Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

College Anxiety

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 2, 2012

Amaranta, fifty-four, is really worried about her son, Kevin,  going to college. Unlike the usual worries of college admission, personal safety, new-found independence, and/or substance abuse, Amaranta is worried what will happen when Kevin finishes school. “What happens to these kids?” She asks, not expecting an answer, but pondering the loneliness and isolation one might feel when one completes a degree, but has no skills. “Don’t you think Kevin will figure it out?” I say, trying to understand why she is projecting into his future and then making herself anxious. “I don’t know. I wish I knew.” Amaranta declares, as if her anxiety is a foreign-body. Knowing that Amaranta had a circuitous path to her now highly successful career, I wondered aloud about why her path does not help her with her anxiety about Kevin. “I think I got lucky,” Amaranta said, disavowing her intelligence, her hard work and her forward-thinking. “You mean that you don’t feel ownership over your career path. You feel like you landed here from a spacecraft.” I say, highlighting her view that she did not engineer her future. “Yes, that is how I feel,” Amaranta replies, helping me to understand that if she feels her career was so random, then I can understand how she could mount such heavy anxiety with regards to Kevin. The issue, it seems to me, is not about Kevin, but about how she does not feel agency over her life’s path. She does not feel confident in herself that she had the skills to find a life with both personal and financial satisfaction. This causes her anxiety. As with a navigation system, together, Amaranta and I could recalculate our path, and focus her anxiety away from Kevin and on to her own sense of insecurity. Anxiety is the tip of the iceberg, as Freud would say. Digging deeper validates his view.

2 Responses to “College Anxiety”

  1. Shelly said

    So is this a typical case of someone “living her life through her children?” I mean, Amaranta apparently is reliving her life through Kevin’s eyes. The doubts she feels about Kevin’s path is not Kevin’s doubts, but her own doubts of her own. Parents who seem to live vicariously through their children’s successes or failures are essentially reliving their own, are they not? How do we therefore separate our own ids from our childrens’? Parents naturally are concerned about their children’s career paths and futures: when is it normal anxiety and when is it above and beyond?

    • Shirah said

      Yes, but in this example, the vicarious living is an unconscious process. It is only with the opportunity for reflection that Amaranta can come to understand her displaced anxiety. The goal here is to try to become more in tune with the underlying meaning of one’s mental state. This is always a challenge, and in tough times, may require the help of a professional. Thanks.

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