Friday, April 3, 2015

Being 18


I’ve long had the sense of a problem that may not actually exist.  Yet I believe it strongly.  I believe that many terminal teenagers – eighteen year olds – are in a terribly difficult place.  The ones I see in my office are not ready to move on, they cannot deal with the face of adulthood.  They are at an impasse, the end of the road where they stand, but that keeps going on.  I know eighteen year olds who hit that birthday, that high mark, then leak and stumble into empty but intimidating days.

I don’t personally know what it takes to move naturally, happily or peaceably into adulthood.  I didn’t do it, and my young men* are brakes, potholes, empty tanks not vehicles riding into that future.  I submit that real maturity is a very rare thing and that most people yank themselves panicking or sleepwalking or angrily over the divide.

Troubled children of troubled parents grow up too slow or too fast – bleeding wounds or smooth scar tissue – which means that they don’t grow right.  Wishing that the ascendancy to adulthood were true, assuming and thinking it is so, equating the necessity of it with the fact of it, adolescents’ naming ambitions and speaking wisely or hopefully or cynically with sophisticated words doesn’t make it so.  These are still children, needing to be held, needing to be heard, and the wind pulls them but they do not fly out of the nest.

A recent Yahoo! news article** covered the “spate” of suicides at Tulane University.  A “28-page compendium of students’ firsthand accounts” “depicted a campus in a full-blown mental health crisis.  Students struggling with anxiety, crippling depression and other serious mental illnesses said they weren’t receiving the help they needed from the overloaded campus counseling center. . . .”  “Students wrote about falling into a hole of despair, wanting to die, and feeling as if no one at Tulane wanted to help.”  Society’s Sociology 101 bromides fall in line: “growing pressure to get into a good college”; “over-involved” helicopter parents who leave their children enmeshed and helpless; proliferation of psychiatric drugs – lifesavers and prosthetic spirits that enable more youngsters to get to college.  But underlying all of these factors is the developmental material that these families create: Emotionally injured children stop assimilating experience.  The binds of defenses keep them from breathing-in the world.  They contort in quicksand while the world grows around them.

Steven Levenkron makes the premise that “underparenting” is the source of many children’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Lacking the healthy dependency on a "nurturant-authoritative" parent, the child both projects his anxiety upon an unsafe world and soothes it by ritualizing his safety-making.  In 1991, the author wrote that

“Underparenting is on the rise in this nation, and so is OCD.  During the past ten years, the number of reported cases has increased alarmingly, and this rate of increase is almost certain to accelerate in the decade ahead.  We live in an age when millions of parents are so obsessed with making money that they do not have enough time or energy for proper child care, an age when the drive for a fashionable image defined by expensive cars and opulent homes, designer clothes, and flawless faces and figures has driven couples into modes of thinking and ways of living that are separating parents from their children much too early.  This style of living prevents them from ever being close enough; often mothers feel that caring for their children is the lowest part of their day in terms of self-esteem.  . . . .
“All this is disastrous for the nurturing quality in our nation.
“. . . . This means more and more young people struggling with emotional isolation, unable to depend upon anyone or anything but their extraordinary rituals. . . .”***
Sometimes, in inspiration or desperation, I’ll find myself offering one of these youngsters in psycho-existential stasis a lite hallucinogen.  I will say that this traversing is the frightening part.  Get over the rim, soft-land in the adult country, and things will feel better.  Though I've said this in a therapy that may have some magical qualities of re-parenting, I honestly don’t think I know how to get more accurate or eloquent than that.  I believe this is a problem.

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* I see many more older teen males than females.


*** Steven Levenkron, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, Treating and Understanding Crippling Habits, 1991, Warner Books, p. 3.


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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.