Our 20-year-old son insists that no one understands him. This is not in a bitter way; rather he seems to think that everything about him is so deep and complex that no matter how we respond he still thinks we don’t get it. We have been extremely patient with him and spent a lot of time listening and validating but, for whatever reason, he still thinks we just can’t understand him. He will give lengthy...talks which we will agree to, but he says we can’t really understand it—and that he can’t even explain it fully. Overall this seems to be getting in the way of him picking a path forward in life. There is something about this that seems to be more than just the standard teenager not thinking his parents getting him or plain egotism, and we are getting a little concerned. Can you please offer advice as to what you think is going on and what you think we can do about it?
Without more detailed information, I cannot discuss very specific concerns or give you specific advice. I don’t know your son’s personality or whether it has undergone dramatic or sudden changes. I don’t know whether any changes that have occurred manifest in other ways or within the context of other situations or relationships. I have no baseline, and I have no timeline for any changes.
It’s possible that the issue is related specifically to the relationship between your son and you. He may be seeking attention (consciously or unconsciously), or he may feel some need to persuade you that he is complex. Alternatively, it’s possible that your son is highly introspective, has a heightened sense of ego, and is confused or conflicted about his life goals. In other words, your son’s actions may be due to a combination of factors, leading to frustration on his part.
Even if there are no specifically identifiable mental health concerns (that might for instance lead to a diagnosis), your son’s feelings and reactions to the things that bother him may be cause for concern.
It’s possible that your son is having obsessive thoughts associated with obsessive compulsive disorder or obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Perhaps he has another personality disorder. He may be experiencing the beginning stages of a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. He might have Asperger’s disorder.
…or maybe he’s just a typical teenager/young adult struggling to define himself and feeling like his parents don’t understand him.
Again, without detailed background and current information, feelings of complexity and of being misunderstood are too general and undetailed for any determination to be made. This would be comparable to a physician being asked to diagnose someone who sometimes has pain in his chest. Without a full history, examination, tests, and an understanding of the nature, severity, and frequency of the pain, no determination could be made. If you are concerned, your son can be seen by a therapist who can ask the questions that will help determine whether this is something that needs to be addressed. Even if there is no significant problem—and your son is simply confused about his feelings and identity—he can benefit from the help of a good therapist.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
Brooklyn, NY | Far Rockaway, NY
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317