Teenagers, expelled from childhood and cast into the adult world, are striving to familiarize themselves with this new solitude. Overcoming loneliness
presupposes finding and meeting the unknown, namely what it is outside the familiar. Wandering becomes a quest of Inner Self, of the Other and the World, a necessary place to build up the adult; however, this search is pushed to the limit to which it can lose its positive character, making the quest indeterminate and interminable. Therefore, wandering and loneliness are directions found in the obstacles inevitably appearing on the teenagers` path, forcing them to mature; they always seem to express a continuous search for recognition. Adolescents may become alienated as their search loses its initiative character and thus, creative wandering may become melancholic wondering.
Teenagers, instead of entering the adult world with a feeling of security and stability, lose their ontological security in an endless fall into virtual space, nothing comes to support them to take roots in this new existence. These young men do not manage to escape childhood, they remain in a relentless transient phase as long as they cannot find a place to identify themselves with. Their psyche is not developed enough, they can not nurture a sense of belonging to a specific place. Temporality is of utmost importance, they have to be the actors of their own time. They have no identification, no roots. Thus, wandering reaches its own end. Still, they have not found their place and settle in a world where they continuously postpone their own birth. They live somewhere, clung between space and time, suspended between inner selve and the Others, lacking personal privacy. The world means nothing to them, their identity remains hesitant, on the verge of crystallizing; it is a losing battle, anyway. They are between past and present, in non- time, imported into an endless drop. Living in an eternal present demonstrates that death, as ultimate limit, is not at all symbolized. Their excessive behaviors have no landmarks and no boundaries. We can say that excess governs their lives. Everything depends on the path they are to choose, their project are always tends to be a new horizon.
Our age is marked by the sale of needs, desires, aspirations, emotions … In the future, consumer society will find the answer to all our needs and will be happy to be paid by credit card. All services are multiplying and are being reintroduced each time in relation to other economic diversion. One effect of our social environment is to leave the subject alone, face to face with existential choices; it is an environment in which the Other (as a reference point) will be absent, turning teenagers into orphans in search of landmarks. Once faced with the painful proof of a genuine loss, teenagers can either have the strength to develop a depression or remain larvae and float astray between “(the) two”: unfinished or hyper-mature children, disgusted adults, unable to find themselves.
A whole range of genuine losses (other major events, delinquency, drug abuse), are sometimes necessary to tolerate the transition phase from childhood to adulthood.
<< Wandering through the night, following a bad path, ignoring where I come from, having no idea where to head to. >> (Alphonse de Lamartine, „Poetic Meditations”).
Traditionally, we are used to associating youth with adventures, travels, passionate searches … In our days the theme of adolescent wandering and loneliness does not always have powerful romantic connotations. This very theme often evokes images of abandonment, isolation, loss … Certainly the two dimensions underline the issue of building up identity and equally emphasize the difficulty to access adulthood and be recognized by the elders.
However, wandering and loneliness always seems to express a continual quest for recognition. These are the directions found in the obstacles confronting the teenager forced to grow. Today, wandering and loneliness has many facets, too numerous to be summarized in a few metaphors. Young runaways, delinquents, the bereaved or the homeless, all of them seem to share an intimate place with wandering and loneliness, sometimes appearing as a refuge, sometimes as a solution to the inconsistency of the contemporary social environment.
Teenagers, expelled from childhood and cast into the adult world, are striving to familiarize themselves with their new solitude. Experiences of alienation and loneliness that they put into practice appear to be ways of re-establishing their relationship with The Outer World and The Others: places of intimacy, meeting, transit areas, foreign places.
There are phases in life in which adolescent wandering and loneliness come to reveal an ontological fragility that makes the access to autonomy very painful. The subject can therefore be alienated in conducts that lose their initiative character and become reiterative. Creative wandering becomes thus melancholical wandering, (Le Breton). Experiences recorded by many of them tragically confirm that << … mere wandering in the desert does not necessarily imply the existence of The Promised Land >> („The invention of solitude”, Paul Aster).
Void of his secure childhood world and its familiar images, the subject finds his own „to be for death”, which is the condition of a paradoxal free and mortal subject – the tragic, existential game of adolescence. Adolescence is, in fact, a loss, a kind of mourning: mourning for the lost childhood and parental images.
Juvenile wandering echoes in „our society, to its mobility” (Hintermeyer) and adolescent loneliness to the issue of contemporary subject individualism. Moreover, adolescence, wandering and loneliness are considered ideals by contemporary society (Lesourd). Undoubtedly, this is one of the factors that leads to a more difficult and late exit from this period in the case of many young people.
Finally, if wandering is a must in building adult personality then its dynamic nature does not imply its immortality (Lesourd). Overcoming the loneliness often corresponds to searching and meeting strangers, which is outside the familiar environment (travel, opposite sex, exile, etc..). This movement corresponds, in fact, to the last Oedipal dynamics: to leave your mother, childhood world to meet another person, another possible object of your love, an alien encounter.
Wandering, loneliness and post- modernity
In the normal course of human life, adolescence is the time of wandering. The subject drops the significant anchors that supported his inner construction in childhood, without having found yet the social signifiers that would allow him to regain his place in the adult world. This loss of identity landmarks that we call adolescence crisis is translated into everyday life by a sense of loneliness and often by opposition to adults. It is about the most trivial and simple form of teenage wandering, normally ending when the subject can finally metaphorise his own familial and privative signifiers into social signifiers. The role of this metaphorising process was due to the passing rites in traditional societies. During these rituals the adolescents received significant simbolic information of the social roles of men and women, information run in a different metaphorical form, which the children received and integrated during childhood years.
In terms of the structural function, adolescence is a wandering phase between signifiers – those of the lost childhood, which are ineffective in securing a place in adult world, and those of the adult world, still not encountered. Teenagers are looking into signifiers, searching for the issues raised by their social environment in order to become adults. But adolescence is equally a time of solitude, defense against representatives of the Other infant.
