Mental health issues and childhood trauma are two of the most common reasons why young adults struggle to launch into independence after high school. In particular, people who have experienced trauma usually adopt the belief that many things in their life have been and will continue to be out of their control. They have to make this distinction in order to not blame themselves for the circumstances they’ve experienced. But, over time, this can also translate to “my grades are out of my control,” “unemployment is out of my control,” and “I can’t help the way that I have to cope with my emotions.” This generalized sense of helplessness and lack of autonomy explains why many people with PTSD have struggled with failure to launch.
How Does PTSD Affect Sense of Self?
Many people who have experienced a traumatic event unconsciously try to separate themselves as who they were “before” and “after.” Before a traumatic life experience, it is common to believe in their ability to make good decisions, control their environment, and keep themselves safe. But after a traumatic event, that confidence in themselves can be shattered. They are more likely to have an unstable sense of self and lack clarity about what it is they like and what they’re good at. Addiction specialist Gabor Mate explains “trauma is not about what happened to you, but the disconnection from yourself that happened as a result of whatever the stressor was.”
Young women who have experienced trauma may begin to internalize negative beliefs that if they had been stronger, or smarter, or faster, they would have been able to avoid their trauma. These beliefs grate away their self-esteem and stoke harsh opinions of themself to the point where they believe that they do not deserve for good things to happen to them. As trauma shapes one’s belief system about themselves, the way they interact with others, and their role in the world, many young adults experience low motivation and self-esteem as they launch into adulthood. Developing a support network and integrating into the community is integral to reshaping these beliefs and exploring one’s true core values.
How Does PTSD Affect Failure To Launch?
Many young adults who have experienced trauma struggle with ongoing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, which can directly lead to failure to launch into adulthood. Failure to Launch syndrome refers to young adults who are having trouble becoming self-sufficient and taking on adult responsibilities. Whether they feel unmotivated to pursue a career path or struggle with identity issues and confidence in relationships, the idea of independent living often feels overwhelming, even after completing a residential program. Feeling detached from a sense of purpose can make it difficult for young adults to set personal goals, let alone realistic ones. Instead, they may rely on other people to set expectations and rules for them, as it is easier to follow other people’s lead than to reflect on what their personal wants and needs might be.
Over time, letting other people make decisions for them presents more challenges rather than freedoms, as they get back into a place of feeling like their life is out of their control and dictated for them. While a history of trauma can affect one’s ability to feel a sense of achievement and confidence in their ability to achieve their goals, setting shorter-term goals can help young adults imagine what they want their future to look like.
Building Self Esteem After Trauma
The symptoms of PTSD can have a negative effect on a young woman’s self-esteem, but there are some steps she can take to begin to work on seeing herself in a more positive light:
- Identify Your Negative Thoughts: After experiencing trauma, it is common for people to create a negative internal dialogue about themselves. But these unhealthy thinking patterns can be difficult to identify. Self-monitoring can be an excellent way to increase self awareness of your thoughts and how they impact your mood and behaviors
- Slow Down Negative Thoughts: Negative thoughts can be persistent and pervasive. And when those negative thoughts are what you hear the most in your head, you may find yourself focusing on those thoughts the most. Distracting yourself from those negative thoughts can be helpful. A grounding exercise such as noticing your five senses (What do you hear/taste/smell/feel) can help you stay grounded and present in the moment. Those negative thoughts can lead to dissociation, and staying present is key to working through those thoughts as they come up.
- Challenge Your Thoughts: After your thoughts have reduced in intensity, take a look at them and challenge them. Ask yourself if that thought is actually true. If you make a mistake at work, the negative thought may pop up that everyone hates you. Or that you always do everything wrong. But when you challenge that thought you may realize that the people around you want you to succeed and they understand that mistakes happen. As you challenge the negative thoughts, you may also realize that you actually do a lot of things well and that this mistake is not a part of a larger pattern.
- Use Positive Self-Supportive Statement: You can also counter those negative thoughts by using positive self-supportive statements. For example, you can list all of your good qualities, tell yourself about what you have accomplished recently that you are proud of, or give yourself some grace and tell yourself that it is okay to feel anxious.
It can also be helpful to try practicing gratitude. For example, you can write down some of the positive things that happened to you during the week or the times a friend or family member reached out to give you some help. You can celebrate any small victory you have had during the day. You can remember a situation where you felt confident and capable.
Addressing PTSD Can Help Young Adults Become More Independent
Healing from trauma is not a linear process. Young adults who have experienced trauma may feel more secure when they are working through trauma in a residential setting, but become more overwhelmed when faced with the triggers of the “real world.” This may lead to increased fear about failure to launch and the belief that they will be unable to integrate back into the community successfully.
The challenge of recovery from trauma is to reestablish ownership of your body and mind–of yourself. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. While they may not be able to always change what they feel, by taking ownership of their life and their decisions, young adults can feel more in control of how they respond to their emotions.
Young adults will find themselves looping back to different stages over time. This does not mean that they have not made progress in moving forward. They may feel flooded at unexpected times. In these situations, a transitional living program may be helpful. A transitional living program combines therapeutic support with greater freedoms and responsibilities, ideally with clients exploring educational or occupational pursuits. Students will participate in therapeutic activities such as individual and group therapy, family therapy, life coaching, and community mentorship opportunities. In the home-like environment of a transitional living program, young women can practice the skills they have built to help manage the effects of their trauma.
Step-down programs acknowledge that healing occurs in phases and recognize the importance of creating a “trauma work”-life balance as they transition to independence. Weekly schedules are based on individual goals and responsibilities, which gives young adults the opportunity to take back ownership of their life step by step.
Journey Home Young Adult can help
Journey Home Young Adult is a transitional living program for teens ages 18-23. This program addresses emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders that teens may face. Common presenting problems include depression, anxiety, attachment issues, academic struggles, and low self-esteem. Journey Home creates an environment conducive to healing where teens can learn healthy coping skills while becoming more well-equipped to launch into adulthood.
A treatment plan will be individualized and customized to meet each young woman’s needs, advance their goals, and help them lead a happier, more productive life. With all of these services, we focus on our Five Core Principles to guide our whole-person approach to growth and development. These provide the foundation for the rest of the work while at Journey Home Young Adult. The Five Core Principles include specific skills and goals for each student to strive toward, with bi-weekly treatment team meetings to assess progress and provide feedback. This comprehensive approach provides the structure, support, and mentoring for teens to move on from Journey Home Young Adult as empowered young women, ready to successfully launch into their lives. Students leave this program feeling empowered, happy, and healthy. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 855-918-0032 to learn more about our step-down program for young adults who experienced failure to launch related to PTSD.