Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who am I? The real work of a teenager Part 2

There are many ways that teens work on the process of developing a personal identity. In the last post I explained the process of trial and error also called forming an identity through repudiation and integration. That's the formal jargon. Basically, teens try out a lot of stuff; friends, interests, academic subjects that turn them on or off, religion, personas, hair, and clothing styles, music, and yes even values and beliefs. All those things that make up the kind of person you become as an adult, and that eventually affect life decisions like which college to go to, what career to work towards, who to partner with, the kinds of lifelong friends you make, and the passions and interests that give you joy. They try these things out, hold on to those that feel right, and and then discard those things that feel uncomfortable, like the jeans you buy just cuz they are cool, but only wear once because they are too tight, too low, and that ride up your behind, and end up in the give away pile.

But there are other ways that kids can develop identities that aren't so healthy. The first is something called Identity Foreclosure. Foreclosure is a word we have heard way to much of in the last few years. Foreclosure in identity development also takes something important away.  It is taking away the right to  make your own choices about who you want to become. Perhaps you have a family legacy of a college or a profession. As you look back at your family tree, you see all the guys played football in high school and/or college, or as far back as you remember a certain college was pretty much everyone in your family's alma mater, or you have a family of doctors or lawyers or plumbers or electricians or your family runs a business, and there is an expectation that when you graduate high school or college you join the family business. This is only a problem...if its a problem. I once worked with a young man in therapy. He was really smart and attended an ivy league college, the same one that all the men in his family attended. All the men in this family went on to study and practice medicine, and he followed suit, never really questioning if he enjoyed science, and was interested in medicine as a profession, kind of just went along with the family script. As the end of his first semester in med school came to a close, he became extremely depressed and anxious and ended up being hospitalized for these serious symptoms. After some introspective work he realized he followed the family script because he felt it was expected of him, though he had no interest or passion for medicine. Thank god somewhere in that soul of his, though he couldn't say it aloud, his overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression called a halt to a life that was all wrong for him. He is happily a teacher today. His family was disappointed, and that was their problem. My client found his own way. 

If you have a profession or a college, or a passion or a way of being in this world that has become a family expectation rather than a choice, then there could be a problem. If your teen/young adult seems truly to want what has become family tradition, then there is no problem. But if you have a teen that seems to be following your family script, make sure that you say very directly, and out loud, you can be whatever you want!! Here is your I get it moment: "I know you want to go to X college because we all went there, or you think you want to become an X cause we all do that, or you like to play X cause we all play that, but here is the thing, we want you to do and be whatever makes you happy. It would be great to have someone in this family who does something different, so honey wherever, or whatever, you want to do, we support you." This is something that needs to be said not implied. Teens are very tuned into what is important to you, and truly they do not want to disappoint you. They may be a pain with the small stuff, like cleaning their room, or having an attitude, but when it comes to the big stuff, they want you to be proud of them. Giving them the absolute freedom, belief and support for their developing identity is the most important gift you will ever give them. 

Stay tuned for Part 3: identity confusion ( and this has nothing to do with sexuality)

No comments:

Post a Comment