Just get out of my face!
Remember that feeling in your teens? Or maybe you still feel that now.
This article is about life transitions and ‘kicks off’ so to speak, with the change from adolescence into adulthood. By this I mean the psychological change, not just the physical change.
The transition from childhood to adolescence traditionally marks the move to individuality, the start of separation from parents and a draw to the deeper development of identity.
As the adolescent moves to adulthood, life focus changes. Adolescence involves a lot of experimentation and discovery; the forming and rupturing and sometimes repair of relationships. Seeking independence and deepening our identity drives our behaviour. Our sexuality emerges and we learn how to create a life outside of our family. A lot of energy can go into rejecting our roots or recasting them in our own image and yet a sense of needing to belong is also important.
The move into adulthood brings us into an age of taking responsibility and increasing power. Often at this time in our lives, we start to live independently of the family, where there is a structure and the means to do so. We leave education and maybe start work.
We can also start to connect with our power and our potential to make an impact in the world.
Traditionally adolescence started with puberty and the ability to become sexually reproductive. But psychological maturity seems to happen increasingly later in life often spanning into the late twenties, whereas in the last century, according to Stephen Briggs on whose work some of this article is based, it would have been more like the early twenties.
Briggs suggests adolescence now ‘involves crossing (and re-crossing) a series of boundaries; seen as a series of parallel transitions.’
Another example of these extended transitions is marriage. The average age for marriage for men was 25.6 in the 60s and was 30.5 by 2000. For women it was 23.1 and 28.2 respectively. More people are staying in education longer too.
Briggs also talks of fast and slow track transitions into adulthood. Both have risks and challenges associated with them including mental health issues for those on the slow track and early loss of childhood for those on the fast track.
More ritualised and systematic patterns of coming of age in society have been replaced by fragmented or organic transitions: fragmented because they happen at different times in many different ways across a peer group and organic because adolescent life blends into adulthood with no formal marking or is a partial integration brought on by life changes such as early parenthood.
Rather than marking the transition through ritual or systematic change, the transition happen as a result of:
· Accepting responsibility for oneself
· Making decisions independently
· Becoming financially independent
· Becoming self sufficient
· Developing greater concern for others
· Avoiding behaviour that might harm others
So that’s a rational, developmental way of looking at adolescent transition to adulthood.
A more symbolic, cyclical way is of seeing adolescence is through the lens of the native American medicine wheel.
I’ve written before about this and how adolescence is represented in the season of autumn. It’s a time of initiation, in leaving the summer of childhood behind and preparing for the winter of adulthood.
In this phase, we come into introspection; we start to be able to name feelings and the lived experience. In the cellar of our subconscious, the shadow side emerges.
Steven Foster and Meredith Little describe this beautifully in their book The Four Shields: the Initiatory Seasons of Human Nature as the ‘deep swamp; the poppy fields of dreams, the rotting undersides of personal karma, spellbound pools of narcissistic, sirens of evil, chasms of separation, exposure, loneliness, disintegration, chaos and death.’
There’s a deep resonance for me in their description of the complexity and conflictedness of adolescence. Coming through that isn’t a passage into the light of spring or warmth of summer; it’s a preparation for the winter and those greater trials of becoming an adult.
We all keep a part of that adolescent alive inside us. When that part doesn’t make the transition into adulthood fully and stays dominant, we can end up acting out our lives in a perpetual cycle of adolescent behaviour, for all its highs and lows.
Counselling can help to develop awareness of these patterns and why we hold on to them. And it can help us gently and respectfully come to terms with that adolescent part of ourselves so that it integrates with our adult self in support of it rather than in perpetual rebellion.
If you’d like to explore more about life transitions, why not get in touch?
Stephen Briggs on transitioning from adolescence to adulthood:
Foster and Little’s Four Shields book is available here:
By Matt Fox Counselling in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott www.mattfoxcounselling.co.uk
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Image by Joan Sorolla licensed under Creative Commons