There is revealed that parents, major figures of the Other in childhood, are not only imperfect (they do not really have the power their children have invested them) but also false.
In fact, the child can overcome the Oedipus complex only because he believes in „the Oedipal promise”: „When I grow up, I will … „. This is the promise that circulates in everyday parenting formulas like „Pass the Baccalaureate exam and we will see…. „” When you have your own home, you will decide on your own, but for the time being … „. What builds this promise is no less than what the child hears, namely that it will be great when he can do what he really aspires to, to achieve his well-being by his own desire. This promise can be misleading because the teenager, when becoming an adult, may not have the opportunity to fully realize his desires. He meets this limit of his welfare theorized by psychoanalysis as castration. Depending on his breaking from the other, he will always try to refuse „human disease” (Camon, 1987), which destroys the ratio to desire – desire that thus becomes unrealizable on Earth. Amorous passions, political uprisings of teenagers are signs of such refusal.
Encounter between adolescence and liberal discourse
Postmodern Western society, the liberal society, comes to contradict the paradigm of the adolescent who faces castration refusal. In fact, the peculiarity of liberalism is to prioritize the individual and his full responsibility in the world.
In adolescence the subject is subdued to nothing, we can say that he is wandering – from etymological point of view. It is staged an imaginary parade of absolute freedom that hides, in reality, a radical alienation of the Other, who is the object of desire. This alienation is accompanied by a recognition of the impossible, namely the possession of the object seems realistic. This discourse of the civilized savage of capitalism, of modern „self-made-man” hero (the man who creates himself), who gives nothing to anyone, is the most striking example. The pattern „yuppie” (young, urban, professional) demonstrates the fact that the postmodern subject must build his ratio to the World and Others starting from his own deeds. It is actually the act itself, the very proof of his own existence, which ensures the ratio between the subject and the world; this act depends totally on subjective self-determination. The postmodern subject, the adoloscent, stands alone to determine the deeds proving his own existence.
This collision among liberalism, the current discourse of human relationships and adolescence – normal transient from childhood – leave the adolescents belonging to our postmodern society in a major difficulty. If adolescence was before a transitional stage to become adult, a state of incompleteness, which naturally fades away, it regained its ideal place due to the alterations of social relations. Liberalism works as adolescence, creates the model of mental functioning-to be-human-adult. The dream of a prolonged youthfulness, staying young, beautiful and performant articulates perfectly this imperative address to the subject: „Stay as you are, i.e.adolescent”, which makes the incomplete adolescence become an ideal. The requirements of economic liberalism and the emphasized pleasure consumption offer a self-assertive formula: I live,so I am among consumer goods, which changes the „immediate” adolescent into a pattern of achieving happiness.
To remain in a transformation process or the ideal of adolescent incompletness
For those who are passing through this real inner building phase, the desire to access to a more refined point of subjective satisfaction – to assume social functions of human perpetuation through labor rather than parenting – seems to be a bit unknown.
A second issue, with negative connotation, is related to the modern slogan „To remain in a transformation process or the ideal of adolescent incompletness, and refers to death, an important issue in adolescence.
Beyond generational differences, the ideal of incompleteness, of staying young, translates a denial of death. The subject, at the dawns of mourning, is alone in his trial of separating himself from the object; this requires killing himself the inner traces of the lost object, „to risk death in order to live” (Olejarz, 1992). „The mourning subjects” (Bacquie, 1992) that face up to the real death of the other or with the mental death of the separating object, are left alone, confronting directly with their loss. The subject is now forced to build other separation processes. He either retrieves the loss responsibility and may be suffering from melancholic depressive phenomena of pathological mourning, even resulting in the desire to commit suicide, or refuses mourning and launches in a perpetual process of replacing the object – it is the case of quadragenarian „don-juans”. Finally, he may accuse the Other of extinction, opening here the inner imaginary pathways to violence and threatening the Other persecutor who voids him of welfare (police, any authority …).
I live, so I am among consumer goods
There is a new positioning of the subject in relation to pleasure, being an anticipation of possessing a real not only imaginary object. If the object is always anticipated by desire, then the psychological dimension is involved. But in reality our consumer society turns this desire into a shopping object, eg. the massive use of credit cards. Consumption becomes immediately a „tout, tout de suite” already studied as a paradigm in toxic-maniac addiction (Lesourd, 2005). Isn`t it this aspect, typical to mental adolescent conduct, which entangles the individuals in this period?
Individual existence and recognition by peers are conditioned by the objects he possesses and exhibits, in reality reducing the social connection to a narcissistic imaginary exacerbation of possessing the object.
To have a baby is a stronger desire than the need to be in twos
Adolescence is the period in which the subject discovers the existence of sex and chooses his sexual orientation. The possibility to express and follow a certain sexual orientation was rigorously obstructed by society until the liberal movement of the 1980s. „Sexual revolution” has altered the reflection and perception of sexuality and its practices in social life; it was regarded particularly as a result of research on sexual identity, making medical differentiation between sexuality and procreation.
Today, sexual classification of an individual is based on his sexual practices. „Homosexuals” are the men who have sexual intercourse with other men, „lesbians” are the women who have sexual intercourse with other women, „ heterosexual „are the ones who practice sexual relations with persons of the opposite sex, „bisexual” are those who have sexual intercourse with people of both sexes. Thanks to medical discoveries it is also possible that certain persons may change their biological gender and they are called „transgender”, the ones who have surgically modified their sexual trait. For instance, a man who has surgically become a woman is called a transgender. We can draw the conclusion that sexuality does not depend so much on a biological constraint, but it is rather a matter of individual choice, which must be stated and expressed by the individual through his sexual behavior. Teenagers, in their search for sexual identity, have to confront to multiple choices that entangle them in terms of sexual representations.
