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Treatment for Individuals with "Failure to Launch"

The Rise of Failure to Launch

There has been an uptick in the commonality of failure to launch in recent years. American adults ages 18 to 34 prefer to live at home with their parents than in another form of housing. Sometimes, these circumstances are only temporary and help financial hardships. However, that is not always the entire picture. Many adults living at home with their parents are not only doing so to save money but are highly reliant on their parents for everything. These adults are not actively seeking higher education, employment, or another living situation. The resolution is not as simple as a parent kicking out an adult child to live on their own. Instead, parents often seek professional guidance to maneuver through failure to launch because the problem is more deeply ingrained than simple laziness. Unfortunately, adult children tend unwilling to engage in therapy, making treatment more difficult.

Young adults have a more challenging transition into full-fledged adulthood. They struggle to function independently and feel overwhelmed by the majority’s demands. While feeling shame and alienation from more successful and independent peers, their anxiety levels only increase.

Signs of Failure to Launch

Although an adult child may move home after college to save money before moving out, this situation can quickly fail to launch. When an adult child is allowed to revert to a dependent state or never adjust to independence, their behavior may show signs of failure to launch. Such symptoms include but are not limited to the following:

  • Feeling stuck
  • Lack of motivation
  • Not engaging in activities involving responsibility, such as school, employment, or household chores
  • Withdrawal or social isolation from peers and family
  • Starting school or work but quitting without a plan

What Causes Failure to Launch?

One can come up with multiple causes for the failure to launch. Not only is the economy partly to blame, but the increasing costs of higher education, higher anxiety levels from the pandemic, and a desire to have a fulfilling job that may not pay enough to support someone can all play a part. Although all of these factors can lead to a failure to launch, much more is at play. Failure to launch is often not a short-term situation but is dragged out. In other words, the initial causes are not what keeps it going.

Behaviors of Young Adults and Parents

The behaviors of the adult and their parents tend to be mutually reinforcing. Attempts by both child and parents to alleviate the problem can aggravate it. When one may think they are helping, they could be enabling the behaviors that allow for the continuation of the failure to launch. As an adult continues to rely on their parents for relief from stress, and the parents agree, this contributes to avoidance and a lack of independence. As a child gets used to this situation, parents may fear that their guidance and support encourage their child’s inability to make it independently. Parents often rescind certain luxuries out of worry or resentment, but the adult child does not react well. Instead of making a change, they feel betrayed by their parents, leading to the parents returning to their previous behavior.

Anxiety and Avoidance 

It is suggested that clinical anxiety is a common factor in the failure to launch, but this is not always the case. When anxiety is relevant, people often avoid situations that cause anxiety. From when a young adult, a teenager, or even a child, they turn to their parents when feeling nervous, scared, or stressed. Knowing they could rely on their parents to help them cope becomes a cycle of continued avoidance. This cycle isn’t just repetitive but more intense in adulthood. With more responsibilities around the corner, adult children that rely on their parents find normal functioning even more overwhelming and continue to avoid it.

Treatment for Failure to Launch

Failure to launch is not something that only impacts the individual but the family as a whole. Therefore, the family must be actively involved in the treatment process. As the dependent adult may not be willing to undergo therapy, the burden is often placed on the parents first. With the proper guidance, parents are trained to reduce their doting behaviors gradually. Rather than lecturing or punishing their child, they need to introduce the aspects of adulthood to them slowly. When a parent learns how to change their behavior and trust that their child can make it on their own, it encourages a systematic change.

This resolution may seem simple, but the parents must lead by example to get their adult child to change after becoming accustomed to dependent behavior. Parents cannot force their adult child to change, grow, or even be active in treatment, but changing their behavior causes a ripple effect. Eventually, the adult child seeks employment and housing and may even enter therapy.

Failure to launch can often be connected to other conditions, such as:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)

Considering these connections, an individual struggling with failure to launch, or maturing out of this stage, should seek therapy and treatment. Some of the most common treatments for failure to launch, as well as other mental health disorders, include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Mindfulness
  • Career counseling
  • Life skills training
  • Family therapy

At Lighthouse Recovery, we learn about your situation and work with you to create an individualized treatment plan. Our philosophy includes comprehensive, transparent, and evidence-based care. We balance various clinical modalities and focus on life-skills training, giving clients the insight, experience, tools, and confidence they need to lead rewarding and independent lives.

Get Started Today

Getting started is easy. Use one of the options below to get in touch with a Lighthouse Staff member. We can discuss your needs, expectations for Treatment, and our programming options. If we’re not the right fit, we’ll help you find a place that is. Thank you for the trust.
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