frozen at the time of an unresolved past trauma/life event.  

My collective 3 decades as a therapist has further amazed me on how many of us live in the past, and never focus enough time on the present. Many treatment models try to bring people to the present, however, very few, if any, truly understand what makes that intervention pretty much impossible without resolutions of our pasts.  

I based my theory on my early work and observations with abused children in a locked facility. However, I have come to realize after working with adults, this experience relates to all of us who have unresolved past issues. So, what is the importance of knowing someone’s emotional age? It helps people understand the best way to communicate with them, especially when they are stressed.  

If you have ever wondered why someone seems to act immaturely when angry, stressed, or anxious, let me explain. Traumatic events are not only about past abuse. They pertain to many life events such as death and dying issues, accidents, divorces, natural disasters and so on. Any life event that has emotionally impacted you to the point that it has interfered with everyday functioning is a trauma. This is especially true when we are triggered in the present and go back to that earlier event.  

Have you ever had an argument with someone and suddenly you realized they are acting childish? Or noticed a loved one when stressed begins acting immaturely or childlike in their anguish? Have you ever said no to a relationship partner and suddenly they throw a tantrum? Well, just watch and try to guess their emotional age. If they are acting like a teenager, then that would be the point where something may have happened, and they are emotionally stuck. So, my point is do not expect that person to act maturely or like an adult because they are not yet capable of it. At least, not when angered.  

My theory was established after many years of witnessing my clients suffering from unresolved past issues regress back to a past emotional age when triggered (e.g., flashback). Too many survivors “seem to be frozen in time” and when triggered, emotionally react at that point of the trauma. In this quote that age would be 25 even though they are 75 years old.  

It is amazing how a quote made over 200 years ago can capture the essence of people emotionally frozen in time. It validates to me how the symptoms of unresolved traumas/life events are the same, regardless of the details surrounding the traumas. For me personally this has also rung true.  

I am sharing this because too many people suffering from unresolved trauma feels alone and isolated. They need to know that there are many people suffering in the same way. That is why it is so important not to isolate or convince yourselves that “no one will understand.” There are people that not only understand but can be the catalyst that triggers resolution of the past.  

I have also witnessed people emotionally catch up when their pasts are put to rest. I call this the “Slingshot Effect” in my RFT model and have seen people emotionally grow at a rapid pace once freed from their pasts. This slingshot has been true regardless of age. One of my cases was a 6-year-old who was stuck at 6 months old. Once we resolved the past trauma, she gained 5 years in a matter of months. I have many other examples and will share in coming blog posts.  

If you spend your life “Spinning” in the past, you will lose sight of the importance of the present and the future. You will not have any form of healthy life in the present. You will continuously be focused on the past. A perfect example was my event. By being caught up with my death/dying trauma of a loved one caused me to lose 4 years “Spinning”. I have also seen a past client “Spin” for 56 years and personifies Franklin’s quote.  

Do not be “Frozen in Time,” do the work, seek the help, do whatever it takes to put to rest your pasts. It can be done; you just need to start today! 

Mind, Body, Spirit…Balance! 

Vinnie Strumolo, CEO, CCO, LMFT