As far as the modern forms of sexual encounter and its implementation in the young adults` life are concerned, the clinician is amazed at the way the subject engages himself into sexual intercourse: the subject is not related to his sexual partner in terms of desire or absence of desire. It is rather a trial to demonstrate his ability to complete the sexual intercourse by an objectification of the Other. The subject, in his most intimate sexual encounter, faces up with a solitude which nests narcissism, leading to depression and self devaluation.
A serious aspect of this denial of the other one`s subjectivity was ratified and enforced by the laws of Civil Solidarity Pacts. Isn`t it the best demonstration the fact that our postmodern outlook on sexual behavior comes to refuse the other one`s subjective place, substituting it with an object intended to satisfy our ego?
One effect of our bilateral social environment is to leave the subject alone, face to face with his existential choices; it is a social environment in which the Other One is absent and thus, teenagers may become orphans in search of landmarks („repères” ).
Backpacking – a positive image of wandering
<< Throughout twenty years of wandering all over the world, Ulysse thought and dreamt only of his return home But once he came back home, he got amazed at understanding, that his return, which meant the very essence of his life, his heart, his knowledge, was beyond Ithaca, was in fact somewhere within the twenty years of wandering. And he definitely lost this treasure and could only regain it through memories and storytelling.>> (Milan Kundera, “Ignorance”).
In the late 1980s low-budget travel was not an epiphenomenon any longer. Young people from all countries, including an impressive number of Japanese and Eastern Europeans gather together from the five continents to create the phenomenon of “backpacking”; nowadays we understand it as wandering. Under the term of “backpacking” millions of young people, who do not want to be confused with each other, come together. The choice of destination, budget, means of transport allow important distinctions among them. There is, anyway, a spirit of “backpacking” common to most of these young people, expressed in a radical manner.
The backpackers gather together and share the same quest of authentic issues but this search is subject to major difficulties. It does not escape the influence of consumerist society and, more specifically, the process of “selling needs” (Lipovetsky, 2005). Last but not least, our age is marked by the sale of needs, desires, aspirations, emotions … In the near future our consumer society will find the answer to all our needs and will be pleased with cashing a check or collecting a credit card. All service offers are multiplying and each time lead to economic diversion in relationships with others. There is a tourist industry that clings to backpacking, which complicates the search for authenticity.
A hypermodern wanderer
The modern subject has three main characteristics:
a new form of autonomy. In modern society, individual development was widely encouraged. The hypermodern society achieved this trend inviting the subject himself to build his own identity. The subject does no longer identify himself with a certain model in his search for identity. It is not about his father` prints and generally, he is not the descendant of his social class. These features are less important than the experiences that mark his further development. In other words, he has completed the identification phase and is undergoing experimentation phase. (Gallad, 2002).
multiple / split personality. Hypermodern subject is also characterized by his ability to adapt to different contexts. Moreover, he builds a better life by connecting to various membership networks.
primacy of feeling. Hypermodern subject further undertakes relationships based on personal feelings. He does not commonly make long-term commitments, but these commitments are more truthful and solid as they match his personal will. Relationships are constantly re-assessed, subject to the test of time. They inevitably break out if they are no longer effectively and affectively profitable.
A radicalization of hypermodernity
Backpacking – privileges the unexpected. The backpacker deliberately seeks for obstacles. He does not only want to know the world, he also wants to have a symbolic wrestling. He bares adventure of its economic dimension. He mainly finances his projects on his own. There are forums that are not only intended to destination exchange. Many of them address to the issue of working abroad, especially the forum „Lonely Planet”.
His wandering can symbolize a new livelihood, the subject does not suffer from the imposition of social models but he must go to meet them; the world may offer diverse patterns and the subject has to choose the best ones to define himself.
The capacity to be alone during adolescence: development of an intermediate spot in relation to the Others
Solitude, far from being a simple negative or pathological entity, is integral part of adolescent development. The feeling of loneliness, distinguished from relational isolation, is evoked in child and adolescent psychology under many forms: as a process of individualization, separation anxiety, feeling of distress, abandonment, etc.. One of the difficulties of loneliness is given by its paradoxical character. The notion of „capacity to be alone” was developed by Donald Winnicott in 1958.
This paradox is routinely described in psychology in relation to separating situations, the subject generally wants to become autonomous, to separate from the Other; firstly he must build a connection with the latter, and then he must internalize it. It is important to note the fact that developing this loneliness the subject does not reject the Other, on the contrary he has to host the Other in his inner Self. Analyzing this paradox, Winnicott is interested in the Other starting from this concept of loneliness: the subject`s ability to be alone in the presence of the object, ie in the presence of Otherness. He argued that the ability to effectively handle the loneliness, the absence of the object, is developed in the first experiments of solitude in the presence of the object during early childhood. He is interested in the infant’s first experiences when the baby has dual perception: the presence of its mother and the existence of its own life (mental, corporal, etc.). This is explained by the fact that the child can perceive simultaneously the presence of his mother and everything that comes from her, and can make a difference between his belongings and hers. This subtle notion of the capacity to be alone in the presence of the object may appear more clearly if we think that it is actually „the negative” (in the photographic sense) of the same paradox of loneliness described above.
Effective solitude requires the ability to feel near the object even in its absence, ie the ability to internalize the object, to evoke and mentalise it etc.. This ability represents a definition of the psyche: the capacity of interiorizing the world, of having a certain representation or symbol of it. It is what Winnicott considers a synonym of mental maturity – the ability to be alone.
