Since the horrific shootings at Columbine High School, there have been a string of similar tragedies. While the media searches for explanations, nothing anyone can say provides comfort to those who are suffering. The theme remains the same: Human beings are hurting other human beings with little understanding of how or why. Could it be as simple as we need to take better care of each other?
Making a healthy teenager, or person for that matter, requires a reference and example for what we desire. Not a Hollywood version but a real-life example. Our headlines are full of stories of what happens when we lack this reference: alienation, isolation, introversion, withdrawal and shame. Birthing someone into existence, as grand as that is, does not shape someone’s character, parenting does. Loving, consistent, tenacious, often humbling, empathetic and compassionate parenting. This is supposed to be our preparation for what comes next—life. But does parenting stop when children become adults or is it transferred to all of us?
If the average age that children are leaving home is 27, and psychology says that our “inner child” never gets older than 19, when does parenting stop? In truth, it seems the question becomes who carries the torch for the ever-growing teenager? When women say they can’t find a healthy man, do they not need a reference for what they are searching for? Though men behave and seek women differently, are they any better equipped to recognize a healthy woman?
Freud got this part right. Our love relationships are often an extension or continuation of our mothers and fathers--the good, the bad and the ugly. We know now that if the parental connection is unhealthy, our choices as adults will mirror this problem. This means we must know ourselves to find ourselves in another. We have forgotten that we must also “see” ourselves in another if/when someone is hurting. Recent events are evidence of what happens when we don’t. We need to come to the rescue of each other, not shame ourselves into isolation.
The seed of compassion only matures and grows if given proper attention. Indeed, it seems young people are ignoring those who are suffering. Many are happy that the target is on someone else’s back and not theirs. They don’t realize that everyone becomes the target if this seed of development is ignored.
Young people need to ask: If they could find the people they wish for, would they be healthy? Would they actually know the difference? Better still, could they mirror the difference? The young people who struggle with whether they deserve love or not need to realize two things. First, love of another is not an entitlement, it is mirrored and then reciprocated. Second, everyone begins as a hopeful expectation for the future. This means there is optimism in our future but only if you remain hopeful. Those among us who feel “less than” are not weeds to be trampled in a healthy garden. In truth, they are a reflection of how the garden is being neglected.
As children, all of us make a pact with ourselves to somehow “better” our childhood experiences. Particularly if that experience is less than desirable. This is acted out when we decide to be in the world. Many of us forget this is practiced in our relationships with others. We need to become the very thing we are seeking. If we see another human being afraid, anxious or hurting, we should feel genuine empathy, not disdain and indifference. Alienation and isolation begins early in a person’s life. No matter how these feelings of difference come about, it is the culture--and the people in it--that crystallize being different as a fixed reality. If we view diversity and difference as uniqueness, this is an act of compassion. The immediate result will be that we stop being our own worst enemy.
Witnessing the suffering of another is actually an opportunity to make a difference. A peer in pain is a cultivation moment for the observer and the person hurting. It only takes one person to mirror a healthy response to those who are lost and confused. And others will follow.
Thousands of articles and books have been written about how to raise our children. But who in the end has the greater influence: the family or culture? We know that today’s boys and girls are tomorrow’s men and women. What we don’t know is how prepared they are to survive the world—their world.
The message in the media is loud and clear. Our children as young adults are less and less prepared than ever. In the interim, they are lost, groping, experimenting and forming clichés of acceptance around what they think healthiness is. Many say they are faking it until they make it. If this is the mantra for the so-called healthy children and young adults, what is the credo for those that are confused and lost?
Time and time again, we are hearing that it goes something like this: “I feel lonely, rejected and unfulfilled.” Also repeating in these scenarios are peers who echo in agreement: “He/she was just odd. Everyone mocks them. Everyone knows if they are pushed to the extreme, they will lose it someday and freak out.” Should we not be alarmed that these observations, which sound empathetic, do nothing to stop the hazing or help those suffering? It is so much larger than bullying. It is a total disconnect from what is happening to our fellow humans.
