Running Late?

Are you always late -- whether for a family dinner or a job interview? There might be more meaning behind it than you think!

Woman in a hurry

Joanna grew up with a mother who was always rushing her. From the time she was a little child, her mother would get really angry with her if she was not ready to leave on time.


But it wasn't just dawdling that Joanna was punished for. Joanna's mother wanted control over just about everything regarding Joanna -- such as the clothes she wore, the friends she had, how she spent her time.


Joanna was a good girl and gave in most of the time, except when it came to being on time. Here is where she took a stand and went into resistance mode to not be totally controlled by her mother.

Does this sound like you or someone you know?

Now, as an adult, Joanna still cannot ever be on time. She's late for doctors' appointments, late getting her kids to school, late for movies and plays. No matter how upset or angry her husband and children get over her lateness, nothing budges her determination to be consistently late. Even her own upset with herself has no impact.


In the many years that I've been counseling individuals and couples, I've discovered some very interesting reasons why some people are always late.

1. Small children don't have a very good sense of time

They really can't tell how long something is going to take to do, or how long it takes to get somewhere. Knowing these things is an adult function. People who are always late seem to function from a small child place within rather than as an adult. A child part of them is deciding about time. Not only that, but this small inner child is in rebellion to being controlled.


As soon as an adult part of them, or some other adult says, "We have to leave at 9," the inner rebellious child says ,"You can't control me, I don't have to do what you say." An unconscious power struggle ensues, either between an outside person and the rebellious inner child, or between one's own adult and the rebellious inner child.


As long as this power struggle is unconscious, which is usually is because it was decided upon so long ago, the person will continue to be late no matter how upset with themselves they get. Once they become aware of this inner system, then they can choose to decide about time from an adult part of themselves rather than letting the rebellious child part be in charge of time.

2. Being late can be an unconscious way of expressing anger at being controlled

For example, when Joanna was late to a doctor's appointment, she wasn't angry at the doctor. But, because of her anger at her mother, she was unconsciously angry with anyone expecting her to be on time. She would project her mother's expectations onto the doctor, and then be very defensive when she was late.


When Joanna first started working with me, she was often late for her appointments, and each time she would explain and apologize and defend, as if I was upset. I explained to her that it was her time, that she was paying for it whether or not she showed up, and that I didn't mind the few minutes of paid vacation! When Joanna finally got that I had no expectation or concern regarding when she arrived for her appointment, she had nothing to rebel against except herself. Because her inner child liked coming to see me, she was more often on time.

3. Sometimes people are late because they just don't care about keeping others waiting

They have a sense of entitlement about time -- their time is more important than other people's time. They seem to get some sort of secret pleasure at keeping people waiting. Underlying this is often the same control issue: "You can't control me." Not being controlled becomes far more important than caring about other people.

4. Lateness can also be a way of keeping a person tense and anxious

Why would someone want to be tense and anxious? Because this anxiety might be covering over a more difficult anxiety, such as the anxiety of feeling alone or lonely. Some people prefer to keep themselves rushing around and anxious about being on time than face their deeper, more painful feelings. At least in the case of being late, they are in control of their own anxiety rather than feeling helpless in the face of feeling alone or lonely.


Lateness, as with any other resistance issue, often has many layers to it, but when you are willing to become aware of the issues with compassion toward yourself, you can move out of the rebellious child and into being a loving adult toward yourself.


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Comments on "4 Reasons why you might always be running late"

first time mom December 19, 2008 | 11:56 PM

I just wanted to comment that I completely agree with Annette in obviously knowing as a person we are late and wanting to change's very difficult.. I "WAS" a very ON TIME or even could be considered an "EARLY ON TIMER", person until I became so fed up with people in my life that were ALWAYS LATE...EVERYONE..that I seemed to know or made plans just seemed that it didn't matter, if I was on time or not..I definetly thought about it and knew it wasn't right..but it finally became the way...Then I figured it make it on time..Then I got husband would make me became the same scenario.(sp)?...Then I had my 1st child...that became my excuse??? I finally have been able to get my timing right again. I have been writing way too long.. I will write again if you have questions. good Luck!

Josh in Boston December 19, 2008 | 7:10 AM

@Annette What I do to try and keep on time is I figure out rationally how much time it will take me to get there (ala Google Maps) and then I tell myself I must leave 15 minutes early. That way, it usually works out that I have time to relax before I need to be somewhere and I feel much better about my day and much more in control of my agenda.

Annette in Florida November 30, 2008 | 3:11 PM

This article really opened my eyes quite a bit about myself! I have always been late. I don't want to be. I'm always rushing; even if I try to start early..There always seems to be things I forgot to have ready or done before I leave....even when I make lists to check off ( which I do a lot). I'm so very anxious about applying for jobs;knowing that is always a BIG issue for me. I agree about my inner rebellion about being controlled. My dad,used to want my mother to have all 5 of us children ready for church every Sunday; which was no small feat! Then when it was time to leave, he would be watering the lawn or something...and we would have to wait for him to shower and dress. Meanwhile, we would eventually get ourselves messed up playing and he would start disciplining and yelling at my mom. Unfortunately, my husband is very time oriented. Though, he knew of my lateness before marriage....he constantly harps about it and angers me to know end...lots of probs in my marriage. I am just not sure of how to deal with myself and change a life long habit. I do see a counselor now and then, but we deal with so many other issues. I'd like to have confidence in myself and not be anxious all the time about this.

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