Are we doing enough to support our 20-somethings’ transition into a healthy adulthood?
In some ways, today’s young adults have more support than in years past. Twenty-somethings are now an identified group in our culture. There is a higher level of understanding and normalization of the difficulties young people can face in a ‘quarter-life crisis.’ Young adults also now have access to an increasing amount of information about how to use their 20s as a time to make conscious schooling and career choices.
What I have found to be missing, however, is help for 20-somethings to safely and effectively address the deeper psychological issues that often come up for them at this age. While each person is unique, and some young adults, for various reasons, do not have these issues arise at this point in their lives, many 20-somethings face a particular set of psychological challenges.
As young people enter the ‘real world,’ there is often an incredible intensity of excitement and emotion. They often are at a point where they are swept away by the depth of connection possible in romantic intimacy. They feel the awesome strength and vitality of their physical bodies, and an explosion of ideas and insights. They have dreams and visions about their superstar futures. They feel like super-heroes.
On the other hand, they encounter the pain of breakups and rejections from jobs, schools, or creative pursuits, and can spin into the depths of feeling worthless, isolated and disconnected. Alongside the liberation of moving beyond the family they grew up in, there is a loss of security. They also feel the harsh frustration of not being able to translate their abilities, ideas and visions into a financially viable career.
Hit by loss and rejection, they acutely feel their lack of power in the world and their vulnerability within the uncertainty and precariousness of life. This vulnerability can lead to a young adult becoming obsessed and terrified about aging and dying, even though it may confound an older person as to why a healthy 20-something would become so concerned with such things.
Amidst the swings between power and powerlessness, love and loss, connection and isolation, it is hard if not impossible for a 20-something to have perspective on what is going on for them. They don’t understand why they feel so crazy, and they just don’t know what to do. They often feel confused, hopeless, and totally LOST.
In the absence of support with these psychological challenges, many young people decide, consciously or unconsciously, to ‘opt out’ and escape through drugs, alcohol, or other avenues that help shield them from facing these psychological realities. Psychologically, they get stuck.
If we want our 20-somethings to move forward, we have to provide them with help to develop the psychological strength to endure the spectrum of emotions, from the highs to the lows, in this rollercoaster of life. We need to help them grieve the loss of their fantasy of having superpowers, and help them to discover what powers they do have. We need to support them to confront the scary demons of hopelessness, terror, isolation, and rage, and help them to find their own style of dealing with these demons without being destroyed by them.
As with any transitional time, the challenges of the early 20s can be a fantastic opportunity for growth. With adequate psychological support, 20-somethings have an opportunity to build a psychological foundation that allows them to move forward on an adult path that honors their health and well-being, and gives them the resilience to get through the ups and downs that are sure to come over a lifetime.