Millennial Depression: The New Separation Anxiety

Millennial Depression: The New Separation Anxiety
By Kaitlin Renee 

I remember her words rolling around in my head, making lots of noise but not really making any sense. I felt numb. Betrayed.

Your dad and I…

Separation…

Living here now…

Need time and space…

My third-grade self didn’t understand why the two people in my life who were supposed to be together forever were separating. I felt tears slide down my cheeks, but I didn’t know how to sift through all the information. All I knew was that things were going to be different.

I turned away from my mom’s pained gaze and walked up the foreign steps. She had decided to enlighten my sister and me in this new guest house she had rented when she had made the decision to move out. It wasn’t a proper house, it wasn’t a home. It was some walls and a roof sheltering us from the Michigan weather. She was moving out of my childhood home and into this shack of a living space, away from Dad, away from a complete family.

That was the day I realized that if you give people a chance to come into your life and be a significant part of it, you’re simultaneously giving them the power to hurt you.

As a separated couple, they would soon be unable to afford that childhood home and would uproot my little sister and me to the suburbs, away from everything we had ever known. Half the week would be spent with Mom, and the other half with Dad. If I forgot something at the house I just came from, I was out of luck unless I could convince a parent to drive to the ex’s house (not likely). That meant I carried around a mass of clothes back and forth between the two, because I wanted to make sure I had options available at all times. I’ve basically lived out of a suitcase for almost ten years, moving in between the two houses that could never quite become homes.

My story is not unique. Divorcestatistics.org estimates that the current divorce rate in America is between 40-50%, higher than it’s ever been. Most of those broken couples come from Generation X, who happen to be the parents of us Millennials. In his article “Functional Families in Modern America,” Dr. Allen Weiss noted that children of divorced parents are seven times more likely to suffer from depression than children from a united home. So is it any wonder then that CBS reports that the millennial generation has a reported depression rate of about 20%, compared to the 14% of the generation before us, and 12% of the generation before them?

Children with divorced parents often suffer feelings of abandonment and insecurity as well as anxiety due to the at-home trauma. These feelings can easily lead to severe depression if not taken care of. The problem is that most children suffering are often misunderstood by their parents; rather than seeing their aggressive, withdrawn, and often stand-offish behavior as being precursors to depression, parents see these as being typical teen attitude problems that can be solved with discipline.

Our parents want to know why we’re so closed off, why we’re obsessed with our phones and our laptops, why we’re so on edge… Is it really that hard to understand?

I’m not saying that so many of us millennials are depressed solely because of parental divorce, because that’s not the only factor. But it certainly is a major stepping stone for many of us.

We all desire connection – it’s a part of the human experience. In the earliest of life stages, family is at the core of your web of connections. A weird imbalance is formed in the middle of this web as divorce slices through these core strings where your family is supposed to intertwine, and this only makes it harder to create and maintain successful relationships with others in the future. When we should feel trust in a relationship, what we more often feel is skepticism. While I can’t speak for everyone in the millennial generation who grew up the child of a broken home, I can certainly say that I have difficulty in relationships as a result of that experience.

As a matter of fact, a social science investigation on the impact of parental divorce on adult relationships found that “participants from divorced families indicated a greater fear of being hurt/rejected” and that there was “less trust toward a variety of intimate relationships.”

My parents were together for sixteen years before calling it quits. While my boyfriend seems like Mr. Right now, there will likely come a time – be it six months from now, a year from now, sixteen years from now – that he or I decide differently. And I can never get that out of my head.

Friendships must work the same way, right? I mean, with divorce, there are legal papers and money and sometimes kids involved. Not to mention the fact that you’re breaking vows that you said in front of a huge group of people on your wedding day. With friends, none of that is stopping you, so they’ll probably leave one day too. What’s the point of relationships if they’ll so easy to leave behind?

This is the problem with a lot of us millennials – we have divorced kid syndrome when it comes to relationships. Which is probably why we’d rather be online than actually putting ourselves out there, looking at pictures of our friends or editing our own photos until we deem them acceptable to present to the public.

You go on Facebook and see picture after picture of your ‘friends’ hanging out with their friends at the beach, the mall, the movies, Disneyland, wherever. These pictures, for a reason you’re not completely sure of, make this bubble of jealousy and desire rise up inside you. You want relationships like these. You want to be doing picture-worthy things in picture-worthy places with picture-worthy people. But you’re in your room, on your computer, alone.

You feel like your life is pointless and pathetic in comparison to the edited versions of everyone else’s.

Here’s the problem. Those pictures don’t include the moment Jill got into a fight with her boyfriend, or that time Jane walked into her house to find her father drunk again and yelling at her mother, or when James found out his girlfriend was pregnant and he wasn’t ready. Nobody hangs broken pictures on the wall, and nobody puts anything less than picture perfect on their social media accounts.

The same feelings of abandonment and insecurities that developed from being the child of a broken household carry on easily to these social parts of our lives. Not only are we struggling to make connections in a virtual world, we’re also comparing our sub-glamorous realities to the ‘perfect’ internet fantasy lives of those we are friends with or are following online. Best case scenario, it makes you a competitive Instagram guru with pictures of you doing yoga and eating exotic fruits and watching sunsets (who is taking these pictures of you anyways?) on every social media website known to man. Worst case scenario, it makes you realize how alone you really are and you ingrained desire for human connection leaves you feeling empty and pathetic.

The problem for us millennials is that we’re still human. And being human in today’s world is hard. We want so badly the connections that are becoming harder and harder to obtain in our modern society. We need human connection, but often we are being met with our own skepticism instead of trust or a screen instead of a face. This disparity between what we need as social human beings and what we’re getting is causing a pandemic of depressed millennials. Many of us have separation anxiety from relationships we haven’t even developed.


About the Author: Kaitlin Renee
 
Kaitlin is currently attending Michigan State University, pursuing degrees in Journalism and Professional Writing. She’s passionate about storytelling and looks forward to a career in which she can give a voice to those without the opportunity or ability to share their own. 
 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
⁣
But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
⁣
When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
⁣
But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
⁣
What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
⁣
In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
⁣
#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.
When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.

Pin It on Pinterest