Adult Authority

I often hear people talking about how they have trouble with authority. “I don’t like to have someone telling me what to do.” Or, “I have issues with authority, I am sure that it has to do with my parents being too controlling.” And, “I hate the police, they are always just sitting there waiting to catch someone speeding so they can write the ticket!” Surprisingly, when the subject is explored further, the finding is it is not about the actual “orders”, it is more about the feeling of being belittled- as in feeling like a child. That is because there is little understanding about the difference between the Office of Authority and Personal Authority.

The Office of Authority is authority that has been given to a person to help society function. Some examples would be: The citizens of a community give authorization to government representatives to make laws. A person seeking medical help gives the doctor the authority to make medical decisions. A client pays – gives authority- to a lawyer to represent them in court. All of these recognize that individuals can become experts in a specialized field and therefore are worthy of being given authority in that field.

While the Office of Authority is a “granted” authority, Personal Authority is an intrinsic authority in every adult. Now, in the USA, that can be a little confusing as the defining moment of adulthood is murky! Technically, 18 years of age is legal adulthood, but 21 grants more rights… So for this purpose, 18 will be the line defining child vs adult. Everyone over the age of 18 is recognized as an adult. A person who is 55 is no more of an adult then the 18-year-old! Adult is adult! There is no doubt that the experience that comes with more years of life can add maturity, AND adult is adult, there is no such word as “adulter”!

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (NIV).” He is talking about the defining line of personal authority. He is challenging all adults to be adult!

Now, Henry Cloud in his book, Changes that Heal calls Personal Authority – Adult Authority. Cloud defines the role of the family as training up a child to become an authority on their own person. Rather than training up a child focusing only on the “rules” of good behavior – train them to know and understand who they are.  When they cross the line into adulthood, they can recognize their own Personal Adult Authority and feel that they are walking in it.

So, the next time you feel “belittled”, remember, the person across from you is an equal, regardless of their Office of Authority. You are an Adult!


Lilla Marie is a therapist in our Bothell, Washington clinic. She describes her style as developmental, using cognitive/behavioral, gestalt, and various other techniques. She likes to evaluate learning styles and tailor the therapeutic process to each individual. Because Lilla believes that culture impacts every aspect of how we view the world, as well as how we function in relationships, she pays special attention to the cultural values in family-of-origin stories. Lilla has a unique take on homeschooling which allows her to bring fresh insight into families who are transitioning into the public school system.