Young Adults, Autonomy, and Self-Care

Take a moment and think about all of the functional skills needed in order to be competent as an adult! As young people attempt to separate from their families and move into the world as autonomous adults, many difficulties with living on your own may arise. Some areas of difficulty are in the area of executive functioning, motivation, initiative, and self-agency in relation to self-care and self-management.

Specifically, these areas include knowing how to do laundry, shop and cook and feed oneself adequately. They may also include care for their home environment-doing the dishes, taking out the garbage, vacuuming, and on a more personal level, showering regularly, shaving, and other areas of hygiene. Managing a budget, paying bills and, in general, meeting responsibilities  are other areas of concern.  Managing one’s time without the structure of the family flow or parental support and self-regulation around sleep patterns are also important. (The snooze button on the alarm clock is not your friend.) In general, planning, organizing, and focusing on the task at hand plays a part in a productive life for a positive well-being.

Some of the reasons that a young adult may have difficulty with accomplishing needed tasks:

  • History and Expectations – Some have not been taught or expected to perform these tasks as they prepared to move out of their family home.  Having been dependent on parents to perform these tasks previously can leave them experiencing themselves as incapable of performing on their own.  This is often accompanied by a sense of shame and difficulty asking for help as the young adult experiences him/herself as an adult who “should” know how to do these things.
  • Neurobiology – For some, neurobiological  issues in the area of executive functioning are present. Being able to see the goal, make a step-by-step plan, have a sense of time needed to accomplish the task, take the first step, remain focused on the plan, and follow through on completion is one example of executive functioning skills in action.
  • Depression and Mental Health – Others may experience depression which interferes with experiencing motivation. Struggling with anxiety and internal disruption may lead to a young adult being preoccupied and unable to attend to day-to-day tasks. The young adult may feel overwhelmed by the task and unable to initiate the first step toward the goal (initiative). Feeling overwhelmed with other life roles such as school, work, relationships, etc. may result in attending to concrete tasks being not a priority.
  • Resistance – Some may experience ambivalence about becoming an adult for a variety of reasons and are resistant to acting on the behaviors associated with adult life and to work to develop these day-to-day skills.

Self-agency is defined as a sense that one’s self is effective and able to make an impact on their own thoughts, behavior, and actions. This sense of self is developed over a lifetime and is foundational in the establishment of autonomy -which is the primary developmental task for the young adult. As a young adult moves forward, these skills can be learned and developed over time –sometimes with the assistance of others –and a sense of self as a more confident adult in the world can emerge.

For parents of young adults transition into autonomy, of which self-care is a vital part of, visit our Parent’s Guide for Transitions in Young Adulthood.

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