These days almost everyday I meet one or two adolescents or young adults with an aggressive and even violent behavior problem. The aggression is mostly directed towards parents and other family members and sometimes towards self too, posing a risk of self harm.
Excessive energy, anger, assertiveness, aggression are very common traits of today’s young generation. Are there any causes specific to these young minds and the way they are living that make them easily volatile and explosive?
Yes, there are. There are many reasons that contribute to the restlessness of the young minds. They are too sensitive and demanding, have too many expectations, are too self-centered, require immediate gratification, are over-ambitious with no realistic plans, fear failure and are intolerant to criticism. The list is long.
But there is a key reason that is mostly responsible for bringing out the worst out of the best ever provided for human generation till date. That reason is that their pleasure pain principle has gone haywire.
Many of you might not know what this pleasure pain principle is. Let me explain.
We humans are driven by two forces in our life – the desire for pleasure and the need to avoid or remove pain.
We do all that we do to gain pleasure. It is a basic, primal need to seek pleasure. The most basic sources of pleasure are food, sex, materials and power. Since our very origin we humans have been driven by these urges which make us very similar to our earthly co-inhabitants, animals.
Since time immemorial humans have been toiling , fighting, manipulating, begging and even killing their fellow beings to satiate these desires. All good as well as bad karma is performed to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Sigmund Freud, the pioneer psychotherapist, explained it perfectly as ‘id’, that part of our psyche that contains our basic needs and drives. Id works on pleasure pain principle and constantly strives to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Hunger, thirst, carnal and material needs when satiated provide pleasure and if are not available and are unsatisfied cause craving and pain.
Please note that both pleasure and pain are equally important as efforts, their quality, their urgency, their results and the satisfaction that is derived from the results, be it pleasure gain or pain avoidance, is what makes a life purposeful and worth.
As per Sigmund Freud’s famous Psychoanalysis Theory, there are two more domains of human psyche other than id and they are called Super Ego and Ego.
Id which we all are born with is very animal like but we are not animals because human mind created a super ego which every human acquires after his birth. Super ego contains the social and moral codes and value systems created by man himself. Our super ego is a check on our id and reins our animal like drives and desires by restraining us by binding us to our moral and social values.
Understand it with an example. If a person is hungry and is without food for long, he feels pain of hunger and wishes to derive pleasure by eating food. His id may tell him to snatch food from the person eating his tiffin sitting next to him. But he won’t because his super ego tells him that snatching is immoral and will not look good.
In everyday life, there is a constant tiff between pleasure pain principle i.e id and values ‘super ego’. In case of such conflict what happens to the pleasure pain principle which is the trigger to all efforts and actions?
That’s where our third domain of psyche comes to work. That is our ego which is our intelligence that gives us ways and means to gain pleasure and avoid pain without compromising our values. Ego resolves the conflict between id and super ego by inventing ways to get what a person wants while abiding by the values and morals. Ego is inherent as intelligence as well as acquired and enhanced with education.
In the example above, ego tells the hungry man to request the neighbor to share food with him. It is the ego that actually made people discover agriculture, trading, barter, persuasion, communication, seduction, religion, marriage and all other means so that pleasure could be earned, owned and enjoyed and pain could be avoided with dignity and rightfulness.
This principle of pleasure and pain is an all important principle as all the human progress is a result of this principle. Id made man hungry for more, super ego gave him restraints and differentiated him from animals and ego gave us new and more means and ways.
All individuals have all three but differ in their actions, results and states of mind because all have different combination of the three domains. An ideal human life is the one who can find the perfect balance between the three.
Unfortunately for our current young generation the balance has gone topsy turvy. The pleasure pain principle or the id that manifests all desires is not in order anymore.
The over indulged and over protected young ones especially those belonging to middle and upper class are now mostly accustomed to only the pleasures of life. Since their birth they have eaten well, lived well, traveled well, been well entertained and provided all that is best. The list of pleasure giving comforts is long and mostly at their disposal. As a result to them life is all about pleasures.
From their over protected lives, pains are missing and a little pain caused by absence of something causes their fury. They don’t wish to experience any pains of inadequacy and lacking. If they are denied anything they perceive it to be unfair and unjust and the things that they receive abundantly are not valued much and rather are seen as their entitlement.
Result is a life of excesses which means too much undervalued pleasure and no real pain. Sometimes they have some perceived or self inflicted pains and the worst is that those unrewarding, meaningless pains become too much for them to tolerate and the consequence is more anger.
Another consequence is that because they mostly have everything and if they want more they can ask for it, there is no need to make individual efforts because there isn’t much to strive for.
In simple words, such youth has become passive, idle, goalless, purposeless, enslaved to useless pleasures the absence of which cause pain thus addicted, unaware of the real pains of real worthy wants, yet still in pain, anguish and depressed.
The principle of pain and pleasure that applied to entire humanity for a hundred thousand years, that turned the hunter gatherers into agriculturists, innovators and then industrialists, has gone upside down in the current generation.
With due respect to Sigmund Freud and Aristotle before him who scripted the principle, the principle isn’t working anymore.
In fact all the three domains of our psyche aren’t in order. Id is not hungry anymore or is hungry but wants not self but others to provide the pleasures and when in pain rather than working to remove pain blames others for the pain.
Super ego is not able to restrain the youth as the old values are diluted and obsolete. Rather now there is a new social value that is to appear good and seek social approval. More than morals and ethics superficial vanity is given importance. So either there isn’t much conflict inside them which had to push the ego (intelligence) to find ways and work or all intelligence and efforts go into maintaining shallow appearances.
Result is that the smartest and best equipped generation is busy indulging in pleasures earned by their predecessors, suffering pains created by idle, superficial minds which they are not able to cure and sulking over anything which does not come easily their way.
So, for them “When the going gets tough, the tough doesn’t get going”. Instead they get angry and aggressive.
They need to be reminded that, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” And there will always be a way because the will is our desire and the way is the means learned and discovered by the ego or our intelligence.
Remember, the laws and principles of nature can never go wrong. Likewise, the principle of pain and pleasure is neither wrong nor it needs a revision. It is still applicable and there is a part of the youth that still is reaping the benefits of their desire to find pleasure in achievement and avoid pain of failure.
But there is a major part of the young generation that is not in compliance with the simple principles of life and hence are facing consequences.
This article doesn’t intend their bashing because they are not the culprits but victims of the times they are born in. This article intends to educate the reader who either is a part of this young aggressive group or is their provider or caregiver.
If you are someone who gets all worked up without much reason or fault of someone or you know someone who does, do perform a self check up and see if you have some real goals whose achievement you hold yourself responsible for. See if you have some deprivations and inadequacies in life that cause you pain and you are directing all your energies to acquire them to reduce or remove the pain.
If the answer is yes then you are living a life abiding by the laws of nature and in return nature is nurturing your psyche and life. But if the answer is no then it is time for a correction.
Nature has already made an effort and slowed down the machinery of the world. The economic meltdown is in a way a correction to shake us all up and out of the complacent life of excesses and revise our goals for self and the world.
The angry youth has a lot to achieve and unlike their predecessors maybe not just for self and materially but for bigger reasons and causes. I wish our youngsters feel the pain of the world they are witnessing and seek pleasure from repairing all that their greedy predecessors have ruined.
May the angry energies find direction and get engaged in creating a new and better world order.
May there be a new breed of environmentalists, economists, wildlife and nature preservers, social activists, philanthropists, writers, influencers, liberators, peacemakers, crusaders, reformers, leaders and saviors of this world.
May they stop being angry over trivia and start feeling anguish for some real reasons.