The Relationship COSTS of Skipping IDENTITY in Adolescence

Erikson's Developmental Needs Stages

Erikson’s Developmental Needs Stages

ONGOING CONFLICT IN MARRIAGE: Couples often continue to treat each other the same way they did when they were teens. One of the most tragic complaints I hear from couples in my Marriage Counseling sessions, is when they describe their arguments, fighting and resentment. Sometimes it has escalated into being mean, harmful, abusive or violent. They are indicating to me that that they are stuck and hope that I can help them.

They are usually stuck because they don’t know how to stop the negativity. They don’t have the knowledge nor the skill to resolve their differences. Even though they love each other, their inability to pour on the love and to share their grievances respectfully, is carving away pieces of their bond. They don’t know how to be generous and empathetic in an intimate relationship and they can’t solve or resolve their conflicts. 

Relationship Roles Ladder

Relationships: Stages of Advancement

MARRIAGE IS FOR GROWN-UPS: Sadly enough, sometimes, my job is to say, in the most respectful manner, “It’s time for you both to grow up.” They continue to treat each other the same way they did when they were teens. As a Marriage Counselor, I remind us that it really requires people who are individuated…who can function as adults. A man and a woman have completed their sense of self so that they are interested in their mate rather than in protecting their own opinions. To build an intimate relationship, it is best to be able to don the roles of a husband and a wife (or husbands and wives) in order to stand side-by-side…a unit which can become the unity of a marriage.

Our Ability to Create INTIMACY (Erikson’s 6th Psychosocial Developmental Stage starts in the First Adulthood between 28 and 30) comes AFTER Adolescence…after we have built our Identity. We grow our abilities in relationships through life which I illustrate in The Stages of Advancement in Life and Relationships at left: Infant, Toddler, Little Girl & Little Boy, Girl & Boy, Teen Girl (Damsel) & Teen Boy (Knight), Man & Woman, Husband & Wife, Protective Gentleman & Gracious Lady, Queen & King, Mother & Father, Grandmother & Grandfather. We understand that this is just a model and that the journey of life can’t be that tidy. But, it’s a teaching tool I created for ensuring that there are no blind spots. My hope is that each person has the advantage of living into all of the roles.

COSTS OF SKIPPING SELF: A Few of the Costs of Skipping IDENTITY (Erikson’s 5th Psychosocial Developmental Stage from 13 to 28) and trying to create an intimate, one-on-one relationship in adolescence before Identity is complete:

IDENTITY: An Integrated Image of Oneself as an Unique Person: A. Try Different Roles, B. Develop a Sense of Self and C. Learn the Meaning of Life through relationships with family, peer groups and out-groups.  (NOT  girlfriends or boyfriends.)

Should we expect otherwise?

  • Losing the attachment or bond with the family unit...with home and, instead, attaching to peers.
  • Dating too young – which locks in a craving for puppy luv and emotional neediness; a fear of being alone (needing a “Number 2” in the sidelines) and which displaces the time and interest necessary for growth, learning, meaning and mastery.
  • Developing unhealthy sexual behaviors or experiencing abuse from sexual inhibitions, prohibition, over-sexualization, sexual coercion or, even, molestation.
  • Lack of emotional intelligence…teenage over-sensitivity, aggressiveness and lack of resilience or robustness to handle miscommunication, fears, hurts, betrayal and anger.
  • Low self-esteem and lack of confidence which causes, among many other dynamics, jealousy, insecurity, bullying and emotional manipulation.
  • Misuse of power through either inflexible discipline, aggression, bullying and punishment or passive entitlement and self-indulgence.
  • Interruption in developing the Inner Executive Functions through family and group dialogue, learning, projects, higher schooling, experimentation, travel, cultivation of skills and art forms.
  • The immature available peer group of friends and community are usually those outcasts who have attached to other immature and/or compulsive people.

HOLD ON TO YOUR KIDS: If you want complete information about maintaining and enriching the healthy attachment to family through adolescence, I encourage you to learn from the genius of Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate in their collaborative book: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers. You can find them both teaching on You Tube.


The immaturity and ignorance born of unfinished adolescence saddle us with:

  • Disrupted education, truancy, incompetence, drop outs
  • Inadequate or unhealthy coping mechanisms which lead to self numbing or self stimulation and, possibly, addiction
  • False beliefs, unclear values, financial incompetence
  • Psychological wounds leading to the emotional detachment and the unhealthy drama of aggression, violence, defiance, combativeness
  • Selfishness, lack of empathy or compassion, hardened heart, self-centeredness
  • Lack of skills in lifestyle and relationships which usually engender single parents, divorce and poverty
  • Confusion about differing personality and gender needs causing fighting, infidelity, co-habitation, domestic violence, breakups and divorce
  • Sexual immaturity or wounds via compromised arousal maps through early sexual activity, exploitation, etc. making people sexually incompetent, deviated or abusive
  • Romantic enmeshment, codependency, pregnancy, teen pregnancy, love addiction, emotional manipulation
  • Alcohol, tobacco, drug use, and other addictions
  • Problems in family functioning, lack of structure, unhealthy eating, school failure, mental illness, financial distress
  • Isolation in screen time: computers, gaming and virtual reality excluding the experiences necessary to communicate, create healthy relationships and a healthy lifestyle.

We face a lack of:

  • Physical Health
  • Bonds with a Happy Tribe or Family
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Identity and Confidence
  • Willpower, Achievement and Security
  • Purpose and Mission
  • Strength of Character and Citizenship.

With these handicaps, people justify compromising a respect for goodness. I hear the complaints and anguish of loneliness, lost hope, narrowed options, addiction, longing for a mate, tolerating abuse, boredom and emptiness.


GENERATIONAL JOURNEY: Our times expose those with the unwillingness to value adulthood, with its requisite psychological agility, clear identity, responsible achievement, service to society and quality activities. We have been on a generational journey to stay young, to seek stimulus or thrills, sensory distraction in pleasure or numbing and present-moment novelty. 

TO CONFRONT, TO OPPOSE, TO EMULATE: Our news media have been reporting incidents which display, as Leo Rosten observed, “what the dissatisfied students were looking for were adults—adults to confront, to oppose, to emulate.” Without education for “Keeping Our Teens On Track,” today’s parents are lost in a snowballing trend to stay young and to avoid growing up.

(See the supporting research done by Diana West in her book, “The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization.”)


PARENTING AND TEACHING: Developmental Psychology has mastered how the brain, personality and character grow and methods to ensure that we succeed with parenting and teaching the next generation. Here are eight basic growth goals:

  1. A Matter of the Body – Safety and Health
  2. A Matter of Bonding – Family, Friends and Society
  3. A Matter of Identity – Worthiness and Purpose
  4. A Matter of the Heart – Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
  5. A Matter of Power – Enthusiasm and Willpower
  6. A Matter of Mission – Creativity and Service
  7. A Matter of Character – Virtue and Integrity
  8. A Matter of Relationships – Personal and Professional
Building Blocks of a Healthy Life

Building Blocks of a Healthy Life

Today’s mentors and educators are fully prepared to teach all of these natural abilities now. The only obstacle is how to develop enough providers and how to reach the people who are ready to learn. Perhaps the very mediums that deliver the bad news will create innovative means for delivering the information and resources.

by Heather Carlile

Dallas, Texas 2015

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