What exactly is “failure to launch” syndrome? It refers to a young adult, typically between the ages of 18 and 29, who lives at home and remains largely dependent on their parents or guardians. Unlike other multigenerational living arrangements, someone with “failure to launch” syndrome is typically not in school or working steadily.
Instead of meaning the young adult is “lazy” or “spoiled,” it usually indicates they struggle with their mental health or self-esteem. The stigma around this syndrome can intensify feelings of shame and inadequacy in the young adult, making their underlying issues even worse.
Common Causes and Contributing Factors of Failure to Launch
Several factors commonly contribute to failure to launch syndrome.
- Difficulty managing emotions: Stress impairs some young adults’ ability to regulate their emotions and reactions. Conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, or PTSD can make it hard to cope with challenges and transition to independence.
- Impaired executive functioning: The prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning and decision-making, develops well into the 20s. As a result, some young adults struggle with skills like time management, problem-solving, and self-control.
- Unrealistic expectations: Young adults may feel overwhelmed by the perfectionistic standards they hold for themselves or perceive from others. Viewing curated social media posts about peers’ lives can fuel beliefs that they “should” have achieved certain milestones already.
- Childhood experiences: Traumatic experiences in childhood or adolescence, like abuse or neglect, generate shame and low self-esteem and hinder the development of self-efficacy.
- Fear of failure: Anxiety about potential failures or mistakes leads some young adults to avoid opportunities to launch. They may remain in a state of extended adolescence to circumvent the possibility of not succeeding if they try to become independent.
- Substance abuse or behavioral addictions: Some young adults turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, gaming, or other addictive behaviors to escape the stresses of daily life, work or school pressures, social anxiety, or other mental health issues.
- Lack of life skills: Some young adults lack certain life skills that are essential for independence, like money management, decision-making, problem-solving, communication, and more.
- Overparenting: Parents who are overly involved in their child’s life by constantly solving their problems, shielding them from failure, or doing things for them risk enabling a failure to launch.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms
Some common signs of failure-to-launch syndrome include:
- Little motivation or ambition. They seem apathetic and unmotivated, lacking goals or direction.
- There is no clear life path. They don’t know what they want to do with their life or career and lack purpose or direction.
- Poor work ethic. They struggle to keep a job or have a spotty employment history. They have trouble waking up on time and meeting deadlines or responsibilities.
- Dependency on others. They continue to rely financially on parents or family members well into adulthood with no plan to become self-sufficient.
- Lack of life skills. They haven’t mastered the basic skills needed to live independently, like managing money, cooking meals, or maintaining a household.
- Narcissistic tendencies. They believe they are entitled to have things done for them and lack empathy for how their behavior impacts others.
- Difficulty taking the initiative or responsibility. Having trouble getting started with adult responsibilities like finding a job, moving out, or continuing education.
If these signs resonate with you or a loved one, the good news is there are treatment options available, like therapy, life coaching, and making a plan to start developing essential life skills.
Treatment of Failure to Launch Syndrome
Several treatment options are available to overcome failure to launch syndrome.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you how to recognize and change unhealthy thought patterns related to increasing responsibilities and independence. CBT helps you view challenges in a more balanced and less frightening way.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and mindfulness training help you live in the present instead of worrying about the past or future. These techniques teach you to accept unpleasant thoughts and feelings while still committing to meaningful actions.
- Biofeedback and neurofeedback help you gain awareness and control over your physical reactions to anxiety and stress. By changing your body’s response, you can positively impact your thoughts and emotions.
- Career counseling helps you explore your interests and strengths, set goals, and develop strategies to start work or education. A counselor can increase your motivation and accountability.
- Family therapy addresses dynamics between family members that may contribute to dependence and interdependence. Improving communication and setting boundaries can strengthen relationships and support independence.
Treatment may incorporate a combination of these options based on your unique situation and needs. The goal is to build confidence from the inside out by learning skills to manage emotions, thoughts, and behaviors better to launch into a meaningful, independent life.
Getting Your Teen Help is The First Step
Getting your teen help is the first step. We understand how difficult it can be to raise a child and guide them in the right direction. Call us right now at (877) 895-3231. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner your family can find solutions and start making progress.
At Launch Centers, our caring team of professionals has helped many families in situations just like yours. We know that you and your family have gone through several challenges as a result of your young adult’s failure to launch, and we can empathize with those experiences.