Young Adults in the Wilderness

Cultivating Compassion to Create Greater Connection

Written by Liz Deardorff, LCSW

Our world has never been more connected. We connect with each other via our phones, social media, instant messaging, facetime – whenever we want, wherever we want. Yet depression and anxiety continue to rise, and our world’s young adult population (18-27) can experience loneliness, comparison of themselves to others and a genuine lack of connection despite the wealth of knowledge, news, and resources at their fingertips.

Therefore, it is with great vigor that wilderness provides an opportunity for the young adult youth of our world to disconnect, in order to reconnect.

Wilderness therapy provides an opportunity for young people to engage in connection with nature, group mates, guides along their journey and most of all, themselves. Technology has distanced us from being with others, which has not allowed us to build our self-identity by being seen with another, forcing out the loneliness with togetherness. The technology of our world has thus then created a distance from being with ourselves, being curious and intentional with self-exploration, looking at what we cherish about ourselves versus the comparison that leads to shame of… I’m not good enough; I’m unworthy, I’m different.

When working with the young adult population, I work with students who have high anxiety, avoidance of difficult tasks, fear of failure, fear of being different, and fear of what they feel. Fear is a paralysis that is not easily overcome by pull up your bootstraps or plunge on through it. It is something that is rooted in shame messages which are much more complex to puzzle through. What keeps us stunted is not I don’t want to try in my life, but instead is often the fear of what happens when I make a move. Will I fail? Will I struggle? Am I doing this right? Will others judge?

Within wilderness therapy, we address these shame messages that have been engrained by this false understanding of connection that technology has provided. We utilize natural elements paralleled with compassion, empathy, curiosity, and exploration first together. Then engaging young adults to see themselves with compassion, empathy, and exploration. To notice compassion is to notice what is truly natural in all humans. To be able to reach out to the hurt that is in ourselves to relieve the suffering versus being helpless to the suffering.

We cannot do this alone; we cannot think that we are insignificant and unworthy. Connection, true connection, will allow us to step into our full selves.

“The point of all this is that the simple act of telling someone that you care, why you care, that they too might care, can cause mountains to move…”
Renee Askins

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