There are psychological behavioral mechanisms that are carried out in an interim space „between (the) two”, which does not correspond to the one or another, but which lies between the Subject and the Other. In this place the distinction between Inner Self and the Other is „suspended”. It is this „intermediate air of experience ‚ which allows the child to bear actual, effective loneliness, separation, by staging a creative space where the Other is sometimes held present (being represented or substituted by objects or conducts such as: a „doudou”, swings, lullaby etc. These mechanisms determine the child to feel neither annihilated nor alienated in the event of separation.
A particular interesting aspect of this theory of transitional phenomena – to be with the other, to be without the other, to be with the other in the other`s absence, to be without the other in the other`s presence advances a more subtle concept, that of interior space, which is the space in which the objects can be used without being questioned about their origin or ownership: „Are these objects, either mental or material, which you manipulate, yours or do they belong to the Other?”.
Living oppressive loneliness leaves in suspense the question „I am alone”. This corresponds to the moments in which the subject is presented with the object without arousing any feeling of intrusion, ubiquity or radical absence.
Suffering, in the psychopathology of solitude, can be presented as a failure of these transitional phenomena, responsible for psychic experiences that recur radical opposition mentioned before. On one hand, there are the configurations that point to demonstrate the absence, the lack of the object: autism, depression, etc.. (ie, the feeling that the Other is always absent), on the other hand, there are the forms that reflect alienation in the Other: feelings of persecution, anxiety intrusions, melancholy, grief (ie the feeling that the object is always there, always present).
This notion of „the capacity to be alone in the presence of … „allows us to describe the major stages of loneliness in child development: his ability to be alone in his mother`s presence in early childhood (the mirror stage, the building of his own Self, etc..), the capacity to be alone in the presence of the Other (opposition, individualization of acts ), the ability to be alone in the presence of parental couple (Oedipus complex, primitive scene, family novel etc). Therefore, the way in which these early experiences are designed to topic loneliness in childhood will be undoubtedly decisive in the further processes developed during adolescence. In this period of life, developing the ability to be alone has different coordinates and is played at higher levels. Adolescent loneliness is influenced by three factors: family environment, social environment and reporting to the opposite sex.
The ability to be alone in the presence of the family
Clinical psychology describes adolescence as an output of the latency phase separating the two great moments of sexuality awakening: infantile complexes and puberty complexes. During this period, the internalization of severe human prohibitions (cannibalism, murder, incest) as well as internalization of certain differences between the sexes and generations, allow a calming of libidinal and aggressive life of the child, especially in his relationships to parental figures. Thus, the child becomes able to be/feel alone in the presence of these objects. The generation gap changes parental images in authoritative and ideal figures, which are remote, inaccessible and at the same time phantasmal, detectors of world order, a kind of guides of the subject.
Entering puberty quietly submit this calming, characteristic of the latency phase. Parental figures lose their „garments of light” and ideal status. Thus, the entire symbolic order of the family and the world is shaken.
The ability to be alone, a characteristic of the teenager`s life in his family, still calls for Oedipal issues, emphasizing them. We know that, in fact, during the Oedipal period, in early childhood, the ability to be alone refers mainly to the ability to be alone within parental couple, the feeling of not being excluded.
The teenager found out inner solitude, his own calm self in the presence of parental Oedipal objects by the internalization of incest prohibition. Thus, he manages to live with his parents without being excessively disrupted by unconscious desires for parental images/representations… Young people, particularly in the Western tradition, have the tendency to live with their parents after sexual maturation, which calls into question their ability to feel alone in the middle of their families. In fact, at puberty, the teenager faces up to a possible realization of incestuous fantasy. His body is like that of the parent of the same sex, potentially engaged in sexual exchange with the parent of the opposite sex. The adolescent should reassess the issue of incest, when Oedipal issues are awakened and relived.
Therefore, the teenager has to detach himself from parental figures and the symbolic order that they represent. But this does not simply mean to build a wall between him and his parental figures, which may place him in a position of absolute solitude, but to develop a „transit zone” of wandering, in which the exchange and distance are possible.
The environment and the transitional phenomena are represented first, very specifically, as material items, and then are analyzed in the ratio subject-time-space, etc.. Between isolation, parental rejection and seeking for attention, the teenager plays a kind of game „presence – absence” in terms of his family environment”: When a teenager is watching TV or listening to music sharing the same room with his family members, he always does these activities in such a manner as adults enjoy his presence in the common area. The subject is present in a rather intrusive way, but in reality he has no contact with them. The teenager is now visibly present but absent, he is currently outside the relationship „ (Lesourd, 2005).
In everyday life, this ambivalent relationship is remarkably expressed by the ratio subject-familial space/room and the ratio subject-familial time. From the point of view of space, we mention certain places, such as the adolescent`s room, a private area where he isolates himself whenever he rejects contact with his family members (for example, he expresses his feelings by listening to extremely loud music). In terms of time, Lasen in 2001, shows ways in which many teenagers try to “lose synchronization” with their parents lifestyle, for example, they spent nights outside, sleep during the day, eat outside, etc.. The teenager seems to use these movements of presence – absence in the manner of transitional phenomena to express the feeling of loneliness in the family.
The ability to be alone in the social environment
The adolescent has the ability to be/feel alone not only in his familiar environment, but also, to the same extent, in the social space. Moreover, the adolescent may use this game presence-absence to test social presence: being sometimes in the social space (streets, buildings) and avoiding further contact with adults.
Similar to his attitude to family environment, the adolescent tries to invest space and time in his own way. In terms of space, several authors have investigated the function of streets and public, anonymous places, (parks, peripherals, suburbs) as intermediate, transitional spaces, the adolescent investigating them to find out and define his own place in society. As far as time is concerned, we can notice the tendency of the adolescents to lose synchronization with the social time, for example, their propensity for nightlife. Numerous adolescent patterns allow us to draw the conclusion that adolescent capacity to be/feel alone within social environment involves, on the one hand, the simultaneous searching for identification (social, cultural) and on the other hand, the rupture (doubts on the present order and creation of a new generation). It is about a double movement of identification and counter-identification in comparison with social figures. Most of these behaviors evoke the adolescents` need to reintroduce the generation gap, ie the difference between his generation and the one. On the basis of the above-mentioned aspects, the adolescent re-internalize oedipal incest prohibition .
