Gone Astray

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When teenagers or young adults have lost their way you will hear some parents say something along the lines of “I’ve put too much time and energy into you to let you fail now,” using this idea as the main rationale for trying to help them get back on the right path. But they have unwittingly betrayed their own underlying existential needs with this statement, needs that are likely to have had something to do with their child having gone astray to begin with.

By framing assistance in this way you are saying it’s really all about you, not the person you are trying to help. Most of us are terrified of ceasing to exist, and one of the solutions is to turn others into our personal immortality projects. They become objects for our own needs, required to walk a path we have designed for them, to have thoughts and beliefs we have instilled in them, instead of people with their own rights to self-actualization.

Is it any wonder that they have gone astray when deep down they always knew they had no say in where they were headed? We tend to chafe under any yoke that isn’t placed there by our own hands. Some of us don’t know how to conceptualize the struggle though, and even less how to broach the subject in a healthy way.

We see a lot of unconscious mechanisms at play. Parents are not aware they are using their children to combat death anxiety and consciously believe they only have their best interests at heart. Children are not aware that their failures in school, their drug and alcohol use, and other problems are a form of rebellion and they consciously believe they are losers or that they just don’t care anymore.

If you really want to help someone, and this holds true whether it’s in the counseling setting, the parenting setting, or anywhere else, there are a few things that have to be made absolutely clear. The first is that it really is about this person, not about your own needs. The second is that ultimately you can only help them raise their conscious awareness about what the right path is; they have to decide of their own volition to walk it. Otherwise even the best intentions end up being defined by control and they sap human freedom rather than fostering it.