The Insecurities Driving Young Adults, Part 1

11/18/2016 05:30 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2016

With media, social media, and technology echoing in a self-absorbed and immature generation, why are so many young adults insecure? Watching college and university students becoming overwhelmed and paralyzed by the results of an election, you might question what is missing in their development. Safe spaces, safety pins indicating safe people, playdough and puppy dogs in law schools, soothing music and comfort food, are all being offered to young adults who can’t cope with stress.

These young people have been disabled by their inability to cope and are overwhelmed by fear; ultimately they become the adults who can’t make commitments, take responsibility, or face the obligation necessary for intimacy. When parents and teachers foster and promote temper tantrums, they are contributing to a young adult who can’t handle the pressure of failure and who quits rather than fights for his goals.

Insecurity, when unrecognized and unidentified, can impact and influence both self-esteem and behavior. And we are seeing this played out daily with young adults on our college campuses and on our public streets. What we are viewing is a profoundly insecure generation, unable to hear opposing viewpoints or face defeat. One of the easiest ways for you to recognize your own insecurity is by paying attention to how much negative self-talk you do each day. This is the inner critical parent that measures your behavior, comparing you to others, and alienating you from yourself. And the only way to silence and conquer this destructive inner dialogue is to confront it, by understanding where it’s coming from.

In 2013, I attended a TED conference at which Dr. Eleanor Longden gave a powerful TED Talk. She was discussing her own personal battle with schizophrenia. But what was most interesting about her talk was her experience with inner hostile voices that diminished her self-image and self-esteem. As part of her recovery, she came to realize that this negative talk was not merely a symptom of schizophrenia, but a mechanism that she had learned early on, which allowed her to cope with her difficult childhood. And by understanding what those critical voices were saying, and why they were saying it, she found compassion for herself and the ability to heal without, I might add, medication.

In a sense, that hostile inner dialogue represented the injured parts of herself. The question she learned to ask herself, as part of her recovery, was, “What happened to you?” rather than, “What’s wrong with you?” At the end of the talk, someone from the audience asked Dr. Longden if she still hears voices, and her answer was affirmative: “yes.” But now she coexists with those voices in peace, with respect and empathy for them. And, she added, before she went on stage that very day, that she said to those voices, “I hear what you’re saying, and I know you’re from my history, my low self-esteem past, and I’m going to be fine.”

It is your history with your family of origin – the good, the bad and the ugly – as well as your learned patterns of behavior that evolve into critical dialogue. This is your way of coping and compensating for psychic injury. And those experiences that bruised you emotionally, either directly or indirectly, contribute to your sense of insecurity.

And, believe it or not, even parental negative talk, that has nothing to do with you, but focuses on parental insecurities – statements such as, “I’m ugly or fat; I don’t like my hair or skin” – affects you as well. This is because a child feels a part of his parent, and identifies so closely, that when a parent criticizes herself, the child feels involved as well. And because bonding is so important to your child’s sense of security, your absence, whether through work or play, can also contribute to his insecurity.

So what can you do to help your child overcome his insecurity? I’ll share several tips in my next blog post.

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