The ability to be alone in the presence of someone of opposite sex
Puberty, as well as the discovery of his own sexuality and of the Other`s, is definitely the most important experience of castration and absence. In fact, the teenager, who, since childhood, was already aware of the difference between sexes, brutally perceives the radical nature of this difference, being forced to determine his identity in sexual terms. This first loss is accompanied by the perception that the object of love – the person of the opposite sex – is partially absent.
In childhood, the subject believes that once the Oedipus complex is completely understood and overcome, the partner of the opposite sex will subsequently become the object of his plenitude, of absolute pleasure and fusion (Lesourd). However, the teenager discovers that the two sexual genres are not at all similar to prefabricated parts that fit perfectly. Their meeting is always imperfect, always subject to re-assessment.
The unbearable loneliness experienced by the subject, demonstrating radical castration of sexual reporting to the other, can be expressed in many ways: „sexual hesitation” (Rassial, 1996) referring to gender identity, homosexual experiences, alternating between male and female status dismorphofobia, denial of sexuality, anorexia, etc..
The feeling of solitude reported to the other may be emphasized by the venues chosen by teenagers. Moreover, we encounter again this game of „presence-absence” that is common to teenagers in their trial to get used to meeting the sexual object (particularly, flirting).
Discos and clubs seem to be the most privileged places where this game is played. These adolescent venues are sometimes favorable meeting places, other times they are obstructive. The obstacles are evidenced by „sensorial saturation” of the environment: first of all, it is the loud sound of music that makes any discussion impossible, secondly there are the screens that broadcast slideshows, recessed lights, then the consumables (drinks, cigarettes, drugs), mobile phones (that distract a present relationship when receiving a SMS or a call). Intermediate space between the subject and the other is also saturated, and thus the subject is able to be/feel alone in the presence of the object. No silence, no „dead time” in this sensorial saturated space of disco can reveal anguish triggered by the encounter with the Other. On the contrary, the same items that allow escaping are equally easing the approach: for example, the subject has to talk over the music and he is very closed by the Other`s ear, he can ask for a cigarette, a drink … These adolescent locations, sometimes authorizing approach and sometimes rejection, let the one who is trying to meet the other loopholes through which he finds his own loneliness.
An extreme form of this paradoxical location is made up of the followers of musical style rave (Vives, 2006) or of the modern style, emo, where traditionally the subject is self-centered and adolescents are „alone but together”. These meetings, which young people enjoy for experiencing „community without communication”, evoke what Melanie Klein described in 1963 as the feeling of loneliness.
According to the British psychoanalyst, in fact, any subject experiences during his lifetime an intrinsically subjective feeling of loneliness and nostalgia tied to a relationship with the other, a relationship characterized by the lack of need for communication. This mythical relationship, never lost, will be the best relationship with mother in early childhood, a relationship of mutual, absolute and immediate understanding, without feeling the need for words. It is, actually, what each of us is searching for in our social and love relations, an ideal of shared solitude.
Juvenile wandering: a search for a certain place
<< What does the adolescent „quest of the Holy Graal” mean? The memory I have about this epic poem is that it tells the triumphant assumption of the Self, hence the adolescents should be subjected to tests and pass them before they leave the secure fortress to go and conquer, sometimes love, sometimes the impossible >> Annie Birraux.
The child is still too dependent on his parents, who are sometimes protective, sometimes perceived as a kind of screen to the world. Adults have their own responsibilities, which determine them to circumscribe choices and sometimes curiosity. And in his quest of his own place and of building his own identity, the adolescent strides from here to there on both real and imaginary territories. For example, in popular neighborhoods, in homes and building entrances, teenagers play these distortions between the interior and exterior, public and private, invisible and visible, between immersion and approach between exclusion and integration… Our contemporary society was often characterized, firstly by socialist doctrines, as increasingly individualistic. This statement is a bit peremptory, and we definitely prefer that of Maurice Godelier, who describes it as a space of individual isolation. This isolation and its corollaries – the feeling of abandonment, feeling of not being rooted anywhere – will act as serious risk behaviors in young people.
Each adolescent quest is singular. For example, we can compare: quasi-stationary wandering of the youth in popular neighborhoods, which is triggered by poor life conditions, nocturnal wandering of juveniles who require social assistance or legal protection, active wandering of a generally post-adolescent age segment, sexual wandering of some boasting adolescent. Etymology can give us clues to develop a certain typology. Fleeing reveals escape, a sudden, sharp departure.
Initially, adolescent wandering seems to be a kind of adventure, without a clear purpose or direction, a roam here and there, under the risk of getting lost. But this wandering demonstrates, above all, uncertainty and deficiency. I would like to recall three points of reference, which, like some boats anchored in a bay, blustery drift in the same territory of adolescence: the flee, the area as a strategy to extinction and formative journey.
Chobeaux Francois was among the first authors who, in 1996, highlighted the impressive number of teenagers and young adults in active wandering and social rupture. Most of them do not belong to the lower social class. He calls them “nomads of nowhere”. We usually meet this kind of nomads on the eve of festive meetings and musical manifestations. They sometimes choose a marginal life to gain a greater sense of freedom. It is impressive their development that, ultimately, cast them outside a tangible framework, where there is no possible free space. In modern societies, in the latter half of the century, the transition from childhood to adult life is less and less extended and ritualized. From the very beginning, the imaginary is fading away. For instance, we do not cross the inner maternal space so easily to enter the world of adults. Adolescence is subject to wandering to the same extent to which the unconscious invades the human. There is a myth of adolescence and Marcel Proust stated that it was “the only time that brought him something.” Wandering is an absolute form of this “entre deux” (between own Self and the Other) that so perfectly defines adolescent time and space.
