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Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA

It’s Not Easy Being a Grown-Up

The Challenges of Adulthood

If you’re raising a teenager or can remember your own adolescence you know that it’s a time of profound growth, change, and vulnerability. It’s understandable that the mental health world is so focused on adolescent development and the potential trauma that teens experience as they attempt to navigate scary challenges-often without a safety net. And yet, it’s important to acknowledge that there are other challenges and obstacles that confront you in different life stages, including adulthood. These challenges can range from normal milestones to the byproduct of trauma. They include: becoming an empty nester; losing a job or being passed over for a promotion; unhappiness or burn-out in your career or feeling stuck in a toxic workplace. You may have stress from an unhappy marriage, a complicated divorce or re-marriage. You might be traumatized by domestic violence. You may feel challenged by parenting your stepchildren or older children who are struggling in some way. Perhaps you have to deal with your aging or ill parents, or you’ve been traumatized by a medical diagnosis or the onset of physical problems. Changes in finances, dealing with foreclosure, bankruptcy, or unemployment can add tremendous stress. Dealing with a partner’s mental health, addictive behaviors or their medical issues can be overwhelming. Additional stressors such as being the victim of crime or a natural disaster, dealing with a loved one who is in jail, your retirement or your spouse’s, illness or death of a close friend or family member can create tipping points in your life as well.

In many ways, as we get older life gets more complicated. Many of the aforementioned scenarios are unavoidable when you live longer. And yet these stumbling blocks can create intense feelings of anxiety, fear, inadequacy, anger, depression, helplessness, isolation, and even shame. Adults who lack good resources for comfort, problem solving, and support, experience these obstacles as insurmountable and overwhelming. Instead of embracing challenges as opportunities for growth and change, they become triggers that impact self-worth, fuel feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and even move you towards self-destructive behaviors in order to cope. Some adults adopt new, unhealthy, coping strategies such as excessive drinking, compulsive shopping or gambling, a porn addiction, or workaholic behaviors. Others experience an increase in dysfunctional coping strategies they have been doing for years.

Being grown up doesn't mean that you’ve outgrown the right to get support!

The developmental challenges of adulthood can be associated with a loss of identity, power, and control. Life transitions can feel overwhelming and scary particularly if you associate change with being unsafe or assume that change can only lead to a bad outcome. It’s also important to know a prior history of losses earlier in life makes the predictable losses of older adulthood even more triggering. If you are a struggling adult, you need and deserve an external network of support to normalize your feelings, point you towards helpful resources, provide comforting and reassuring words, advocate for you, or even walk beside you to help you through the experience. If these things are not available to you, or you feel unable to take full advantage of them when they are offered, know that you become vulnerable to turning to self-destructive behaviors to self-soothe, distract from fear, or re-claim a sense of control.

When life throws you a painful curve it makes sense that the need for soothing dramatically increases. Being grown up doesn't mean that you’ve outgrown the right to get support! The sooner you can reach out to people in your life who are safe and trusting, even if it is humbling or makes you vulnerable to do so, the more likely it is that you will emerge from that challenge a stronger and wiser person. Besides, consider the positive modeling you’ll be offering the struggling adolescents in your life when you normalize the notion of reaching out for support when it’s needed!

Who do you turn to as an adult when you need comfort or support?

Excerpts from this article are taken from "Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Workbook of Hope and Healing," by Lisa Ferentz.