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Adult Rebellion Doesn’t Exist: Why Your Choices Are Yours

How Your Parents Are Not in Control of Your Decisions

It happens to almost everyone. Somewhere between the ages of 11 and 18, you rebelled in some way against your parents. Maybe it was talking back. Maybe it was staying out late. Maybe it was dressing a certain way, engaging in some illicit activities, or doing something you know that your parents would not want you to do.

Teenage rebellion is so common that it is treated as an inevitability in our culture. We don’t just worry our teens might rebel. We know they will, and parents spend the first 12+ years of their child’s life talking about and waiting for the day when their child will rebel against them.

But many people find that their “rebellion” doesn’t end by the time they hit adulthood. Many adults are also prone to “rebellion.” Adults may find that they “rebel” against their parents by marrying someone their parents would not approve of, or performing behaviors their parents would dislike. It may not be parents, either. Some people rebel against their workplace, their spouse, their friends, and their siblings.

Some adults in their rebellious phase do not realize that they’re in it at all. But others embrace it, andare sometimes even proud of it. They take on the idea that they’re rebelling as a label.

Except, there is a problem with the idea of adult rebellion:

It doesn’t exist.

What is Rebellion?

It’s a bit cliché to quote a dictionary when defining a concept, but part of understanding why you are NOT rebelling requires understanding what it means to “rebel.” Rebelling means, specifically:

“…to oppose or disobey one in authority or control.”

Now, to be fair, when we think of rebelling against our parents, for example, this is exactly what we picture we are doing. We are rebelling against our parents, the individuals that have long had control over our lives and our behaviors. Or maybe we’re not rebelling against our parents. Maybe we’re rebelling against society in general, which controls how we are expected to act and who we are expected to be.

But we’re not really rebelling. Adults do not engage in behavioral rebellion.

The reason that adult rebellion doesn’t exist lies in the definition of rebelling: our parents (or whomever we are rebelling against), do not have authority or control over us anymore. As adults, we have autonomy. We can make decisions. We have legal and typically financial control over our lives.

Adults rebellion doesn’t exist because these other people or entities do not have authority or control over you, and thus you cannot be rebelling because you have nothing to rebel against.

Perceived Psychological Control vs Actual Control

When you’re young, many people in positions of power have actual, tangible control over you. You still require your parents to buy you food. You’re still in their home. You still are under their health insurance. You yourself are developing intellectually and psychologically in a way where it is helpful for someone older and with some authority to guide you.

Then it ends. You become an adult.

Adult rebellion takes place when an adult *feels* like someone has psychological control over them. They’re rebelling against the voice in their heads that is telling them what to do and is still able to control their thoughts and behaviors.

But that voice is only in their heads. When you’re an adult, you have autonomy. You have the ability to choose the way you live your life and choose who you are. There may be a voice in your head from a time when someone had more legal or authoritative control over you and your behaviors, but as an adult, that control is gone.

Because that control is gone, you are free to many any decision you want without repercussions. You aren’t rebelling, because there is no one that can or will stop you. If you want to get a face tattoo, you can. If you want to be an adult film star, you can. If you want to ride a motorcycle, skydive, or live in a van near the beach, you have total control over those decisions.

Which means that you’re not rebelling. You’re making a choice.

Certainly, we may still *feel* like someone has control over us. We may even be ceding control to them. For example, our parents may not have any tangible control over our lives, but if they tell us not to do something, we may still stop because we’ve *chosen* to give them control. But we are still making that choice, just as all the decisions we are making as adults are also our choice.

So while we may feel like these are not a choice (for example, we may feel fear about upsetting our parents or bending to society’s expectations about who we should be), we have control over essentially all decisions we make and components of our lives, and thus any rebellion we do cannot really be a rebellion.

Why Does it Matter if It’s a Choice?

Establishing that our “rebellion” is not really rebellion may seem like semantics. But understanding your autonomy and how much control you have over your own life and outcomes is important. That is because:

  • If our parents, or any authority figure, is causing us this much distress, rather than rebel against them we need to instead recognize that we’re choosing to still give them that power and learn how to take that power back. “Rebelling” doesn’t do this. In fact, it re-exerts their power over you giving you an imaginary authority figure to rebel against.
  • Many of the choices you make while “rebelling” – which are choices you made willingly – can hurt you in the long term. These can be behaviors that cause you to hurt yourself or others emotionally, psychologically, or physically. Some may seem harmless at the time, but could cause you distress later in life. Because you have agency, there are “rebellious” activities that might be great for you personally. For example, choosing a career as an artist over one as an engineer. But you should still be able to acknowledge that it is only a choice that you’re making for you.
  • Placing the blame for your own decisions onto others can also make it harder for you to make better decisions in the future, and also takes away the joy of the decision. For example, if getting a tattoo would upset your parents, but you have a genuine interest in a beautiful, highly meaningful tattoo, you’re not going to appreciate your choice if you’re associating it with rebelling against your family even though it is entirely your choice.

This idea of “adult rebellion” can also be complicated, because not everyone rebelling recognizes that that is the core of their behavioral choices. Even adults are prone to not identifying why they are acting a specific way or how their behavior may be a form of “rebellion.” That means that we have to be more aware of not only the choices we make, but why we make them.

Adult Rebellion and Mental Health

This idea of adult “rebellion” is also one of the reasons that our mental health is about so much more than just anxiety and depression. It’s about realizing control of our lives, making better choices, and ensuring that we are always taking steps to personally, psychologically, and emotionally improve. For more information on how to take back control over your mental health, contact Long Island Psychology, today.

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