In Islamic and Judeo-Christian traditions, becoming an adult means not only leaving your father and mother, but leaving them in order to honor them. Every flight is dangerous, every flight is uplifting and during this first flight some of us are more courageous and precocious than others.
Wandering, a form of vanishing
If adolescence is a period of wandering and loss of individual sense, starting from a long quest of inner self, for many adolescents it becomes a roaming, without a place to live, especially when they lack a family who can provide them opportunities to survive. Wandering is a chronical flee, these young people live with the fantasy to get rid of any constraints to be free to consume illicit products whenever they want. (Chobeaux, 2004). There are not necessarily condemned to live in the street like many others homeless („clochards”), they were expelled by their family, school, college, university or workplace. Of a great narcissistic fragility, they are „skinned alive” and react to the slightest annoyance. Generally, the image of their parental couple is represented by an absent or tyrannical father or stepfather and a forgiving or tolerant mother. Instead of entering adult world with a sense of security and stability, never receiving or losing their ontological security, they are in a relentless regression, they do not have a sense limit to allow them to take roots. They are in continual flee, therefore in progressive regression, they are not able to control their decay. They cling to their limited space to survive. “I am moving just for the sake of the movement, nothing else, and any stop becomes unbearable in two days …”, declares a teenager. In the street, they feel less pain than they feel when they live with their families, they feel protected, in a process of liberation, transition to something else which is defined as rather negative in the view of their parents.
Frequently, young people are torn astray, they do not know anything about their genealogy and this spatial confusion is only the extension of the confusion given by their own sense of identity. Many of them take or accept a nickname, and thus they accept a re-birth, an alteration of personal, social status, an oath of allegiance to another „family”. This re-birth and auto-creation involves the denial of those who gave them birth. They erased their past and make up a novel facet, such as a “new” skin full of tattoos or piercings. In a form of bravado, they change the others` s existence into diverse objects, they denounce closure routines, social constraints, the hypocrisy of the world and claim freedom as a personal choice forgetting the sufferings which had caused their flee and then their wandering. They are sometimes defined by a discourse about libertinism, which extols their course of life. A difficult relationship with parents, their emotional absence, frequently school abandonment or a bad teenage depression rejected by their peers are the conditions which facilitate the final break and engagement in a difficult path. Adolescents may have a painful roving, even if they can live moments of pleasure. Wandering is essentially human, the city is the most suitable place for self extinction.
The testing of the body
Reality is tough, involving cold, hunger, promiscuity, lack of sleep, alcohol, drugs, toxins, violence in shelters or in the street, more or less voluntary and accepted sexual intercourse, often without contraception. Most homeless teenagers have pharmacological tutors, so they are users (alcohol, heroin, cocaine, cocktails of drugs, psychotropic substances, etc.). Desiring to dissolve in absentia, in a temporal and spatial confusion, in a confusion of self identity, they most often live in constant devaluation of their own body, either due to past events (incest, sexual or psychological violence, etc) or as a result of their living standard. The body becomes a mere tool of survival: detached, it no longer represents the irreducible identity. Prostitution becomes a means to pay for their daily illegal products. Promiscuity of the area they live involves sexual relationships, often with different undesired partners, becoming „trash bodies.” For the wanderer who does not feel very good in his own body, the body is no longer something worth investing but rather an uncomfortable and painful burden, and this because of his lifestyle and physical consequences of his appetite for alcohol and other toxic abuse. The wanderer also faces up to problems of malnutrition, infections, accidents, plus neurological problems occurring as a result of ingestion of toxic products, or more, psychodysleptic derivatives.
Wandering, between space and time
Young homeless have no privacy, no refuge: they live in abandoned places, and most of the time, in public, under the gaze of others. They are kept in an exterior that makes it difficult the development of an inner world, the inner Self. Failure to live in a certain, specific space spot, beyond wandering, failure to find a home, involves inability “to dwell time” The circumstances seem to be the ones that determine the facts. Wanderers are found in this area where the crossings are only transient. Neither runaways nor homeless, they live in abandoned apartments or houses turned into refugees, cellars, close to railway stations, ie “non-places”.
Undoubtedly, for many of them it is a life choice which means ingenious “do it yourself” activities in order to organize themselves, economically speaking, to survive doing things such as: braiding hair, tattoos, piercing, jewelry manufacture, street juggling or dancing, resourceful selling of beer cans and other products (marijuana, ecstasy, prescription drugs, etc..) to procure a small benefit. Others, less organized, beg in the streets or train stations, installed with their dogs to beg passengers, motionless for hours, in an attitude of supplication or leaving a placard to speak for them….
Street remains a transient place where they get encysted. These young people are unable to escape reality, they remain captive as they cannot succeed in finding a place to identify. Their mental capacity is not sufficiently developed to feed a living sense of belonging to a specific place. They are imported in a temporality in suspense, without warning, without an opportunity to be the actors of their own time. They do not have identification documents and no roots. Their wandering becomes their own ending. They have not found their abode among people, they relentlessly postpone their birth. They live somewhere between space and time, suspended between their own Self and the Other, lacking personal privacy. The world is meaningless, their identity itself is still hesitant, always on the verge of crystallizing; it is, anyway, a losing battle. They strive to determine a place of inner Self in the world, an interior universe versus social universe due to the lack of investment in one or another. Rare are there the lasting couple relationships or friendship relationships that would survive in the street. „It is the absence of means which make possible the shift between outer and inner universe that is responsible for these problems. Wandering has a circular character, until it plunged into a non-orientable space, ie a space recurved itself so that we can not distinguish the inside from the outside „(Goldberg, Gutton, 1996). They are between past and present, in non-time imported in an endless fall off the present time. „To live in an eternal present shows that death, as supreme limit, is not symbolized …”. Their excessive behaviors have no landmarks and no boundaries. We can say that „excessive consumption governs their lives” (Jeffrey, 2003). Their existence deprived of absence enables them to face up to an overinvested reality and takes its place. Void streets do not exercise any pressure on them. The young man is a social non-insertion in „suffering”, it is like a letter addressed to nobody. Taking up the concept of „addiction without object” of Ferenczi, Goldberg and Gutton in 1996 evoke „an addiction to space”, noting both the ability of young people to cross a certain space and their inability to support pending – a stereotypical development. They depend on their own path, their project is always the horizon.
