“Adulting” and the Gaslighting of a Generation

An old psychological term “gaslighting” has been showing up more and more in our daily lexicon, and so has a new psychological term called “adulting.” For years, we’ve seen article after article saying Millennials are lazy, narcissistic, entitled, and not good workers. Imagine my surprise, then, when this article came across my desk today:

Forty-three percent of those surveyed classified as work martyrs were millennials, even though millennials only made up 29 percent of the 5,641 respondents.

Turns out this is the result of a new study done by the Harvard Business Review, finding that, after years of being told they aren’t good enough, aren’t working hard enough, and think they deserve a trophy for just existing, many Millennials are now engaging in the toxic lifestyle known as a “work martyr.” This means they work too hard, too long, and don’t have anything to show for it. After putting up a dogged defense against the Millennial hatred, it seems there’s finally some solid ammunition for fighting back:

Ty Tucker detects a disturbing trend: More millennials are putting in long hours at work with no indication they’re doing more or better work or earning career advancement. In some ways, they’ve become their parents, who put noses to the grindstone over having a balanced life. And that’s not good.

If you’ve been following the narrative on Millennials over the past few years, you might be suffering a sort of rhetorical backlash. Wait, you ask yourself… are Millennials lazy, entitled brats, or are they workaholics with nothing to show for it? Are they in their parents’ basement because they don’t know the value of work, or do they work too much without enough earnings to make it out of the basement? I don’t know what to believe anymore!

Confused? You’re supposed to be. Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve just been gaslighted. From Wikipedia:

Gaslighting (or gas-lighting) is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity.

For years, the story has been the same: you’re not working hard enough. You’re not doing enough. It must be your fault. Even though every metric and statistic told you the opposite, you still wanted to believe people you thought were trustworthy: the newsmedia, your bosses, maybe even your parents… but nothing seemed to make sense. If anything, working harder just put you in a worse state, with no life outside of work or with the creeping dread that you’re working for an inherently evil mega-corporation. In this state of confusion (which I years ago linked to literal torture and CIA mind games) you’re ready to believe what the people in authority tell you. You’re ready to be gaslighted.

Enter the term “adulting.”

“Adulting” is a sarcastic term used by Millennials while doing something like paying taxes, fixing your car, or maybe even doing home repairs. The entire genesis of the term came from a fact that, while some of us are over 30 years old now, we don’t feel like we’ve been allowed into that exclusive adult fraternity. In the eyes of your parents, your older siblings, and your bosses, you’re still that spoiled little narcissist who wants a trophy… or maybe you’re not. Maybe, for all you know, they’re ready to accept you as an adult, but after a decade of torment and gaslighting, you’re not sure what to believe anymore. So you sardonically say you’re “adulting” while you pay your bills, all the while feeling nothing like the sort but looking and acting the part.

Millennials don’t feel like they belong, and they have every reason not to: they stand to end up worse off than their parents and grandparents, all while working themselves to death at the now cutely-rebranded “side hustle,” Implying that even someone like a teacher with a full-time job will also have to ferry around drunk folks on the side just to make ends meet. And you wonder why we don’t feel like we’re the same competent, stable adults our parents were.

So who did the gaslighting? Aside from the ever-present corporate news presence, so deep into keeping the status quo that they’ve almost become a Mobius strip of bland talking points, there’s a bit of blame to be placed on Baby Boomers. After all, they were the ones who, by and large, benefited from the postwar prosperity and then turned around and crashed the economy, ensuring their kids and grandkids would be up the creek. Ironically, there’s a fair amount of narcissism and entitlement coming from the Boomer camp, demanding that their days in Woodstock be lionized despite doing almost nothing in the past 30 years to stop income inequality and the New Gilded Age. However, they are the generation that currently controls the media, and so the narrative is upheld: we didn’t do anything wrong, it must be the kids’ fault if they don’t have what we had. Again, it’s ironic that the cognitive dissonance, narcissism and sense of entitlement for their generations accomplishments up to four decades ago, and laziness to do anything since is being projected onto the current youth, who we now know are working their backsides off for little reward.

There’s something even to be said about the Boomers’ desire to be special in their parenting schemes. The much maligned “helicopter parent” is an easy target for the special-snowflake Millennial crowd, but if we turn that light back into the parents’ faces, it doesn’t look too good either. A generation so single-mindedly possessed to be unlike their parents (as most generations are) decided to eschew the distant, hard-nosed postwar parenting for a cuddlier approach, and thus the helicopter parent was born… not just as a rejection of past parenting measures, but as a self-sustaining support mechanism for their current parenting methods into the future. If I’m friends with my kids, the idea goes, they will continue to be happy with me and like me and give me the love I feel my own parents withheld… until, of course, they get old enough to hold it against me that I crippled the economy so I could fatten my stock portfolio. This could explain the almost comically high levels of vitriol aimed at Millennials who dare disobey the Boomers: it’s not that you’re saying something against my generation, it’s that you’re saying something against ME, personally. As Hillary Clinton’s campaign crashed and burned last month, I think we all saw the danger of attaching yourself a little too closely to your politics.

It’s a long road ahead for both of us: Millennials need to learn that it’s okay to take a risk and maybe buy that house for a little dose of happiness, and Boomers need to learn that not everyone will agree that their generation is greater than, well, the Greatest Generation, i.e. their own parents. Millennials have their fair share of problems, like we all do, but it looks like it might finally be time to put the flagellum away and focus on our actual problems, so long as the gaslighting might finally come to an end. For Boomers, your time is running out, but it’s not too late. You’ve still got a  little money and a lot of political power, so use it while you’re still at the top of the heap to make the changes you wanted back when you were a silly, 20-year-old hippie because, oddly enough, it turns out those darn hippies were right. If not, well… you won’t have to worry too much longer. In another ten years, Millennials will start to become the majority of the population and we’ll start to run the country.

Don’t worry; I promise we’ll be merciful.

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