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The Adolescent Psyche: Jungian and Winnicottian Perspective.

This section will have headers, information taken, and my thoughts on how it relates to my project.


Adolescent friendship and the first falling in love.


This is the age where adolescents are 'unreservedly open itself in connecting to another'. How they express themselves flows in a 'direct and uncensored manner'. At this stage there is a 'vulnerability' along with the 'willingness to share complicated feelings' with other people. As they enter into this stage in life, they tend to take their friendships more seriously, and have a more loyal and faithful relationship protecting and sheltering each other. The dynamics of the 'caregiver' tends to change slightly here moving away from the family to a friend group; 'As intimacy needs are no longer exclusively met by the family, closeness and familiarity transfers over to the peer groups'. There is a sense of a open canvas that's picking up on everything that's passing by. Also, the evidence that the adolescents are moving away from the family unit and is taking inspiration from the outside world to shape their life. To take inspiration, there must be interaction - which is what this project aims to do by building the necessary skills needed to have a meaningful interaction.


One of the key moments this happens is when they fall in love for the first time; 'Here, the turn toward the other is sexual and the trajectory of this love moves in a direction opposing familial life. The 'falling' of a first love is earmarked by its high psychic charge and dramatic fervency.' Example of first time experiences.


(Excerpt from page 119, Frankel, 1999)

^The intensity of adolescent love.


Betrayal


When they start placing their trust outside the family unit, and start to develop chosen relationships, they also start experiencing betrayal. By conversing with the unit outside the family, they discover betrayals within the family as well. The grief and the mourning of betrayal 'feel unbearable to a psyche that is new to this kind of raw pain'.


Events such as 'breaking up, being jilted, lied to, snubbed, or thrown over for someone else burn into the psyche leaving traces that markedly affect the flow of libido for subsequent decades in adult life'. At this stage, the 'knowledge about protecting the self become necessity'. 'These extremely painful episodes serve as instruction for safeguarding the self. One learns about caution and retrain in the face of entering into relationships.'


'Finding one's own particular way of protecting the heart and bearing its anguish, all take root in response to these initial encounters that touch off the psyche's tremendous capacity for suffering'.


According to Frankel, this is a time where betrayal plays a large part. While dealing with these, there is a new set of emotions and meanings conceived. If they don't recover from a certain betrayal, that feeling could stay with them for life and will have an active role in the psychological health in adolescents.


'By creating a relationship with an adolescent who has withdrawn inside and removed himself from contact with the world, psychotherapy can function to bring an isolated psyche back into connection.'


The first time experience of pain, betrayal, and the want to protect themselves. This is when strong ideas are formed on what they would avoid, what they would do, and take conviction in their ideas of what they think is best for them. Without having past experiences to reflect on, it can be argued that when they make up their mind on matters, it will feel absolute and true.

Thoughts on suicide and death


At this stage they are all introduced to the concept 'that we are mortal and must die'. Their thoughts lean towards a more 'experiential level' and they haven't made sense of the idea of death yet. The insertion of God and death become somewhat important and are regarded as 'intellectual ideas and emotional realities'.


Frankel mentions in his book an incident from We've had a hundred years of psychotherapy-- and the world's getting worse by James Hillman and Michael Ventura, where Michael Ventura's 13 year old son walks into the house in the evening, sits down and says 'It's fucked. It's so fucked, man, the whole thing is fucking fucked. What do you do in this world, man?'. The reason Frankel stress on this point is because he questions whether adulthood could handle such a strong declaration without thinking something specific is wrong. That being an adult means instead of being a witness, the obvious conclusion would be that the child is going to hurt himself or that he is in need of a plan. Frankel says 'the adolescent is trusting that the person listening will be receptive to their suffering without needing to literalize (sic) it'. However, he questions whether it's irresponsible of the adult not to be legitimately concerned about suicide and staying safe.


'Our panic in hearing an adolescent articulate thoughts and feelings which are at home in this region can have the effect of instilling panic in the adolescent. If we are not willing to face up to the fact that adolescent, in and of itself, contains this darker edge, we may be subtly communicating the message that such emotion is wrong, intolerable, and cannot be survived. Rather than hearing them out and modeling a way of bearing such feelings, our response displays our own distrust of strong affect and the need to dissociate from it. '


Frankel says the reason for this excessive showcase of emotions is because the adolescent is the time where they have left childhood and the dependency on the parental unit, and now experiencing love, grief, loss, gain for the first time. During this time, there is a shift in how they see their parents; no longer being all encompassing heroes but less idealised. There might be certain moments they see as their parents failing them, and not who they need them to be. This realisation and loss comes with mourning, and sometimes it's not quiet. 'This reckoning involves a powerful desire for parents to change coupled with convincing evidence time and again that certain aspects of who their parents are and how they behave are not subject to modification.'