Spatial overinvestment aggravates the living of own thoughts. Adolescents cannot stand their own ego, it is the moment when non-ego, street indifference is the only living space. Wandering explains the will to disappear. Young wanderers always lie outside their selves, are incapable of offering something. They live under the gaze of others and are completely exposed and the“bare”. Unable to build a broader psychological space, they are condemned to wandering outside the psychiatric community, which became unbearable. Thus, generally, wandering becomes a way to keep inner ego at distance as it is extremely painful, space is of utmost importance versus time, movement versus reasonable thinking, numbing the desire to meet daily physiological needs and to search for alternatives.
Wandering is an injury of time – there is no constraint to follow a certain direction, we have to intertwine personal history with inner self to enjoy a quality time. In fact, time is a constant confrontation with inner self, a terrible fight with the ambivalent world. Wandering is a kind of time hospitalization in order to defuse its irreversibility and change it into a controllable object; space is also a waiver, meant to stop time passing. Time is beyond any control, however, space is totally controlled and the young “drifter|”, who has no further projects, is in continual quest of immediate issues.
The road controls his action; he has to progress so that he may not crumble, hence unpredictability of his action.
Wanderers remain permanently on the thread of reason, surprised by what we call innocence-which is that form of self resignation when thinking of an oversized existence that is no longer present or able to support the individual and to invest himself as „Subject of his own existence” (Le Breton, 2000). Playing with death is here a less creative attempt to build up inner self, it is rather a cessation fight, it is about the absence of risk behavior rather than a spectacular self externalizing, the subject intends to disappear, he plays with death by rejecting his participation at the fight. He filled the unbearable void by using many toxicities associated with alcohol, without seeking the float or the thrill, they seek, rather, the absence, the coma. Can we talk about „risk behavior” in this case? A risk behavior is not just a simple search for the intensity of a challenge, it often triggers indifference as far as existential issues are concerned, when the subjects does not feel the desire to live any longer. (Le Breton, 2002). Self valuation merges with the gray tone of an ordinary lifestyle, without horizon or definite direction or it is marked by pain. Indifference itself causes exposure to a hazard which is no longer perceived as havoc due to personal disgust. The subject is indifferent to everything, however, he does not at all want to die, he is just rejecting present space and time – his naivety goes far to annihilation. The relationship with the other is always provisional and depends on circumstances: a world of “friends”, who are always new friends, so the relationship is not rooted in time, it is again a matter of space.
Due to his way of life, the subject finds it difficult to make a long-term commitment.
A significant number of teenagers fall equally in a well-organized movement of “travellers” (that has arisen in recent years around techno music). These groups are structured, supportive and eager to reconcile the taste of freedom with the taste of “street” and self-commitment in the so-called “teckniwaves” which implies a certain social integration. << With a capacity of material and technical autonomy, they are not thwarted by social rules and many of them live a social piratical life >> (Chobeaux, 2004). This nomadic way of life allows a sustainable and proper installation in the interstices of society, starting from the organization of “free parties”.
Wandering and self-void
Wandering is sometimes the object of rejection, sometimes the fascination for contemporary society.
We can define wandering as a decisive directionless movement.
This means that wandering is sometimes consistent, sometimes in conflict with society. In fact, it is characterized by mobility (Yonnet, 1986): we are witnessing an exponential growth of movements in order to achieve a certain meaning. Starting from this idea, Max Weber (1971) discussed about the purpose of movement. Traffic is accelerating unabated in many cases, especially due to professional activities, work, personal relationship and even entertainment. This relentless augmentation of movements may register episodes of paralysis or saturation which incite us to ask ourselves if this unceasing wandering is truly rational. Any way, it seems less reasonable. Undoubtedly, according to Weber, they all represent, “valuable”, meaningful travels. This valuable travel can lose its value and become worthless. Involved in this compulsory movement, the subject has the sudden tendency to cling to thinking in an environment which has not kept its promises, and he is afraid of going on as the next place will not be a better antidote to his damaged soul. Therefore, we are just moving for the sake of moving, to escape, because staying still and steady may became awkward, or unbearable. There is equally a systematization of mobility which leads to the opposite expected effect, producing drifts and wandering, a mixture of excitement, indifference and disgust.
Wandering is a mobility pushed to the limit, which may lose its positive character and turns into an indeterminate and interminable search. This phenomenon, under the auspices of science fiction or drug consumption, may gain cosmic proportions. The reverse mobility is equally the reverse procurement, training and initiation, thus it represents the reverse of recurring themes in Romanian literature, the reverse of imaginary progress and positivity. Here it is the appeal of the void vertigo, see different experiences of self-dissolution.
A cultural and relational roving is also manifested in a context that offers a myriad of offers translated into a „zapping” attitude, where the accelerating peremptory rapidly devaluates the things we particularly enjoyed. Profuse opportunities definitely conduct to individual freedom. Many young people are used to going from a concert to another, from one party to another, from one trip to another, from one relationship to another; therefore their wandering is related to their inability to find certain issues, in these successive episodes, to hold them out.
