When a teenager gets in trouble with the law, we sometimes blame social maladaptation. In these cases, we observe behavioral issues with the absence of psychological antecedents. Therapy may necessary but insurance companies require diagnosis, so we invent labels such as “conduct disorder.” Yet, the majority of youth with social maladaptation problems do not get any help whatsoever. They grow up physically but usually remain emotionally impaired.
One causative factor behind this phenomenon is childhood trauma. Abuse and neglect have been scientifically proven to change our body chemistry. In fact, adverse childhood experiences are statistically significant negative determinants that can impact us well into adulthood. In our futile attempts to handle problems beyond our control, we may end up abusing ourselves and others through addictions, domestic violence, and poor parenting. This is how those dysfunctional family cycles begin.
But there are also ways to mediate these factors. The children who witnessed September 11th are a great example of resiliency. Unlike previous generations, these kids had a variety of social resources available to them. They were very connected to their peers and communities. Well-trained staff, on-site counseling, and mental health prevention policies were in place within their schools. Ironically, it was their own parents who were found to be lacking in protective deterrents during the crisis.
Responses to 9-11 by Baby-boomers and Generation X were often presented in neurotic or psychotic ways. The pharmaceutical industry reaped a great harvest in profits from the sales of psychiatric drugs for many years following the national tragedy. As expected, suicides and substance abuse disproportionately affected these age groups. In their emotional confusion, may become fixated on Arabs and Muslims as scapegoats for all of our society’s problems.
On a political level, we saw upheaval and war as primary outlets for the mass hysteria that ensued in our struggle to regain a sense of empowerment. The people showed signs of regression displayed by a deep longing for some ill-perceived past utopia and began isolating themselves from the unpleasant realities surrounding them. When this became impossible, they demanded protection by arming themselves, forming unholy alliances, and demanding that the government build a monumental wall to keep their enemies out.
Getting the socially maladaptive individual back to rational behavior, as any juvenile justice professional will agree, is extremely difficult. It requires us to break through layers of denial, challenge each of their distorted reaction formations, teaching them to be mindful in their social evaluations and decision-making processes, being models of appropriate social behavior for them to observe, and having an extreme amount of patience and positive regard for them despite their apparent lack of efforts. It is going to be even harder to work on these issues with adults who are incredibly resistant to change.