Psychological Well-Being in Adolescence: The Contribution of Interpersonal Relations and Experience of Being Alone

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

From the very origins of psychology, adolescence has been considered a difficult stage in the process of development into adulthood. It has been seen as a period of crisis characterized by profound change. In recent times some empirical studies have shown that in reality, the majority of adolescents go through this stage successfully without experiencing particular traumas, reporting a level of relative well-being (Bandura, 1964; Offer & Schonert-Reichl, 1992; Douvan & Adelson, 1996). The greater part of psychological reflection has been devoted to identification of the main factors which, at an individual and interpersonal level, contribute to the promotion and sustenance of adolescents' psychological well-being and those which tend to impede it.

Recent literature has paid particular attention to the importance of interpersonal relations. Different studies recognize that satisfactory relations with parents and friends are connected to a more positive outcome in this stage of development (Hansell & Mechanic, 1990; Claes, 1992; Noom, Dekovic, & Meeus, 1999; Bina, Cattelino, & Bonino, 2004). As far as relations with peers are concerned, friendship is a major contributor to adolescents' psychosocial adaptation and constitutes an important protective element against deviant behavior, depression, and feelings of alienation (Schneider, Wiener, & Murphy, 1994; Bukowski, Newcomb, & Hartup, 1996). At the same time, the importance of the family's role has been recognized for its influence over adolescents' psychosocial adaptation and in avoiding deviant and risky behavior (Kirchler, Palmonari, & Pombeni, 1993; Seiffe-Krfenke, 1995; Meeus, Helsen, & Vollebergh, 1996; Cattelino & Bonino, 1999).

In contrast, however, little is known of how experiences of solitude are likely to affect adolescents' well-being. The universality of loneliness among adolescents has been recognized (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984; Goossens & Marcoen, 1999) but the greater part of research in this area has been limited to consideration of loneliness defined as social withdrawal and isolation, emphasizing the risk it poses to adolescents' ability to adapt. Many authors argue, indeed, that a preference for nonsocial behavior results in increasing unpopularity within adolescents' peer group, giving rise to a negative self-image and feelings of psyschosocial malaise (Younger & Boyko, 1987; Younger, Gentile & Burgess, 1993). A number of researchers describe solitary adolescents as passive, sad, and turned inward (Van Buskirk & Duke, 1991), experiencing greater stress (Cacioppo et al., 2000) and social anxiety (Goossens & Marcoen, 1999), and characterized by such problems as peer rejection and victimization (Boiving, Hymel, & Bukowski, 1995), shyness and social withdrawal (Kupersmidt, Sigda, Sedikides, & Voegler, 1999). Recent research by Seginer and Lilach (2004) also considered the effect of loneliness on adolescents' orientation toward the future, noting that lonely adolescents scored lower than socially embedded adolescents on future orientation variables applied to the relational and near future domains.

It is important not to neglect the possibility, however, that different experiences of loneliness may be present during the normal growth process. Marcoen, Goossens, and Caes (1987), for example, have proposed a multi-dimensional conception of solitude, distinguishing two fundamental aspects of being alone: aversion to aloneness (unwanted isolation) and affinity for aloneness (voluntary isolation). Ammaniti, Ecolani, and Tambelli (1989), also emphasized that loneliness plays an important role during adolescence, marking different stages in the process of construction of an identity and gradual separation from parents. Ester Schaler Buchholz, an American psychoanalyst, who also studied this question, agreed that the capacity and need for aloneness are of particular importance for an adolescent involved in the process of separation and individualization and in the construction of an identity (Buchholz & Chinlund, 1994; Buchholz & Catton, 1999). …

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