There is a constant battleground in adolescents where they want to be treated as adults - coexisting with the adults in their lives - as well as 'unconscious yearnings for childish gratification'. That the adolescents want the best of both worlds, and as example Frankel says 'they want the freedom to stay out until very late and yet sleep in the next morning, missing school'. This frustrates the parents and in turn, they point out that being an adult comes with adult responsibilities.


There is also mention of how certain adolescents would want to leave their family unit, but the parents might 'mistakenly protect' them based on 'our sentimentality about family' which 'preserves the fantast of everyone living together harmoniously'. Individuation may express itself when the adolescent express to leave home before 'her parents are ready for such a change'.


Referring back to the first time experiences, this is a first for the parents as well. To experience the changes within the adolescents and how to respond to them is learning progress. With the age gap between parents and their children, there is a distinct difference in the responses the two generations would have to a similar situation. As seen here, something that seems 'end of the world' to an adolescent would seem as a 'petty issue' for those who have had similar experiences over and over.


Direct excepts from text:

Religious and philosophical explorations


G. Stanley Hall (1904), who coined the term "adolescence" to mean a discrete developmental period, understood it as a time of religious enthusiasm.


There is a search for meaning beyond the self in the cosmological contemplation of where one fits into the universe. A genuine opening to matters of the spirit arises as an adolescent immerses himself in the religion of his parents, adopts a new religion, or begins studying spiritual texts or engaging in spiritual rituals.


We are likely to scorn an adolescent when she articulates her sense of a religious or philosophical matter. I have come to realize that our scorn may be a to the unpolished and unsophisticated manner in which adolescents express their ideas. The word "adolescent" itself is used in a condemnatory way when someone presents us with a piece of artwork or poetry that is raw and unevolved. The charge, "I find your work adolescent" means that it is too concrete, and its overzealousness and enthusiasm for the subject matter is embarrassingly sentimental or it chases after truth and beauty in such a heavy-handed and overidealized way that it entirely lacks grace or style. There is a particular piece of counter- transference that gets triggered here. Perhaps it has something to do with the way our own productions were scoffed at, forcing underground the enthusiasm and depth of feeling that went into creating such work. Where did we keep our secret book of poems or drawings as an adolescent? Did someone discover it and ridicule us?


This kind of scorn for what is not fully crafted also plays a role when we attack an adolescent for changing his mind or speaking inconsistently. We are shocked and horrified when he strongly asserts a particular position one day, and a week later, abandons it for something else. There is little recognition given to the underlying process of crafting a cosmological, philosophical, and moral vision of the world. Nietzsche's maxim captures well our impulse to hold an adolescent frozen at a earlier position:


Those were steps for me, and I have climbed up over them: to that end I had to pass over them. Yet they thought that I wanted to retire on them. (1888, p. 472)


Adolescents are going to change their mind over and over, and how they respond to a situation will change. Therefore, my project cannot give a rigid structure on how to live their lives but to give guidance that utilises the difference between knowledge and wisdom.


Obsessive behavior and aesthetic consciousness


In the course of climbing these steps, adolescents are looking for opportunities to integrate and express the religious feelings, philosophical ideas, and aesthetic interests that they find stimulating. By trusting that however "adolescent" it might strike us, something significant at the level of feeling is going on, broadens our acceptance of the rituals and practices which help them stay connected to what moves their psyche.


Parents are fearful of these kinds of obsessions. They are constantly trying to expand the narrowness of their sons or daughter's locus of interest. That narrowing is threatening, whether it is expressed in wanting to hang out with just one friend, or reading the same book over and over again, or watching a particular movie everyday for an entire month, or eating the same food at every meal. Adult life is more structured, regulated, and balanced in the face of adult responsibilities. The gift of adolescence is being partially free from adult burdens so that these idiosyncratic


It is important to and find ways of tolerating them for they carry considerable meaning. The psyche is working something out in these little obsessions. Space is needed so that the extremes in behavior have room to develop. In what strikes us as the peculiarity of adolescent obsessions the stage is being set for the activities and interests that will serve as raw material from which one shapes a life. The moments that contributes to how we think, act, speak, and our gaze.


