Why We Rebel

why we rebel

We were all teenagers at one point or another, blighted by the insubordinate angst that seemed to go hand-in-hand with adolescence. In fact, rebellion can be considered one of the most indisputable characteristics of the teenage years – and it is one guaranteed to cause quite a bit of conflict on the home front. Rebellion, which essentially refers to any behavior that deliberately opposes the powers that be, involves the assertion of individuality and independence from the ruling norms. There are two main types of rebellion that adolescents typically engage in. They may rebel against fitting in socially (rebellion of non-conformity), and may include such behaviors as dressing differently than others in their peer group, listening to different music, or failing to participate in conventional extracurricular activities. Rebellion against adult authority (rebellion of non-compliance), is often subconsciously geared towards attracting adult attention by offending it. Most parents have a difficult time coping with non-compliant rebellion, seeing as they are trying hard to instill in their adolescents the importance of structure while providing both guidance and necessary supervision.

The Formidable Teenage Years

Additionally, rebellion will frequently cause significant harm to the individual who is doing the rebelling. One may rebel against his or her own self-interest, rejecting activities and interpersonal relationships (with childhood friends and family members) that may be imperative to continuously bolstering self-esteem. One may rebel in self-defeating or self-destructive ways, perhaps refusing to complete schoolwork, participate in classes, or spend quality time with his or her family. One might begin engaging in high-risk behaviors, acting impulsively and experimenting with substances or sexuality in a way that goes against his or her moral upbringing. It is important to note that rebellion is never an act of independence – in fact, quite the contrary. Rebellion is an act of dependency, and forces the defiant individual to self-define based on doing the opposite of what is socially expected.

Because of this, the true antidote for rebellion is the development of an authentic sense of self. In most cases, regardless of how temporarily destructive teenage rebellion can be, the adolescent will mature out of this distressing phase and begin developing a solid and established sense of personal identity. Those who tend to grow out of their rebellious phase the most quickly are those who challenge themselves in a healthy way on a regular basis, and who are supported and encouraged by their parents. Of course, some adolescents do not grow out of their rebellious stage, and bring recalcitrant behavior with them into early adulthood. Many high school students between the ages of 15 and 18 will continue engaging in obstinacy as a direct result of delayed adolescence; this is especially common in only children, for whom a strong attachment to parents causes a slower separation.

Attachment and Rebellion

When rebellion occurs at an older age, risk-taking behaviors can be more serious – even potentially life-threatening. It is less common for young adults over the age of 18 to actively rebel against authoritative figures, though they may rebel against themselves if they have failed to form a solid sense of identity and purpose. They may lack motivation, blowing off schoolwork and calling in sick to work on a regular basis. When self-rebellion occurs once independence has been achieved, it may indicate an unwillingness to branch away from parental dependency. “If I show my parents that I am incapable of taking care of myself,” a self-rebellious young adult might subconsciously think, “maybe they will continue caring for me.” The underlying issue here, again, is a lack of self-identity.

Treating the Whole Family

While it is true that stunted self-development and a lack of independence is a major factor in rebellion amongst young adults, it is also often true that rebellion is a direct result of insecure attachment or underlying relational issues. If a young adult feels emotionally neglected by his or her parents or primary caregivers, the likelihood of engaging in risky and self-destructive behaviors increases significantly. While he or she may not be rebelling against authority, the goal is the same – to gain the attention of adults through negative behavioral patterns. We often learn, in very early childhood, that negative attention is better than no attention. So long as we feel as if we are being noticed, we do what we can to gain consideration. This pattern often continues long into adulthood if it is not addressed. In the early and mid-20s, however, what began as a desire to dress differently will have likely evolved into something far more grave. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with young men who initially began using chemical substances (and acting out in a variety of other self-destructive ways) as a means of gaining familial attention. Because of this, we work very closely with all of the immediate family members of each of our patients. Our family program is comprehensive and highly involved.

For more information on our male-exclusive program of recovery, please contact us today.