We are all just walking each other home---Ram Dass
There are vast expanses to leap across as we move through life and especially in the stage between childhood/adolescence and adulthood. The terrain that must be traversed varies for each individual; it can be steep, rocky, smooth, slippery, deep, a narrow crevasse, or a grand canyon, it can be full of deep waters to swim or it may be a desolate desert to cross. Skill is acquire as one moves through the terrain and faces monumental tasks of growth and development. Some make it across the expanse unscathed, some injured, some barely clear it the first time but try and again with great success, and some don’t make it through at all and give up trying. For those who cross and continue to cross, it is the community that supports the process, those that surrounds them and holds them in the leap, witnesses the aloneness of the jump and catches them on the other end with great encouragement.
The significant developmental shift during this time is the movement from one frame of reference to another; the frame of family shifts in importance as one moves toward valuing peers. The very nature of groups coming together is to provide context in which one can begin to establish and increase a sense of their own identity as well as navigate way to being effective in the world.
As one moves through these expanses, it is important to remember that we cannot do it alone, we need each other. Nature mirrors this for us: Birds and fish move together for protection; elephants, lions and monkeys care for each other and each others’ young supporting and witnessing each other in growth; wolves hunt together in pacts, strategizing, completing and celebrating their tasks; ants communicate and create intricate systems of structure through understanding the unique role each plays in the greater community, often accomplishing pursuits 100x their size; the forest needs all the animals, insects and plants within it to maintain is healthy ecosystem; and dolphins assemble in play as well in holding each other during difficult times, they even have been known to offer help to other species in distress, namely humans, they have a remarkable ability to empathize, creating complex social bonds. Humans have and thrive in these ways of community too.
We are not only our family system, we are part of a greater system and we begin to learn this as early as 10-14 years old. This is when the shift away from family and the movement toward relying and focusing on peers begins. At this time a young person is able to learn to rely on their feelings, thoughts and reactions in relationships with peers that are experiencing similar feelings, thoughts and reactions during an time of physical, cognitive and emotional change. Young teens share their experiences with those who are in a similar stage to know the similarities and difference of this transformational phase of life.
As adolescence continues, we grow more and more peer-oriented, establishing out identity and way of being in the social world. We move toward individuation from the family system and look toward peers and adults other than parents for signs and clues as to what and who he/she wishes to become. During this time, more intimate relationships and dating occur, providing an opportunity to explore differences with intensity and focus. This helps us cultivate identity and character as our relationship with peers and family become more stable, complex, intimate, and reciprocal in our developing understanding of gains and losses.
Group processes provide a vehicle for struggling teens and young adults to be ushered through these huge and complex life phase tasks. In this process, each person can lean into the natural tendency to look toward peers and other adults about who they are, what’s important to them, what they offer as a gift to the world and how to engage in living their unique lives.
As a facilitator of group process, it is a privilege and honor to create an environment for safe exploration of thoughts and feelings and ways to express oneself effectively. In group processes, teens can find their way in meeting and resolving conflicts, setting boundaries, learning to value Self and others, building trust, speaking truths, establishing meaningful relationships and to develop a capacity for intimacy. Furthermore, this is a place for leaning into the difficulties and scary places of our inner world with confidence in the ability to be seen, heard and valued.
The journey across this vast abyss is one of extraordinary change, growth, and self-discovery; this journey is not devoid of pain and confusion, yet it is ultimately a journey worth celebrating. In the process of learning of and becoming our true selves, it is the group that surrounds us, which powerfully holds us to who we are meant to be and what we are meant to live.
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