Difficulty Feeling Independent and Competent

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear Difficulty Feeling Independent and Competent,
I'm 19 years old now and I have never, ever, once in my life left home without the supervision of my parents or other adult. Up until last year my parents had internet filters on all computers, and they hacked into my accounts on various websites. They're afraid to leave me alone with a driving instructor so I can't take driving lessons. They would like me to stay with them for the rest of my life. My mother gets depressed and upset at the idea I'll ever leave home. I feel so inadequate, so inferior, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I think that other 19-year-olds are more competent than myself since they've had the opportunity to learn some degree of independence. I feel wholly like an invalid. I feel genuinely handicapped. I hate myself, I see nothing in me, just a shell. No control over anything, just helpless and vulnerable. I'm 19 and an incompetent waste of a human being. Or is this just a normal part of moving into "adulthood"?

Dear Difficulty Feeling Independent and Competent,

TeenHealthFX doesn’t think that what you are describing is “just a normal part of moving into ‘adulthood.’” Feeling vulnerable and helpless to the point where you are feeling paralyzed in certain aspects of your life is not a typical phase of adolescence/young adulthood. However, FX definitely does not think that you are an “incompetent waste of a human being” either. From what you are saying it sounds like there are things that you struggle with – but you are not to blame for that and it doesn’t make you any less valuable, lovable or likeable than the next person.

It sounds like there is something about your becoming more independent and moving on with your life that is difficult for your parents, especially your mother. Your parents may want you to stay dependent on them, but you need to decide whether or not that is what you want. If you do want to learn how to function more independently, it might feel difficult for you because it’s not what your parents want – you may feel guilty or selfish in wanting something they don’t or you might want to spare them from dealing with whatever issues they will have to face in the event you are no longer so dependent on them. But even though a part of you may feel this way, FX wants to let you know that it’s okay for you to want to become more independent – it is perfectly reasonable and understandable.

If you would like to take more control over your life, FX suggests the following:

  • You could try talking to your parents to find out what is hard for them about your becoming an adult. When they imagine your getting a job, moving out of the house, maybe getting married one day, what is difficult about this for them? You could also find out from them if they want you to be happy, and point out that by staying so dependent on them it leaves you feeling poorly about yourself – which does not make you happy. Explain to them that to really be happy you need their love and support in helping you to become an adult who can function more independently.
  • FX recommends you speak to a mental health professional about the feelings you are experiencing. There seems to be quite a bit of self-blame and self-hate going on for you, and FX thinks it could be very helpful for you to work through these feelings with a therapist. In addition, a therapist could be a source of guidance and support for you in the pursuit of becoming more independent – something that would be especially beneficial for you if you find your parents are not able to help you with this.
  • You didn’t mention whether or not you are working or in school – but whatever you are doing FX thinks it is important to find some adults outside of your home who can be mentors to you. Teenagers are able to learn the things they need to know to move on into adulthood because there have been adults there to guide them. If your parents are not able to guide you, it is critical that you connect with adults who can – teachers, employers, or maybe extended family members who are okay about investing in a healthy, happy future for you rather than in your dependence.

FX sympathizes with your being in such a difficult position and that you are dealing with this pain. But we want to stress that it is not your fault and you are not to blame for not knowing things that have not been taught to you. There are ways in which you were not parented as you should have been – but it does not mean you do not have it in you to work things out. The key in doing this will be to find people who can guide and support your efforts to move on with your life.  

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.