Balancing Independence with Dependency as a Young Adult by Sarah Frank, LMFT

photo-1429260350537-7db124ce78acIn working with young adults over the years I have witnessed much struggle around the concept and goal of many to become “independent.” Seeking independence in young adulthood from the childhood home and family of origin is pretty much an agreed upon social norm for most of us in urban Western cultures, yet how many young adults are successfully launching into careers, becoming self-supporting, and entering into healthy adult relationships with peers and family by age 25? According to the U.S. News (Soergal, 2016), 21.4% of young adults (ages 24-34) still live at home with their parents, compared to 13.1% in 2005. While there are many varied reasons for this including changes in employment opportunities, increased college attendance, and rising housing costs, it clearly bears weight on the self-esteem and emotional development of this age group.

As a culture it seems we are adjusting to some new norms around what independence looks like for young adults and how it is often co-mingled with some dependency. Dependency in this stage can take positive forms such as emotional support from family, mentors, and friends but also can manifest in negative ways, from reliance on others to do for them what they are capable of doing themselves to self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, and other processes that create social isolation and health risks.

Erik Erikson, the psychologist most famous for his theories about the role of culture and society on personality development, believed that from the stages of adolescence to young adulthood we are striving to first develop a sense of who we are in the world (Identity vs. Role Confusion) and then to seek and establish healthy relationships with romantic partners and peers that provide us with a sense of commitment, safety, and care (Intimacy vs. Isolation). Erikson and many others since have pointed out that these stages are fluid and the stage of young adulthood, in particular, ranges anywhere from late teens through age 40.

There is no invisible line one crosses when he or she turns 18 and suddenly becomes a capable self-sufficient adult. A successful transition requires preparation, practice, resources, support, communication, gradual taking-on of more responsibility as well as some semblance of an identity. For each person there are surely particular obstacles that hinder forward movement and benefit from additional attention. This may take the form of individual therapy, group therapy with others facing similar struggles and transitions, clarification of goals and personal passions, involvement in recovery or spiritually oriented programs (12 Step, meditation), career or academic advisement, financial planning, and altruistic involvements such as volunteer activities. Learning to balance healthy supports with personal responsibility and self-confidence are essential for young adults seeking forward movement and the ability to navigate safely between dependency and independence.

Soergal, A. (2016, May 9). Failure to launch: Young adults increasingly moving in with mom and dad. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from

Elana Clark-Faler
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