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Outgrowing Teenage Rebellion


I find it interesting, working with teenagers. For some reason, they're arriving by the boatload. And my nephew, age 16 going on 11, is also having fun acting out. In each case, I see patterns at work. Patterns we've discussed endlessly in Into the Centre. The undirected weirdness of typical teens is a result of their attempts to fight against their cultural conditioning. The problem is, they have no tools for the battle.

Let's think about this for a minute, because it fits in to what we were talking about last week - the bit about making "giant motes." We make mountains out of molehills precisely because we consider the situation as important. And from there, we decide either to give up, because "it's just too big to handle," or rebel, and act like a screaming, tantrum-filled child. Because if we dealt with the issue by dealing with ourselves, we'd have to own our adulthood, and for many, that's just too much responsibility.

Let's also think about the "no tools" bit. As we've said, kids from 0 to 6 or so learn a ton. It's said they learn more in the first 6 years than they will for the rest of their lives, quantity-wise. Now, the info they are learning is taken in "whole," as in, they have nothing to compare it to. So, they simply accept it as "true." The implications of this are enormous.

This is why tribal information is so hard to dislodge. We learned it at a time when questioning its validity was not possible. Because, to say it again, we had nothing to compare it to. We trusted in its validity without even knowing that was what we were doing.

Things aren't much different when we become teens. Here, the project is moving from a dependent kid to an independent adult. However, and here's the kicker, we do it without any tools. In other words, we are attempting to act like adults without any adult experience. All that we have to go on is what we see other adults doing. We may want to be an adult. Wanting does not make us one. We really don't have a clue.

So, without experience or training, most of us simply founder along, stumbling onto a semblance of adulthood. Doesn't work very well, but we put up with it, and reap the consequences. Now, most teens, as I noted indirectly above, chose one of two methods of becoming adults. To this I dedicate the rest of this article.

Let me provide an illustration or two. I'll give you both sides of the coin - compliance and rebellion, both of the teen variety. Needless to say, it will soon become apparent that many so-called adults never outgrew their teen behaviour.

Compliance - I'm working with a client who typifies the idea of doing anything to pour oil on troubled water. Her dad has an alcohol problem, and my client decided, at age 13 (or 10, depending on how she tells the story) to never cause her father any grief. She decided to be the perfect "good little girl" - top student, busy worker (she works with disabled kids) active athletically. She listens nightly as dad rants, while her mom makes herself scarce. Her dad doesn't like tears, anger or overt displays of emotion, so she stuffs her feelings.

Her stress levels are amazingly high, and she keeps adding stuff in. More work, more projects, more relationships. And next September, she goes off to University. She sees this as escaping from home, and smiles. On the other hand, and that's why she's in therapy, she also recognizes (she is smart, after all) that she's taking herself with her to University.

You see, this is the kicker. Her attempt at being an adult, so far, has been to completely surrender to the world-view of her parents and family. She (at age 13, for god's sake) has made herself into the saviour and salve of her parents. She sees her role as having to put the needs of others before her own. She's learned to work hard and be perfect, lest anyone else suffer. Unless she deals with all of this, she'll work herself to death trying to make it "OK" for significant others in her life. And she made this lifestyle choice at age 13.

Without continual vigilance for the rest of her life, she will drop into this pattern instinctually, and will say, "What else can I do? This is just the way I am."

Rebellion - I'm seeing a lot of this these days, as parents reach the end of their ropes. Their kids refuse to cooperate, bag school, fail courses, scream and yell, violate curfew, and then do it all again the next day. The rebellion comes as the teen attempts to differentiate from his parents. In rebellion, the differentiation is not thought out and logical. It is simply a fighting against the rules, traditions and directions of parents and society.

My nephew has been playing this game for a long, long time. The latest version has involved moving out at age 16, moving in with his girlfriend, moving back home, moving out, and now, threatening to drop out of High School unless his parents pay him. And oh, the girl friend might be pregnant.

He's angry, abusive, yelling and screaming. He is caught in that age-old dilemma. He wants to be treated as an adult. He wants respect. He wants to show how grown up he is. So, he moves out, has sex, gets someone pregnant, and then expects mom and dad to pay the bills. I mean, after all, it's not fair that he can't get a job with a grade 10 education.

Real adult, eh? Well, unfortunately, yes he is.

People who don't outgrow this version of the teen blues think that getting angry, throwing things, insisting on their way, and then expecting someone else to clean up their messes is mature behaviour. They constantly pick fights, refuse to accept personal responsibility and can find fault with anyone or anything. Never do I hear my nephew say, "Well, I'm making these decisions and I'm doing it freely. I'll live with the consequences of my choices, and correct the things that go wrong." On his planet, he thinks nothing should go wrong. And if it does, somehow it's the fault of mom and dad. Or someone other than himself.

Many people liked last week's article. One person I know wrote:

The truth of the matter is that I can be productive only if I take good care of myself, therefore, I need to come first in order to be happy, healthy and fulfilled. I find that when I am not feeling well, I can quickly become an asshole with little or no provocation. I have to often made mountains out of molehills…Taking time for myself this morning has been the best thing I've done for a while, reading this e-zine has helped me to see more clearly that life is only as complicated as I want to make it. The reality is that relating to people is a lot more fun and less stressful than trying to belong. Trying to belong means that I have to fit the mold of other people's expectations, relating means that I am free to be myself and those I relate with are free to be themselves. It all makes too much sense; now all I need to do is to relax, and be me. Easier said than done!!! This will take some reshaping in order to break a life long pattern. At least I am seeing the big picture a whole lot differently now! Thanks for the work you put into these articles, it is much appreciated.

Yes, indeed and in spades. The "easy" route is to blame others, to stay stuck, to do what you always do. The "narrower" path is to let go of living one's life in reaction to others and to choose a path of self-knowledge and self-understanding.

Many of the patterns that trip us up were chosen by us as teenagers, in response to the need to differentiate. Many of the ways we chose to do this necessary task were immature and downright stupid. Many of our attitudes regarding work, leisure, sex, our bodies and our self-worth were also adopted as teens. Most of them are immature and downright stupid. And we persist.

The way out is self-reflection and self-responsibility. Just because I decided something when I was 15 doesn't mean I have to live it at 51. I may have a strong pull to act a certain way, and I can equally pay attention, notice and make a better choice. I can free my body and free my mind, and in the process free my soul.

But not if I don't pay attention - if I don't look at what I am choosing and what I am doing.

This week, make the commitment to actually become an adult, as opposed to a whiny teenager. And then do it.

For a change.

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