Saturday, September 02, 2006

Being insane, college, and defining normal

Sometimes I'll be talking to patients and hear about how much shame they have attached to something they did at some insane time of life. They'll look at me with sincere remorse and ask, "Was I insane?"

Yes, you were.

Yes, you were, I want to say.

Yes, you were, I say.

Well, thanks. Thanks for the encouragement.

So insane is a little strong. But there are stages, and you ALL know it's true, when a person is less in control, has less desire to be disciplined, has no incentive for discipline. When a person does things that a person in their right mind would never do.

These behaviors (affairs, drug overdoses) can be triggered by stress and depression. They can happen mid-life, and most notably, during adolescence and young adulthood, which is where we're going on this page.

A wise man once said that Americans prolong adolescence with this business of college. At a time when able-bodied people should be working either to become self-sufficient or to pay back those who have sustained them throughout childhood, we send our children off to college.

Where they party.

Where they learn how to perfect their drinking and drug abuse.

Where they contract sexually transmitted diseases.

Where they get raped or rape.

(As an aside, if a person "consents" to sex while being under the influence it is not legally considered informed consent. Technically it's rape).

Okay, okay, I'll stop. Not everyone does these things.

But these things are brought to my attention in therapy at least once week, episodes folks wish they could forget. Most of us have at least one.

I'm very forgiving of college students partying, frankly. There seems no stopping them. It is the young married couples I see who are having trouble in their relationships due to alcohol consumption, drug use, and or nights "out" that I begin to label alcoholic or addicted.

By the mid-twenties a person should no longer be waking up with a hangover. That's my cut-off. The drinking and drugging has to stop there. Adulthood.

That may sound very liberal and even crazy, coming from a professional. Like I'm giving covert permission to teenagers to use substances. No way.

The professional party line, should the subject arise, is that alcohol IS the enemy, that women get sicker quicker, that it is EXCEEDINGLY RISKY to ever drink to the point where the room is spinning or one can't remember things, blacks out. It is exceedingly risky to smoke pot, use cocaine, enjoy designer drugs. These substances make the brain happy, and when the brain is happy, friends, it never forgets and looks to these sources for more happiness.

I'm not afraid to say that it is EXCEEDINGLY IRRESPONSIBLE (I try not to say stupid) to let oneself get dependent upon alcohol or drugs, especially of there's a family predisposition to addiction.

Enough preaching. You people know all this.

What I'm going to present here is the quick and dirty (YES DIRTY) on normal psychological development, something that unfortunately implies living, doing, and learning, EVEN MAKING MISTAKES.

Let’s look at Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

In my day it was a ladder, now it's a pyramid. Maybe it was always a pyramid. The idea is that we have various needs that change as we grow up and struggle to master the various developmental stages of our lives. Stay with me here.

The Maslovian pyramid looks like this:

1. As infants and toddlers we're all about getting physical survival needs met, as in

2. Then in early childhood we get more into basic safety and security issues:

3. At some point we get more into finding the kids at school interesting. Socializing meets the need for belonging. We get out of our own little autistic world.
Wow, these people are so cool! I want friends! I want to belong! I want to hang out. I’ll die if you don’t let me go on My Space!

4. Then there's a reevaluation of group-think and the shift towards inner focus and a need for self-esteem. We have a need to really like ourselves.
Oh, I don't HAVE to sleep with everyone I think is hot! I have boundaries! I can say, NO, or work on a RELATIONSHIP instead!

Developing boundaries, which requires a little (sometimes a lot) of self-discipline is only one way to raises self-esteem, but it's a good way.

Developing boundaries isn't as complicated as it sounds, and I'll write more about it another time, but the process sometimes starts with saying NO to something, someone or oneself. It starts with looking back at what we've done, taking responsibility and saying OH, (expletive) WHAT WAS I THINKING!

Are we our own worst enemies? Maybe, but I'd rather think that we're educable, we learn, we grow, and with that we develop a little self-respect, self-esteem on Maslow's pyramid. Second to the top tier.

So if after a slip, a set-back, a bad decision, A MOMENT OR SEVERAL MOMENTS OF TEMPORARY INSANITY, say an unexpected or expected sexual encounter, an unwanted pregnancy, maybe an abortion OR THREE, something that brings on shame, regret and remorse, IF THEN A PERSON FINALLY SETTLES DOWN?

I would say that's taking a monumental developmental step on the old pyramid, wouldn't you?

5. And finally, at some point, perhaps not until one is in his or her mid-thirties to forties or fifties there's a theoretical need to self-actualize, to be the best person one can be, to really stretch out and grow, do new things.

I say it's a theoretical need because in our world there's simply so much to do that's done for the sake of fun, because face it we work so hard, and we've already paid for cable and the shows have really improved, haven't they, over the years?

There are so many feel good things to do these days that striving to become a better, bigger person can be a real challenge. Becoming, growing, may be irrelevant.

Jury's out? Yeah, maybe.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Anonymous said...

I really like what you had to say about taking on responsability by saying "no" to something. One of my biggest challenges in life was saying "no" to the drinking, drugs, parties, and meaningless sex. I think that is when we really begin to step up to the plate and become adults. I am 20 and a mother now, and I must say I am a very different person that I was 2 or 3 year ago. I'm still learning though :)

therapydoc said...

You're way up there on the learning curve. Life is easier, right, without all the bad choices? Good luck in everything you do, T.D.

linrob63 said...

Still catching up on old posts...but this one has me curious and hope you have a few moments to answer a question.

If, at one of the hierarchy 'mileposts', something jarring happens...are the balance of developmental tasks impossible?

Thanks for taking the time to teach and endure these questions.

therapydoc said...

Your welcome. I'll put this one up on the blog next week, probably as a question/answer thing.

Anonymous said...

(As an aside, if a person "consents" to sex while being under the influence it is not legally considered informed consent. Technically it's rape)

Forgive me for commenting on such an old post, but can this really be a valid legal principle when stated so generally? It would classify two intoxicated people who mutually consent to sex as being both simultaneously the raped and the raper.

therapydoc said...

In many states, if She says He raped her and they were both drunk? He's in trouble. That's the No means No law.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to bring you back to such an old post - I am still catching up. This is EXACTLY what I'm working on right now with my therapist so I must have been meant to find this post now. As my own daughters head into their teen years, I'm struggling to find that balance between taking responsibility for my own absolutely WILD behavior between 14-20 yrs old, and knowing that my view of the world, and of myself, was heavily impacted by a few years of violent sexual abuse that started when I was 13. Must everything be so hard?

Thanks for the post - it's helpful.

therapydoc said...

Yes, dear. It does. Sorry.

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Eva Lee Najubez said...

Im just catching up on umm...everything, because all of these posts are so interesting.

You forgot to mention, college is where the very fit children with overbearing parents pig out on junk food, and gain lots of weight.

I find it interesting that all the things I said 'no' to when I was 14 I said yes to the moment I went off to college. Except for drugs, I valued my brain too much, especially since 2 years of college pretty much ruined my looks. You get tired of it though, the partying and random hookups. Some people hit a ceiling where all they do is wish that they could stop being dependant on their parents and actually start an independant life.

What's Going to Be with Our Kids?