Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Late Adolescence: A Lesson Of Compromise

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 23, 2012

Stability of self-esteem is the hallmark of the closure of adolescence. As self-esteem improves, compromise is possible. The adolescent can compromise on their ideals and begin to see all humans as flawed beings who are trying their best to succeed. The arrogance often recedes such that the emerging adult develops a more sanguine approach to the compromises demanded by life’s circumstances.

Zara, twenty-four, exemplifies this transition period from late adolescence to young adult. Whereas in the past, all the adults in her life had “sold out” to corporate interests, now she sees the value of a steady paycheck and the compromises inherent in starting a family. Her stormy period of self-harm, substance abuse, school refusal and school failure are behind her. Now, she is a reliable and responsible person, anxious to become more financially and emotionally independent from her parents. Although she still has issues with how her parents’ conduct their lives, she also sees that choices in life can be agonizing, and so there needs to be some forgiveness for compromising one’s value system. Her judgmental attitude has diminished considerably.

It would be easy for me to take credit for Zara’s emotional growth, and although I do think I should take some, it is also true that the pressure of development, the neurologically pre-programmed wiring to become independent beings, is also at play. As Zara’s brain matures, she feels more of a need to start her own life, and hence be less focused on the flaws of her parental figures. Psychotherapy and development work together to shape Zara’s emerging self. This is a common theme in my blog. Forgive the repetition, but my amazement about the power of development never ceases.

4 Responses to “Late Adolescence: A Lesson Of Compromise”

  1. Jon said

    There is an inherent problem in modern society. A young adult become physically mature somewhere between puberty and say the age of eighteen. However, such a new adult is not financially mature until much later. This problem perhaps predates the industrial revolution. The internal stress induced upon such a young adult is indicative of what Zara has had to face. As you have noted, Zara has had a stormy period. She seems to have progressed beyond that. New adventures await her with new strengths developed to cope with those adventures. Onward to the next phase of her life, and the best of luck.

    • Shirah said

      Hi Jon,
      I am not so sure that this is an inherent problem in modern society. I agree that adolescence is a distinctly 20th century phenomenon, where there is a period of time between puberty and financial independence. This has given rise to the psychological developmental period where an emerging adult begins to vacillate between extremes of moods and ideas. Ultimately, and hopefully, this roller coaster of emotion stabilizes at some point, such that a deeper and stronger human mind is formed, setting up that individual for a mentally healthy and resilient existence. Hence, I think that modern society has done the human mind a favor; society has given individuals a chance to mature before they are completely responsible for their own well-being. I see this as a blessing and not a curse.
      No one, including me, could imagine Zara’s mood swings calming down, but they did. Luckily there was no collateral damage as her mood swings occurred at a time when our society could rightfully understand that “after all, she is an adolescent.” This forgiveness allowed Zara to mature to the delight of all those who cared about her. As we understand adolescence, Zara was never labeled with a psychiatric diagnosis. Had this happened, then she would have been deeply misunderstood. Having been a part of Zara’s life for so long, I can say that she was almost labeled many times. Looking at her now, one would never think that. Again, thank goodness for a culturally sanctioned “stormy adolescence.”
      Thanks, as always, for stimulating a discussion.

  2. Shelly said

    You’re right in that adolescence is a 20th century invention. In past history, young adults were married in their teens, and were parents by their 20’s. Young men apprenticed or learned trades at age 12, 14 or 16, so the angst of delayed adolescence and the parental tirades were luxuries not seen in the past. We enable our children’s extended childhood by not forcing them to fend for themselves. By our continuously throwing them the lifeboats, we do not show them how to swim.

  3. Hi Shelly,
    Yes, I agree with you. The question though is whether adolescence is a good developmental stage for long-term growth, or is it an arena for narcissism to flourish such that our future generations will be more and more self-centered. I would like to think the former, but I can see an argument for the latter. Thanks, as always.

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