Of all the paradoxes of human behavior, none is greater than that the act most enhanced by love is driven by the emotions most likely to disrupt our relationships and corrupt our behavior.
Considering animals, nature would appear wise in ensuring that physically mature individuals are driven to leave the family group. As well as preventing the weakness of inbreeding, dispersal ensures that good genes spread.
Unfortunately, in people physical maturity comes a decade before psychological maturity. The brain adapts as we age, adding new parts as we learn to relate with family, friends and community. The highest skill is altruism – the ability to imagine “walking in someone’s shoes” and to act for their benefit. The part of the brain that supports altruism doesn’t form until our mid-twenties (if then).
The sex drive, of course, comes with puberty, shortly after turning ten. In boys, testosterone drives aggression and the growth of muscles to back it up. In girls, estrogen engenders bonding and the sensitivity to manipulate emotions. In both, the ecstatic thrills that swept through the whole body in childhood are focused in the sex organs. Unless released, those urges build, disrupting sleep. Exhaustion leads to irritability, sowing tension among family, friends and community. The immature brain rarely recognizes these defects, tending rather to project fault upon others.
Fortunately in modern society elementary school prepares children with conditioning to pursue self-improvement through education. As long as the teen achieves some academic success, school acts as a brake on serious misbehavior. Other supervised group activities – such as sports, scouting, and religion – also provide adolescents positive outlets for their energy and the opportunity to practice adult roles.
Sleep habits also change among adolescents. The sleep cycle delays by as much as three hours, giving youth time at the end of the day to develop relationships free from adult supervision. During the deepest stages of sleep, the brain sheds connections. The thought patterns that are preserved are those that support success among peers.
Given the biological drives of puberty, we shouldn’t be surprised that success with peers is often driven by sexual attraction. Unless confronted, this is a deep subconscious lesson that comes to the fore whenever our relationships are dissatisfying. Since sexual urges facilitated separation from parents, they are often indulged by adults separating from spouse, children or employers.
The well-adjusted adolescent explores social roles, entering adulthood with a well-formed identity that reflects their natural strengths and skills. Less fortunate peers are hobbled with role confusion, a problem that may lead to career and relationship hopping. Role confusion may be heightened by parental over-involvement, either during adolescence or as a hold-over from childhood.
For those suffering from role confusion, therapy guides them through experiences to reach a rational choice of role. Pre-hypnosis dialog reveals negative self-talk and builds positive expectations. In hypnosis, a positive self-image is implanted to encourage the subconscious to allow the chosen role to emerge. Subsequent sessions reinforce those motivations until the client reaches a conclusion about the role. If unsatisfactory, accomplishments are celebrated and reinforced, and another role is pursued.
Almost universally, young adults carry wounds from the chaotic romantic collisions of adolescence. Sexual attraction forms in the right side of brain, which reaches its subconscious conclusions as much as a second before the conscious mind realizes that a potential mate has been encountered. Given the power of sexual desire, the conscious mind usually proceeds to rationalize the attraction, projecting imaginary virtues on the new crush. When reality collides with fantasy and the relationship tanks, we awake with bruised self-confidence and – particularly when sex was part of the romance – wounded self-esteem.
Along with educating clients about relationship complementarity (more in the next post in this series), the primary goal of therapy is to reawaken romantic confidence. A wounded romantic partner is a defensive romantic partner. When both partners are wounded, after the “honeymoon” a relationship tilts rapidly into mutual disdain. Therapy in this case is like role confusion therapy, rebuilding confidence in our ability to heal from heartbreak while restoring the motivation to be our authentic selves. The only wrinkle is that the absent partner may attempt (consciously or subconsciously) to undermine progress. While many hypnotherapists can provide general guidance regarding relationship patterns and effective communication, to deal with interpersonal dynamics, a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) must be brought into the therapy.
Most seriously, overly demanding parental expectations can cause teens to rebel against the changes of puberty. Subconsciously, the perfect princess may seize upon an eating disorder to prevent menstruation. Insecure adolescents may use insomnia to delay changes in the brain. Such syndromes require specialized therapy in collaboration with licensed practitioners of medicine and psychology.