These reflections do not make us regard wandering as a “setting-off” phase in teenagers` development with respect to individual and collective habits of contemporary everyday life; they are rather seen as an extension of logic that will go from mobility to a valuable mobility and to a worthless mobility. Many young people tend to follow this wrong way of thinking. How can we understand this affinity between wandering and part of youth?
The feeling of void
In discussions with young people on risk behaviors, they often evoke boredom recurrence, which they are striving to overcome. This boredom will echo in an existential void impression.
Child’s condition in contemporary society
Today, many young people are still suffering. They are kept in a sui generis condition, they have adult physical characters but they do not enjoy adult status, adult privileges and material means. They complain of not being able to actually participate at making the decisions that concern them. They come to question the so-called „system”, which is foreign, hostile or indifferent to their concerns, an amalgam of inequality, discrimination and hypocrisy. Can these deficiencies, however, dissipate disgust with themselves and the others?
Young people are sensitive to contradictions, hesitations or environmental uncertainties. Nowadays, we have to run projects and live the moment, to be ourselves and to be adaptable, to respect the others and to be respected. This double constraint arouses perplexity. How can we resist to temptations to consumerism and the need to provide our means of survival? Aren`t those who transgress prohibitions the ones who usually are sentenced and fascinate the media which nourishes their celebrity? Young people can only be bewildered by ambivalences concerning him. They regard them just as genuine manifestations of youth, in fact they are reduced to a subordinate position. Then, what is the key to evolution?
Our societies are crossed by trends, values, different interests. They are characterized by irreducible complexity through specialized functions and a multitude of methods. It is difficult to penetrate such an environment. There are certain conditions and difficulties to fulfill desire. Like many others of their age, a lot of young people are against the odds in finding their way through the maze of our time.
They are tempted to rally to a less differentiated micro-society, confused and anxious. Peer group provides a kind of framework of rules, evidence and rituals. Membership in a gang allows demonstration of mutual fidelity, possibility to meet with danger, feeling of excitement, rivalry with other groups. Access facility to inner self contributes equally to the reinforcement in an exclusive circle, family, neighborhood, community.
Other adolescents plunge into a crushing isolation and indulge themselves in virtual bubbles which mask the void of their existence and allow adventure or blind dates or meetings via tricky computer sites. Many young people have difficulty in finding their place or orienting in the surrounding world; this can lead to various forms of alienation from the public sphere and isolation in a virtual world. In the ‚90s, Japan faced a radical phenomenon, severely increasing, called hikikomori. It is about young people, especially males, who deliberately isolate themselves in their rooms, in front of a computer. These young adults, who limit their contact with the outside world as much as possible, are nourished by their families who often try to hide the situation. Their number is estimated at nearly one million and this life is about to spread to other developed countries.
Functions of transition rites in the very heart of psychic void
Movements in adolescent life and death
Supressed, locked in a political no men’s land, teenagers are anihilitated. But death is closed. Offenses, murder, manipulation (pedophilia, terrorism) are widely suggested by the adult world. Young people nowadays are not armed enough and have no idea how to defend. Interior protection reveals mental work, which is internalizing all experimental relationships with adults and peers: specific, individual place, the role of language, access to symbolic analogy, metaphor, metonymy, desire, attention, satisfaction. There are different strategies to win the maturation war. Transient rites are the same in all civilizations: they go beyond individual-materiality to turn it into a topic issue of a culture and a society. Rituals capture time in a certain moment, shared by all of them and marks the transition to another inner time, until it falls into a timeline. Rituals „govern” both the society and the individual, integrating discontinuity and continuity (closing the image and linking the various stages of life).
Losing to believe
Adolescence is the origin of an intermediate phase. It is the passage between childhood and adulthood which requires a series of transient rituals and rites. These rituals facilitate the children`s separation from a specific world and joining a new world-that of adults. In time, this phase was prolonged and the rituals diluted, therefore the youth cannot definitely leave childhood, they have children behavior in adult bodies. Any rite of this kind is linked to death. It is an abstract death, given by loss and renunciation. It is, of course, the loss of childhood benefits: both omnipotence and magical thinking and unconditional love the child feels for his protective parents under all circumstances, practicing excuses, tirelessly aiming at reconciliation.
However, it is not at all easy to give them up, especially since, paradoxically, the parents seem to annoy the children behaving in an overprotective way. A child who is dying induces grief and mourning and the adolescent is not prepared enough to experience that. The adolescent needs, in fact, to recognize difficult moments aroused by emptiness, loneliness, huge energy and fantasies. He is afraid to show weakness and confusion while his body is the witness of obvious physical maturity. He indulges in the estimated privileges (those of youth), such as freedom, nonconformity and challenge. For instance, he is ashamed to show sadness and especially emotional dependency.
The reality of death
Under these circumstances, death is seen at times as a solution, as an advantageous split: fast, efficient radical, shocking. Suicide is often evoked as an alteration, it is appealing due to the pseudo-control that it evokes, in a way it creates mystery. Death, like sex, becomes one of the most favorite issues. Testing and pushing his limits, the adolescent gets on the other side and is able to bear the transition phase to adult life. New physical capabilities are, therefore, subject to rough tests and experiments: staying up late at night, eating more than usual, drinking to intoxication … Risk-taking alternates with contempt for moral standards rooted by parents: transgressions, social challenges and esoteric philosophies Nihilism and contempt for the adult laws may risk adherence to a dangerous systems presented by a seductive guru (sects who know how to recruit hesitant and fragile youth).
Once faced with the painful proof of a genuine loss, teenagers can either have the strength to develop a depression or remain larvae and float astray between „(the) two”: unfinished or hyper-mature children, disgusted adults, unable to find themselves. The example of mourning teenagers can be applied to all other categories of life separations (other major events, delinquency, drug abuse), being sometimes necessary to tolerate the transition from childhood to adulthood.
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