The difficulty of adolescence (-apart from the living through it-) are the vestiges or remains of the ego states that guided our thinking then and the parts of these get left behind to form our psyche as we move into maturity.
What we do or did as younger people profoundly affects us in later life; like all history, unless we learn from our experiences, we are doomed to repeat them.
Adolescence represents the link between childhood, where we were held responsible for few of our actions and where possibly too, we were not that effective in shaping our world.
In maturity we are held responsible for all our acts; whether conscious or unconscious. Adolescence then, is when the shift begins from irresponsibility to full responsibility, yet we are still allowed some laxity in trying out new behaviours, ways of being and ideas. Here I suggest that adolescence is informed or guided by three ego states or distortions in our thinking
The are three major ego states of adolescence:
2) Mythic life
3) Invisible Audience
Each of these ego states is primarily focussed during adolescence and echoes of them recur throughout our lives unless we are prepared to fully understand them, learn from them and move on. My intention here is to explore each in turn and to demonstrate how they can affect us or can continue to affect our lives.
1) Invincibility is the belief that as young people youth will always be ours; that we cannot or will not ever die. This feeling creates within us the ability to follow dangerous sports, to want to do newer possibly ever more dangerous things and to keep going when we face difficulties. The downside is that this creates the belief that excessive drink, drugs and dangerous activities are not life threatening; we are going to live forever and are able to push our minds and bodies to the limits without regard. It is only when we reach our physical or mental limits that we begin to recognise our personal boundaries. Unfortunately for some; this searching for boundary results in death. Generally for most of us we encounter our fear/s, have an accident, an injury or we simply grow out such pursuits. Our legacy then becomes happy memories of the exploits of our youth, enjoyment of the irresponsibility we could have then and at worst scars or injuries that create arthritic pains as we get older. If we do not reach or learn to respect our limits, we continue on to either hurt ourselves and/or others by our actions.
2) Mythic Life generates the belief that we will be rich and famous. Be celebrities; film, pop, sports or media stars; that we will be discovered as the wonders we are when singing karaoke, walking down the street or even playing guitar badly but with noise, passion and verve in the garage. The difficulty with this ego state is that it can allow us to do nothing, to kick back and wait because; ‘its going to happen anyway, right?’
These beliefs can unfortunately stop us from making the most important things happen that we need to build a career, to develop our athletic talents, our writing, singing or music playing skills.
At this point too, young lives appear full of omens, portents and signs that wondrous things are and will continue to happen in their lives. Our vision is clear; we are connecting on deeper more heroic and mythic levels than those older types playing it safe…and for some this will indeed come true, life will conspire to pluck them from obscurity and into fame. However, in maturity we recognise that for every example of this happening there are dozens more who have made their achievement through hard work, perseverance and developing their innate talents.
Also we recognise that If we do not ground ourselves by finding the depth, value and limits of our talents then we can become doomed to living in a fantasy world where one day we will ‘make it big’ and continue hanging on or waiting for that lucky day.
3) Invisible Audience is perhaps the Ego State we are most aware of and can or will consciously acknowledge, the others being more repressed or difficult to own. In this state, we become aware that from dawn ‘til dusk that the eyes of the world are upon us; we are continually assessed on (especially) our looks, our abilities and levels of ‘Coolness’
Beneficially this state helps us to make the best of ourselves, to begin to recognise that there is a wider world away from our own previously juvenile personal concerns. A world of different belief systems, of fashions, groups different or like ourselves. Where there may be a place, a niche, for us in this larger adult world. On the downside: this is when a pimple becomes a life or death matter. I’m not joking here as every year countless teenagers kill themselves because of their body image; having Acne, being too tall, too short, fat, thin, mediocre or the stress of being too popular. These can all contribute to teen suicide and we mock such feelings at their peril.
This invisible audience causes young people to dress provocatively; either to shock or seduce. As every eye is upon them they dress to make the most of that audience. This fuels fashions, trends, creates peer groups and creates alliances against the old order that ‘doesn’t understand. And we don’t; because either we forget about these deep feelings as we grew out of them or made them part of our emotional makeup.
In later life, the desire for thick net curtains or needing to keep all our personal affairs hidden ‘because the world is watching’ can be signs that this ego state still keeps a hold on us. As we mature emotionally we learn to recognise that in reality the world is watching only if we draw attention to ourselves in some way and that other people have their own more pressing concerns to attend to unless ours interrupt theirs.
In combination, these ego states can be lethal, by themselves, they can distort our thinking for good or ill and if we are not aware of them they can remain with us into our later lives: As adults we may hide behind a ‘front’ developed in adolescence; the hard man, the drinker, the smoker, toker or junkie. The flirt, the tease, the risk taker, the wannabe rock star or celeb.
I’m not saying that after adolescence we should give up our ambitions nor should we abandon our dreams. What I want to say is: that we may be discovered as the wonderful people we are. But that unless we have put effort in to write, learn to play or develop our skills, that when opportunity arises we will have nothing behind the façade to continue building a career upon and that this is more mature thought.
Conversely if our dreams are shattered in our teens then depression can become an option; a retreat into smallness…’its only me, insignificant, nobody, nothing little old me’ and this place eventually is just as debilitating as that of excess. Both extremes being built by distorted thinking and each driven by not being comfortable with who we really are. And this is the key; if we can grow and recognise that Death will come to us. That a Mythic Life can be ours if we build the skills and put in the time and effort needed to accomplish great things, that the world is not our Audience and not watching our every move and judging us; but this we do to ourselves.