Why is it difficult for young adults to process change?

  1. They see things as black and white because they have limited life experience.  It is axiomatic that if you’re only 21 years old, you cannot know certain things about life.  Yet young adults think they must be perfect right out of the gate.  Life is trial and error.  You must be able to take a risk at failing in order to pick yourself up and know you will survive to try again.  This resiliency sets you up for a lifetime of strength.  If you do not allow yourself to make mistakes in your 20’s you will be frozen in time.
  2. Their expectations are too rigid.  Making mistakes is part of growing up.  Correcting mistakes and moving on is part of learning.  If you knew everything there would be no need for work.  Few people are born with a complete capacity to know what they want and do it.  Work is involved.  The harder you work on yourself, the better off you’ll be.  All of these things are important for a young person’s development, yet it is rarely discussed.  Just leave college, all your friends and supports and go forth.  Sounds like jumping off a cliff…
  3. They haven’t been taught to appreciate pain.  In your 30’s and 40’s life gets harder – there could be losses, illness, separations and real setbacks financial and emotional.  In your 20’s you don’t know this yet.  So the reality that life is hard is not yet real for you.  You think, it’s supposed to be this way or that.  I want to be a fireman when I grow up or I want to be a mommy.  These ideas are from childhood.  In your 20’s they no longer work because life is full of messes, bureaucracy, waiting, and near-misses.  It is in the trying that you learn you are stronger than you think.  Then you can go face the world in all it’s grayness.  Don’t forget that this effort is normal.  However, if you conclude falsely that no effort is required, or you are paralyzed with worries or you stay in your room all day, your world will become radically constricted.

When young adults come to therapy they often state things in very black and white terms:

  • I’m supposed to be at this step in my career
  • I’m not on track with my peers
  • I cant do things that other seem to be doing
  • On social media i am a have-not
  • I ruined my 20’s
  • I am to blame for the ills of the world
  • I am too insecure to go out

And on and on.  CBT and DBT and family therapy can help with all of these things.  If there was trauma in their past more intensive therapy is needed.  But for the rest, working on developing a rich thought process can be very helpful. Let’s take Lyla.  She is a sweet, pretty and not-confident 25 year old female who has had a number of false starts.  She is not the brightest in her class and she tried one or two careers which were not compelling.  She appears in my office wanting to give up.  But who brought her there?  She did!  A part of her wants to motivate and move forward.  She needs an enormous push.  She complains that she must be repetitive to me.  I want her to get so sick of herself she has to make a change! Try ONE NEW THING.  BREAK IT DOWN.  WHAT ARE THE STEPS.  WHO SAID YOU HAD TO KNOW EVERYTHING?  It’s all black and white to them.

When my daughter had a rough time her first semester of college, I told her don’t give up!  Join lots and lots of clubs. And she did!  She joined so many clubs she is now the president of two or three.  From there she made a handful of friends, and the rest as they say, is history…

So stop worrying about perfection and try imperfection.  Brene Brown had the right idea…