Psychosis is a “break” in reality, not retaliation “against” reality. It seems that all of us need to recognize that those retaliating are not just breaking down, they are literally giving up. And if we play a part in that person’s apathy, we have participated in their despair. Mental health will fail to diagnosis this because it is a glitch in the personality, not just a thought problem.
We need to hear what is being unspoken. Many young people are defining compassion as martyrdom and sacrifice. This definition, combined with feelings of victimization, forms the perfect logic for a troubled individual to put a horrific end to their lives. But not until they take some of us with them. Parents and culture need to know that this is Type-Trait Ego Dysfunction, a precursor to personality disorder, long before it becomes psychosis.
Type-Trait Ego Dysfunction comes in three forms: someone divided against themselves (guilt), someone divided against the culture (shame) and a combination of both. The key word here is divided. If this division happens in everyone, what are we missing? The short answer is we are not healing the division. We are mocking it. Then when it erupts, we are labeling it. Today, shaming and the compensation of narcissism is the true epidemic.
The capacity to watch someone suffer and not intervene is a missing piece in the current character of our teenagers and young adults. While adults are feeling compassion fatigue or burnout from the dependent, entitled and downtrodden souls in the culture, our children are becoming apathetic. Consistent with their age, they are self-absorbed. So many of their peers are lost and confused that they are beginning to think happiness is a myth. Or, as in the recent case in California, everyone seems to have found it but the martyr.
If left unattended, the division mentioned above feels like a missing piece. Of course, we all learn to compensate somehow for the gaps in our development. But it is in our methods of overcompensation that the problem begins. We are witnessing this in the news daily. Again, be clear that the compensation for guilt is religiosity and for shame it is narcissism. The significance here is that guilt has a conscious, while shame does not.
We can’t forget that when a positive result comes from our labor, we must get up tomorrow and start all over again. We get this reminder sadly when another horrific event happens. Some of us feel guilty because we try to go back to our lives before these tragedies happened. This is understandable as none of us want to witness or stay focused on suffering. So do not forget. Instead, focus on the work of interpersonal relations. Gardens, like our children and young adults, need constant attention.
Apathy is a common problem in young people today. It is more than a lack of motivation. Apathy is lacking a reasonable goal or worse, being focused on the wrong goal. Parenting our young people (and the culture) is a never-ending process. Being clear about what emotional health looks like is paramount. We need to take better care of each other. We wonder how recent tragedies can happen, but the answer appears to be misguided attention.
Mental health is defined as going by the rules, holding down a job, maintaining a long term relationship and getting along with our neighbors. We all know people who are doing this, but still feel unfulfilled, rejected and different. They erupt in the culture as the extreme, but many of us struggle with these feelings. The myth in the young is that there are no dues to be paid to accomplish a healthy existence. In fact, the adversity we encounter IS the dues. Our young people get this on some level, while others who don’t are screaming: “Life is hard enough to figure out without having people attacking us during our confusion.”
As recent events unfold, we see how prejudice and hazing magnifies the problem. It distorts our interpretation of what is happening. Here lies the problem and victims are the worst at these interpretations. Victims view adversity as an extension of their previous experiences of shame and rejection. Is it possible that shaming others has become so epidemic that everyone feels like a victim?
Faith is defined as hope that has been rewarded. Meanwhile, many young people feel hopeless. How does this happen? The short answer is learned helplessness. Psychology defines apathy as a lack of emotion, motivation or enthusiasm. It is a state of indifference where individuals are unresponsive or indifferent to the world around them. In the extreme, apathy becomes a dissociative disorder. So there it is. Treating each other as if we are distinct from--or unconnected--is disassociating or splitting people into us and them. Sadly, we are missing that those hurting and those doing the hurting includes everyone.
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Photo Credits: the teen by Ed Garcia via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com