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Failure to Launch

“Failure to launch” is a term used to describe a situation in which a young person is unable to leave the protection of the parental home to begin living independently. The term has gained significant attention in recent years as more young people are staying in the family home longer than in years past.

The millennial generation (people born between the early 1980s and early 2000s) is facing an unprecedented level of financial insecurity, one of the most challenging job markets in recent history, and an extremely complex and fast-moving social life. While most young adults will effectively navigate these difficult waters, and find the will and skill needed to enter independent adulthood, many others will fall by the wayside and find themselves stagnating without a sense of purpose or passion.

This pervasive issue is not just about a lack of motivation, however. The core issue is the lack of development of what German psychoanalyst Erik Erikson called “ego identity.” In plain language, it is a guiding set of internalized moral values that define and answer the question, “Who am I?”

Once the young adult knows who he is, he can begin to decide how to express that identity in the world around him, often in terms of a career or a vocation of service.  Parents and home life play a huge part in the development of identity.

Literature on the subject cites several factors impacting the development of identity, purpose and independent functioning. Permissive parenting or parenting that is not supportive of independent decision-making and functioning (helicopter parenting) is closely correlated with lack of identity development, lower levels of moral reasoning, an external locus of control (giving in to peer pressure) and difficulty differentiating from the family and parents.

Other common obstacles include mental health issues, trauma, substance use disorders and issues of organization and reasoning (executive functioning). The factors exacerbate a lack of identity and can make thriving in today’s demanding world exceedingly painful and difficult for young people at a time when they are forming opinions of themselves and their relationship to others that will shape the rest of their personal and professional lives.

Failure to launch and substance use disorder often go hand-in-hand. Whether young people succumb to substance misuse and lose the ability to focus and work effectively, or if they are self-medicating to overcome underlying mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, where you find failure to launch, you often find substance use disorder.

Developing the skills and mentality required to complete education, attain meaningful work, maintain relationships and live independently play a critical role in treating this condition. To address this wide range of needs, assistance must be given with identity achievement, mental health disorders, functional relationship building, educational and career counseling services, and the trauma often found in people suffering from this issue.

Life skill work instills good and healthful behaviors and thinking, including in the areas of nutrition and financial literacy needed to live a healthy, productive and promising life.

By // Paul Auchterlonie

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