Despite the age on your driver’s license, the apartment you rent, or the job you have, you may still find yourself feeling like anything but an adult. As teenagers, we are often disillusioned by the glamour and freedom that comes with adulthood. And while there are many perks of no longer living under your parents’ roof, it can sometimes still feel like you do.
I work with clients in their 20s and 30s who are beginning to truly start understanding themselves, their needs, and how they want to live their lives. This often comes at the cost of realizing that in order to be their authentic selves, they have to adapt the beliefs and roles they inherited from their families.
Have you ever felt like by honoring your own needs, you’re betraying or disrespecting your family? Do you find your sense of independence and individuality fade when it comes time to set a boundary or express your feelings? Do you sometimes feel like a teenager trapped in an adult’s body? Have you ever felt an overwhelming sense of duty or obligation that’s led you to act against what you truly want? This is normal.
As teenagers, many go through a process called individuation. It’s the gradual, beautiful, and challenging experience of becoming your own person. As children, we attach to our parents. We observe everything they do and adopt their values, worldview, and even personality traits. The more we spend time outside of the home at school with other children and adults and begin to develop our own sense of identity, we change. Parents often see this as a rebellious stage. However, it’s actually developmentally normal and expected.
When you individuate, you begin to know more about yourself, your passions, your style, your emotions, your relationships, and everything in between. We see this in small but profound ways like a new obsession with a music genre or dressing in a new style. We can also experience this as gaining a voice, expressing an opinion, challenging authority, and beginning to question the rules. Many go through this stage, some more intensely than other, but it’s also common for many children to skip individuation or experience a diluted version of it. This often leads to the feelings described above, and constant question of “Why don’t I feel like an adult???”
There can be many reasons why you didn’t get the opportunity to fully embark on the journey toward individuation, and it doesn’t mean you’re not special or unique. It means it can feel hard to differentiate the parts of you that belong to your family system and the parts of you that yearn for more attention and freedom. Whether you were caretaking siblings as a child, grew up in a strict or even traumatic environment, or had a relationship with one or both parents where you felt emotionally responsible for their well-being, you may have bypassed some important teenage angst and growth.
Have no fear, you’re not broken and you’re not alone. This is simply an explanation for why you may struggle with feelings of extreme guilt when setting a boundary or simply doing something for yourself, or question why it feels like parts of you fade while others grow stronger when around family.
The good news is, we never stop individuating. Learning to identify your needs, express them to others, and build tolerance for others’ emotional reactions is challenging but valuable work. Asserting your independence and identity can feel overwhelming, but I’d like to remind you that it’s normal. In the same way we expect babies to crawl, walk, and talk, we expect adults to become change, question, and evolve from who they were at 10, 15, even 25 years old. You have permission to find freedom, explore who you are, and feel more secure in adulthood.
Hi, I’m Madison Hamzy, therapist for individuals and couples at Love Heal Grow Counseling.
You can experience more fulfillment in your life and relationships! I’m here to support you.
You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Madison