THE CHALLENGES FACING FAMILIES WITH A STUCK YOUNG ADULT MEMBER
Today’s emerging adults (18 to 30+ year olds) represent the first generation of American youth who may not exceed the achievements of its parents. Yet no one is really talking about this in the media, in schools, or in families. In our success oriented, drive-based, immigrant culture where success is measured academically and economically and a good year means greater profit or achievement than the previous, the prediction that a generation will likely not exceed the accomplishments of the previous one can be experienced as a terrible truth. As a result, young adults of today carry a set of often unrealistic expectations for themselves that, although culturally derived and traditionally fueled, are all but impossible to attain. In turn, their developmental path toward individuation and identity consolidation is cluttered with distractions from this reality. How could you not want to escape? And today’s escape devices work well: procrastination and avoidance, marijuana, alcohol, prescription opiates, heroin, isolative video gaming, disordered eating, self-harm, compulsive internet use, obsessive social networking and a plethora of other electronic or digital distractions.
Imagine now the plight of the young adult who, seeking to launch into this uncertain world has a subtle learning disability, a depressive or mood disorder, attention, concentration, and social difficulties, or a preference for intoxication (which leads to addiction). In most of these cases parents have gone to great lengths seeking fixes, solutions, and cures. They may blame themselves for their child’s difficulties, or be so used to hovering and problem solving that they intensify that effort despite compelling evidence that it’s not working – the effort takes on a feverish quality. Parents search frantically for the therapist, the medication, the treatment program, the life coach, the healer, the personal trainer, or the school that will make it all OK again. In extreme cases parents may come to believe they are keeping their young adult child alive and that to do anything other than attempt to meet their needs (in every way) would be tantamount to killing them. And to lose a child represents a tragedy from which no one fully recovers. This thinking assures the manifestation and transmission of Stress-Induced Impaired Coping.™
Family members rarely harness the power they have to create change in their systems — changes that interrupt the cycles of illness, loss, and pain while simultaneously interrupting the trans-generational transmission of these disorders and the associated impaired coping. Parents of stuck young adults either soldier on, desperately searching for the ONE THING they think will fix it all, or become convinced (and terrified) they must cut the member off and kick them out.
These dramatic solutions (perfect fix vs. cut them off) rarely work and they create traps, or paradoxes, that hold family members in repetitive ways of responding. Despair frequently sets in and parents distract themselves, temporarily give up, or feverishly seek solutions at the expense of their own quality of life. At this point parents need help to recognize how little attention they have been giving to their own health: physical, financial, emotional, spiritual, sexual, recreational, social, and vocational. As parents move their self-care up the priority list two things happen: distress and pain are lessened AND the conditions are created for attaining a critical goal: that the stuck young adult makes a project out of his/her own recovery. All too often the young person believes the main problem is their parents’ reactions and behaviors. In that condition, everyone is waiting for someone else to change. While waiting, in most cases, members die younger than they should and with a diminished quality of life.
At the Family Recovery Institute we know the system can be shifted. “Small shifts produce great changes” describes a fundamental belief that drives the work. When even just one parent or family member takes steps to engage, profound change can result.