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