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|Foot on the Gas, Foot on the Brake - Page 4|
RYAs at first can rarely articulate their fears about becoming independent, but after having worked with hundreds of them over the years, I've noticed that these fears fall into one or more of the following categories:
- A fear that she'll disappoint herself by not meeting expectations for herself
- A fear that he'll disappoint others, such as his parents, by not meeting their expectations for him
- A fear that she'll become successful, but that she won't be able to keep meeting the raised expectations that accompany success
- A fear that independence means he'll lose the opportunity and the legitimacy to express his lingering anger or dissatisfaction with his parents, and/or with how family life in general has unfolded
- A fear that, by moving on, she'll be giving up on realizing the fantasy of unconditional love and support that she's sticking around still hoping to experience
- A fear that he's abandoning, betraying, or inappropriately usurping or supplanting someone important (a sibling, a parent, a birth parent if he's an adoptee or foster child, etc.) by moving ahead with his life
- A fear that she'll no longer be taken care of, or feel entitled to be taken care of, if she becomes separate and autonomous
- A fear that nobody will take over the role that he's played in the family (mediator, jester, lightning rod, black sheep, etc.), and that the family will suffer as a result
I'll point out that many of these fears result from the inability to strike an effective balance between loyalty to oneself and loyalty to others. For some RYAs, the challenge is to strike a new balance between a constructive loyalty to oneself versus becoming overly self-absorbed, unable to attend or respond to the realities of anyone else. For others, the challenge is maintaining a sense of loyalty without excessive self-sacrifice and without compromising one's own ambitions so as to appease or gratify someone else, often someone in the family.
I'll try to weave other demanding realities into my conversation with RYAs, both to emphasize the complexity of this stage of life, and to dissolve feelings of discouragement and demoralization:
Composing a Declaration of Inter-dependence. Young adults have to learn to navigate between being an "I" and a "we," becoming independent enough to trust their inner instincts, resources, and reserves, while feeling they can turn to trusted family members for support, succor, and perspective without imperiling their independence. I'll sometimes use the image of "loosening the border patrol," noting how, during early and middle adolescence, teens will naturally reject what adults offer, even (and especially) when it's meant to be supportive and helpful. They stop everything at the "border" because they're struggling hard to build and bolster the fragile eggshell of their nascent identity, and taking in what others offer threatens to crack the shell.
To grow, I'll suggest that the RYA has to learn to become less vigilant, and practice accepting what's given without feeling that she's surrendering her emerging selfhood; in fact, seeing these offerings as helping her can consolidate a sovereign sense of self.
Developing a Personal Philosophy. The RYA has to make more and more explicit the identity that he's been discovering and sculpting during childhood and early to mid adolescence—from desire, wish, dream, and vision—which will be strong enough to carry the freight of his being forward. In this process, he must struggle with the collapse of certain beliefs, ideas, and concepts that helped stabilize him during the preceding years; he must come to terms with his own limitations while proving that he can stand up to pressure, pain, and unhappiness.
An important part of this transformation entails asking the right questions of oneself. Up until late adolescence, many of the questions teens ask have to do with others: "What image do I want to project to the world?" "Whom must I please or displease?" and "Whom must I differentiate from? and how can I do so without disadvantaging myself?" To chart a new, more self-reliant direction in young adulthood, I encourage a series of internal inquiries that are more self-directed than other-directed, operating in regions defined by queries such as, "Why do I do what I do?" "Who was I? who am I? and who do I want to become?" and "What do I feel called upon to do with my life?"—queries that can only be asked of and answered by the RYA, rather than by others.