Monday, April 7, 2014

Teenager separation or teenager transformation

“The successful transition of adolescence does not assume the youth detach themselves from their parents. In fact, the transition to autonomy and adulthood is facilitated by secure attachment and emotional connectedness to the parents. This shows that connection (secure attachment) and separation (autonomy) are two sides of the same attachment coin. Attachment security fosters exploration and the development of new competencies thus facilitating the development towards autonomy.

As the youth moves towards autonomy (forming outside the family attachments) it is crucial they have enduring availability and responsivity from the parents as a secure base. At the same time they are moving into a period of  identity negotiation and relationship transition with the parents that is inevitably conflictual in nature. Thus the transition from adolescence involves both sustaining connectedness and  moving towards individuation, simultaneously.” (Moretti & Holland)

What these people are presenting is an oxymoron. They are saying:

As the parent teenager attachment becomes less important in the teenagers mind 
parent teenager attachment becomes more important in the teenagers mind.

They are indeed presenting is a tripartite system instead of the usual dual process of separation and individuation. 

They are saying there is 
Transformation and 

Crucial to this stage is: 
1. Separation from parents to an identity of autonomy
2. Individuation of self to develop ones own identity
3. Transformation . In order to separate one maintains an attachment to the parents and that relationship with then transforms.

For separation to be complete it must survive the transformation process.

In one sense it could be said that there is not really any separation from the parents only a transformation of the relationship. The separation is just one subset of the overall transformation process. In the transformation process, at least initially, the teenager becomes less separate form the parents. In this sense it could be seen that they are going backwards and becoming less separate rather than more separate from the parents.

This is an interesting idea. It certainly has direct therapeutic implications in the way one presents the idea of separation to the parents and the teenager. The attachment to the parents does not disappear indeed it becomes more important to the teenager!

Consider this diagram

Around 13 years of age the child proceeds on line A. It feels a need to spend less time with the parents and feels freer to move away from them geographically. Behind this is the psychological need to go out into different relationships in the world and form secure attachments with others including non family members.

That process is a psychologically onerous one at least to some degree. The adolescent therefore wants a secure attachment with the parents to help cope with the anxiety of doing this. Hence we have line B which is the desire for a secure attachment. As the teenager begins to break away it actually becomes more dependent on the attachment with the parents. In this sense it could be said that it is going backwards. In its desire to become independent from the parents it becomes more dependent on the parents. But as line B shows this is only temporary. As the teenager becomes more secure in its attachments with people other than the parents these then are used as the basis for feeling secure rather than using the parents for that basic sense of security.

In the graph I have drawn this as occurring between the ages of 13 and 15 years. This of course varies depending on the teenager, the parents and the ability of all parties to handle this process.

Interestingly, I have in the past intuitively referred to this stage as the borderline stage of adolescent development and now with the clarification of these concepts it makes sense of my observation. What I mean by this is the young adolescent begins to behave in a similar fashion as does the borderline personality. In particular the way a teenager relates to his parents has a similar quality to how the borderline personality relates to others in their life. 

To quote from the DSM 5 on the borderline. 

“The essential feature of the borderline personality is a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self image and affects, and marked impulsivity...”

“Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.”

“A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.”

Some of these qualities can be seen in how the young adolescent relates to his parents and indeed his/her first romantic partners. This especially becomes apparent when the parents hold on too tight. 

It is not uncommon for parents to bring their teenager to counselling when this is happening. The volatile unstable family relationships are onerous for all concerned and they seek some kind of help to reduce these (borderline like) ways of relating.


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