Adolescents have not yet learned to apply adult filters that lessen the glare and intensity of the lived world. The world is psychologically alive and speaks to the adolescent through striking, arresting images.


Adolescents develop different passions at this stage. This is relatable to me on a personal level; When Justin Bieber first entered the industry, my initial thought was 'What the hell is this music?'. It sounded familiar as my own brother have said this to me when I listened to Backstreet Boys in the 90s. Then I came to the realisation that Justin Bieber's music is not for me as Backstreet Boys was not for my brother. Just because I don't relate to the music or it's not what I grew up with doesn't mean that something is inferior.


Political and social awareness


The political consciousness that emerges in adolescence is unique. Adolescents are acutely responsive to matters of economic injustice and human rights; they are able to make observations, ask questions, and hypothesize solutions with a great freedom of mind. Their ideals are not tainted by cynicism and therefore they are pulled into the political arena with power and fiery energy. To take a stand politically as an adolescent is to engage its untampered extreme.


There is also a growing interest during adolescence in the political and social events occurring around the world. This is paradoxical because adolescents, on the one hand, are self-absorbed yet at the same time remarkably attuned to world events.


Looking back at the political climate of Sri Lanka, this aspect comes into the spotlight. While political unrest has always been led by older generations, the 2022 Economic Crisis was led by the current late adolescent, Gen Z, and they did things their way.


The need to stay hidden


As I have noted, Winnicott views the adolescent as essentially being an isolate, but assigns positive value to the protective quality of his aloneness.


The self-consciousness that marks adolescence is due in part to a feeling of being vulnerable to others in the context of relationship. The struggle to consolidate identity involves searching for a mode of being with others where the self is protected from impingement. This does not come easy. When an adolescent indirectly expresses himself and seems evasive, there may be something of this struggle going on. At times, he may be unavailable for any communication at all. Thus, our berating of adolescents for their uncommunicative nature ignores the possibility that they have not yet established a stable way of relating in which it is possible to safeguard what feels most important to them. To see the development of one's personal style of communication as an aspect of adolescent individuation helps us to appreciate what is at stake when an adolescent suddenly shuts down. By not personalizing his refusal for direct contact, we are in a better position to tolerate the frustration that it engenders. Winnicott goes on to say:


At adolescence when the individual is undergoing pubertal changes and is not quite ready to become one of the adult community there is a strengthening of the defences against being found, that is to say being found before being there to be found. That which is truly personal and which feels real must be defended at all cost, and even if this means a temporary blind- to the value of compromise.


Winnicott is expressing the idea that in adolescence the self is not ready to be found. Indeed, it does not even exist as a whole and stable entity. The adolescent has not yet been called to herself so in essence she is not yet there to be found. Hence, there is something premature about exposing the self before it has had a chance to cohere and take shape. Those attempting to do psychotherapy with adolescents should take seriously the idea that elements of the adolescent psyche need to stay hidden and undisclosed. Perhaps part of the adolescent's massive resistance to the probing and prodding of clinical psychology (intakes, diagnostics, psychological testing, and on-going psychotherapy) is a healthy defense against the premature uncovering of the self. Many adolescents come to therapy as a result of having had their core self traumatically violated either literally, through sexual or physical abuse, or figuratively, through emotional attacks and wounds to the spirit. To launch into an investigation of their inner life without respecting this developmental need to safeguard the self can be experienced by the adolescent as violating and intrusive and may, in the end, enact a repetition of the trauma.


The discovery of the self in adolescence follows a circuitous path. There is a wish to keep some distance from the workings of one's own psyche so that adolescent self-awareness occurs in a more diffuse way than it does for adults. We, in the business of psychology, must be careful not to become ultrasound technicians, uncritically deploying our therapeutic skills and techniques to uncover a definitive image of the self before it is ready to be borne. What is going on in the depths of the adolescent psyche may well need a period of concealment.


It is evident that the late adolescents is a combination of ever changing emotions that are strongly instilled in that moment. It is like trying to building and breaking down pillars every single second. While the adults are trying to lead and help the late adolescents be more resilient in the real world, it's also vital to understand that the adolescents are also human being with a cognitive that is functioning closer to an adult.


Frankel, R. (1999) “The Individual Tasks of Adolescence,” in The adolescent psyche: Jungian and Winnicottian Perspectives. London: Routledge, pp. 118–128.







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