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Why Your 20s Can Be Confusing and Damage Your Self-Esteem

By: Leah Hovey

This month, our theme at Conscious Counselling is self-esteem. We all know what self-esteem is, and we all struggle with our own self-esteem at specific points in our lives. While low self-esteem can impact us our entire lives, I have found that our 20s can prove to be particularly confusing and impact our self-esteem severely.


Why is that, exactly? Our 20s are supposed to be some of the greatest times of our lives! It is when we can reinvent ourselves, discover what we truly love, and is the point where we grow from adolescence into adulthood. I agree – however, it can also cause confusion and inadequate self-esteem due to how different all of our experiences can be.


Something I have learned is that in your 20s, everyone is in completely different and unique stages in their lives. Some of our peers are completing their post-secondary education while some have full-time jobs. Some are still living at home with their parents while others have bought houses. There are some individuals who are casually dating – with the thought of having a long term partner out of their realm – and there are some individuals who are married or who have children. There is no “common” path for young adults in their 20s, which can cause negative self-esteem for those who feel as though they are not similar to their peers.


Research has indicated that young adults rely heavily on their social interactions with those around them which contribute to self-esteem. Individuals engaging in appropriate developmental social activity strengthens their psychological adjustment over the following years (Carmichael, et al. 2015). This is challenging within recent years, however, due to the various paths each 20-year-old may take. Those who are still in school or living at home may feel as though they are not doing as well as their peers who own homes or have families. Those who have a house, a serious partner, or children may view their peers as having more freedom, less responsibility, and they may feel disconnected from friends who are not at a similar stage yet.


The constant comparison to our peers can severely impact our self-esteem or our identity exploration. Your early adulthood is extremely impacted by your identity exploration within this time period. A study about the Individual Difference Predictors of Experience of Emerging Adulthood shows that specific dimensions such as self-esteem, feeling in-between, self-orientedness and negativity/stability are more important to an individual's sense of who they are when they are in their 20s than earlier or later in life. In fact, interpersonal factors were shown to have a higher impact on a young adult’s sense of who they are than intrapsychic factors (Skulborstad & Herman, 2016). This means that our experiences with our peers around us (or viewing the experiences of those around us and comparing them to our own) has more of an influence than our personal views of ourselves.


Our 20s have the ability to affect us with financial pressure too. This is a time where we are still trying to discover who we are, trying to obtain an education or obtain a well-paying job, all while trying to gain independence. Financial burdens such as paying off student debt, trying to afford housing or rent, or supporting children are all factors that play into the “Boomerang Age of Individuals.” The term Boomerang Generation was coined to explain the 21st Century Western phenomenon of young adults who are living on their own, but due to financial, medical, or other circumstances, are forced to return home. This is a phenomenon that has occured only within the 21st century, the effects of which can cause severe damage to one's self-esteem and can cause conflict due to freedom being pulled away from young adults (Mitchell, 2017).


As you can see, the challenges within your young adult years can take a huge toll on your sense of self-worth and how you view yourself. We all are at different stages of our lives, and it can be challenging to navigate which stage is appropriate for our age. While our 20s can be a confusing time, we must remember that as young adults, we need to stop the comparisons. There is no “right path” or appropriate stage we need to be at in our 20s. Everyone has differences in their lives which impact which path we choose. Faulting or critiquing our friends, acquaintances, or old classmates for either growing up too quickly or not growing up fast enough is contributing to the social stigmas within young adulthood. Everyone is different, and just because you are not where your friend is, doesn't mean you are behind or too far ahead.


Personally, as a 23 year old, I have friends who are having children and who are getting married. I still love seeing them and I am so grateful I get to celebrate their important life events with them. I also have friends who are still slaving away in school, who are living at home, and who go out every weekend. I love being with those friends too and I find they are just as responsible as my other friends. Just because you are at different points in life does not mean relationships or your own self-esteem need to be tarnished. Take each day at a time, keep working towards whatever goals you have, and remember that your 20s can be whatever you want them to be. Make them count, you only have those 10 years.


References


Carmichael, C. L., Reis, H. T., & Duberstein, P. R. (2015). In your 20s it’s quantity, in your 30s

it’s quality: The prognostic value of social activity across 30 years of adulthood. Psychology and aging, 30(1), 95.


Mitchell, B. (2017). The boomerang age: Transitions to adulthood in families. Routledge.


Skulborstad, H. M., & Hermann, A. D. (2016). Individual difference predictors of the experience of emerging adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 4(3), 168-175.

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