The adolescent’s task is to separate more definitely from the family, to solidify his place
in the social order of his peers, and to establish a satisfying sexual and emotional intimacy
with someone of the opposite sex.
At this point the parents are charged with accepting the budding sexuality of an emerging adult
while providing a model of appropriate behavior as to the boundaries of intimacy.
The message they want to convey is, “We are close and loving with each other,
and we want the same for you.
We are going to support you.
We hope you find a nice girl friend.
We look forward to meeting her and getting to know her.”
The teenager may have avoided serious wounds in his earlier caretaking,
but if his parents have a troubled dynamic, or he has been appropriated by either of his parents’
for their own gratification, he is bound to carry that baggage into his first attempts at intimacy.
In addition to their example, he needs their support.
If he can bring his new love home to his caretakers with their approval,
if they are not threatened, jealous, or embarrassed by his emerging sexuality,
and if he can integrate his new relationship into the rest of his life
– at home, at school – then the impulse toward intimacy becomes right and natural.
The Rebellious Child, Fear Of Being Controlled
Some parents, fearful and envious of the child’s power, freedom, and sexuality,
pull in the reins at this point.
“Don’t grow up,” they are saying.
“You’re not ready for the world, and we’re not ready to let you go.”
The child is angry at any restriction of freedom as he tries his wings,
and angry that his parents don’t trust him to make the right choices.
His only defense is to break the rules that he finds too limiting, for he fears
that to acquiesce would trap him, and that he would lose his fragile sense of self.
Most teenagers test their limits, challenging authority in an attempt to see
how far they can go before they are reined in, and to test how much of the larger world is
open to them.
They also want to see if their parents are there to support and protect them,
i.e., do they still have a safety net to fall back on if they go too far?
But the rebel is more extreme.
He has a hair-trigger sensitivity to anyone – his parents, his teachers,
his girlfriend – telling him what to do.
His dress and language are not just indicators of his individuality; they are meant to provoke.
Any negative response gives him an excuse to rebel further, and confirms his belief
that all authority figures are rigid and reactionary, so he must be vigilant against others
encroaching on his rights.
The Adult: A Rebel
In adulthood, the rebellious child becomes a crusading Rebel, railing against social rules and behavior,
compulsively going against the grain, despite the fact that no one is telling him
what to do anymore.
He is full of contrary opinions, and goes out of his way to set himself apart.
He is suspicious of the motives of others, and worries that they are trying to control him
or to impose the status quo.
In a sense, he doesn’t grow up.
He relives the rebellion of the “terrible twos,” defying all limits, still acting as though
people are trying to boss him around.
His relationships tend to be adversarial, and he fears that his partner will dominate him
if he isn’t on guard.
He needs his freedom and his “space,” but he can easily be made to feel guilty.
On the other hand, the rebel, if he has not been too wounded in childhood,
may become a social reformer.
He will fight for lost causes, march on the capital, refuse to eat meat,
and champion any cause that guarantees freedom or extends the limits of social behavior.
If his wounds are deep, he will become an outcast or a criminal.
Not surprisingly, he is usually attracted to a nonconformist, a model citizen who is
compulsively committed to the rules of the social game.
He desperately needs the structure and order he defies, and projects this need
upon his model partner.
At the same time, he criticizes her for being so proper, for belonging to the in-crowd
to which he secretly yearns to belong.
The Model Child: Fear Of Being Different
Conservative, rigid caretakers who are afraid of being different often raise a model child.
The parents never stop pointing out what’s odd, or weird, or unusual about the child’s friends
or clothes, interest, or taste, sending the unmistakable message: “Don’t be different.”
Their range of acceptability falls into a very narrow band.
“If you try to be different,” they warn, “you’ll never have any friends.
You won’t be an accepted unless you get along with others.
If you stand out, you will become a target.”
In addition, they warn, “You’ll get into trouble.”
The child buys the party line that the only way you’ll be loved is to be like everyone else
and “do what is right.”
Though the child might still have secret longings, opinions, or interests,
he is afraid he will lose the love and acceptance of his peers, his parents,
and other adults, if he dares to be different.
So the model child is born, the well-behaved, well-groomed paragon of TV commercials
and family sitcoms.
He is the one who volunteers to be the homeroom monitor, puts up the decorations
for the school dance; and often he is the confidant to whom his peers tell their troubles.
The Adult: A Conformist
The model child becomes a Conformist in adulthood, and lives in a world of model citizens,
fighting for the status quo.
He is full of self-righteousness about what’s wrong with the world, full of certitude
about how things should be, convinced of the decadence of the new generation,
and pines for the “good old days.”
Conformists don’t make waves, and they are offended by the waves others make.
They see themselves as preservers of the common good, traditional values,
and moral standards.
Critical of “individualists” and rule breakers, they are nevertheless attracted to rebellious,
childlike partners who carry their hidden rebelliousness, the resentment of their failed adolescence,
missed opportunities, and lost freedom.
They often have rich fantasies of aberrant sexuality, dreams of murder or flying.
Secretly they yearn to be free of constrictive rules, which they often break in private.
Often, behind the fašade of propriety lives a depressed child or a criminal in disguise.
Yet Conformists are condescending to rebellious partners and try to control them
and make them behave, feeling like they have to be good and hold things together
for their immature, uncooperative mates.
It is interesting to know that the push/pull dynamic of couples whose wounding occurred
at these later stages of Concern or Intimacy is more fluid.
Their character structure is looser, and the partners tend to alternate roles more easily
than those injured at earlier stages when the character structure is more rigid.
Character structure is always relative to the person we are relating to:
when the Distancer comes closer or starts to pursue, the Pursuer becomes distant.
But it is even more malleable here.
Thus, in about 30% of cases that Hendrix saw was cases in which
the Rebel is the Maximizer and the Conformist is the Minimizer.
Hendrix writes, “Well, that’s pretty depressing, isn’t it?
It’s a wonder that can get out of bed in the morning, and dress and feed ourselves,
with all the baggage we’re carting around, all the indirection and defensiveness.
I agree that this is the hard part, but it is also hopeful part.
Fortunately, we can repair the damage if we work at it.
In fact, in doing so we are aligning with our fervent unconscious wish to be whole.”