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Ask a Therapist: Why Am I Afraid To Grow Up?

Wasatch Family Therapy DepressionQ: I’m a 25 year old male. I’ll just start off by saying that opening sentences take me sometimes hours to write (this one took ten minutes). The same goes for my life – I just can’t seem to get anything started: Job applications, writing routines, relationships with the opposite sex, you name it.

The only thing is, I usually succeed once I get started. So, I’m trying to figure out why I can’t get things moving. I graduated college almost a year ago and have only applied to about 5 different districts (I’m a state-certified English teacher) out of the hundreds in my state.

I also still live at home with my parents, and although they have threatened to kick me out, I usually find temporary work just in time to save myself. Although I used to get 95% of my college schoolwork done here, I can’t seem to get focused when it comes to applying for jobs or keeping in touch with love interests or former colleagues.

Home-wise, there’s no major problems. I’m comfortable here, and I don’t have to pay rent. I don’t always have the sense of independence I want, but I’ve learned how to deal with it, just like I have learned how to deal with sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety. I focus on something else. But I feel like it’s starting to get trapped inside, to a point where I will never be able to express myself. I feel like this will cause me to regret everything later in life.

The main thing is that I know exactly what I have to do in life to move forward, but I just can’t seem to do it. I don’t even have a logical explanation why – I just don’t. Same goes for relationships. I was talking to a female friend who I have liked for over a year, and we mentioned our feelings for each other because we’re currently seeing other people (so it was means for conversation). She asked if I had liked her, and I said yes. When she asked “Why didn’t you tell me?” My honest answer had to be “I’m at a point in life where I’m just not acting on anything.” Tension followed, and I felt a little regretful afterward, but then I told myself not to dwell on it. So, I don’t. I’m not really feeling anything about it right now – that has all passed.

Do you think that my outlook on life (not to dwell on my past) is affecting my future? I feel like the more I say the past doesn’t matter, the more I’ll act exactly like I have been, and I’ll only end up stuck. I want to be 100% independent, not because of man pride or anything, but because I’m ready to live my own life. How do I start?

A: Yes, I do think that your pattern of not examining the past IS affecting your future, but the real question is what are you most afraid of finding if you do look back and if you do feel? Are you afraid of failure? What is your biggest fear if you did openly express yourself to your parents? If you don’t have healthy ways to process emotions that come up in life they will likely build up over time and manifest in self-destructive ways. My guess is that this pattern is a large part of why you are feeling so paralyzed in your life.

Look for healthier ways to deal with your emotions. Consider journaling your feelings, joining a men’s therapy group, or talk with an individual therapist to help you get to the emotional root of why you’re feeling reluctant to start your adult life. Cultivate encouraging and supportive male friendships. Exercise to relieve stress, improve mood, and feel a sense of accomplishment and power. You mentioned that you don’t have the sense of independence that you want but you’ve “learned to deal with it.” Your sense of independence is paramount at this stage of life so I encourage you to foster that desire, not to relinquish it. It is important to take action, even if it’s clumsy and things don’t turn out perfectly. Ask out the woman that you’re interested in, send out 5 job applications every day, speak openly with your parents about your feelings, start paying them rent or pay them by contributing to the care of the home and yard. If usually feels better to act, even when you don’t feel like it, than to feel powerless in your own life.

I have a few questions about your parents. Why are your parents letting a capable 25-year-old adult son with a college education live in their home rent-free? Is it possible that they are enabling you to stay “stuck” at home because they are afraid of you leaving? Are you a buffer or a distraction that keeps them from dealing with marital problems? There may be some family issues contributing to your current dynamic. Again, consider seeking help from a therapist to help you understand and resolve your internal struggle and understand any family dynamics that may be adding to your difficulty “growing up.”

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

Originally appeared in my column

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