Enforced College Dorm Life: How Restricting Family Ties Makes People Individualistic and Less Productive Peers and Human Beings

Being in a dorm, with roommates, takes away the comfort of family. It is the norm in an individualistic culture where 18-year-olds are asked to leave all ties behind and find their way through peers and college institutions. Restricting family ties does not make many, even with their unique personality traits and attachment styles, more productive human beings, rather they struggle to find an important balance, and if they do, it is hard to maintain. I argue that the trauma stays there forever, and it makes the western individual and consumption-driven society, because big brain developments happen during early adulthood.

Going to college

There is a comfort in being with family and a familiar environment. Usually, one leaves at 18 years old to live in a dorm in a new city and is asked to be productive. But that creates inevitable small t trauma. Sure, it is standard in our culture, but let’s look at how that affects a person: They adapt to new anxiety that takes them away from a potential of comfort that creates art, creativity, and knowledge seeking. Instead: Anxious Attachment to other lonely and anxious peers who are also away from familiar environments and family: Which further increases the trauma and often dramatic relationships. The newcomers deal with agitated feelings that push them to go out and find that same comfort from home. For the anxious attachment style: Clinging, and an unproductive and unhealthy lifestyle: Sensation seeking. It is not surprising to find ourselves in a culture that normalizes “Freshman Partying”, and drug and alcohol consumption.

Normalized Small “T” trauma

I must not be the only one that left for college and found agitation to navigate through. Newfound anxiety. And loneliness. I heard a line in a cartoon jokingly talk about: “The last friends I’ve had were from high school, I went to college, and didn’t recover ever since.” And I see it around me in friends: Disconnecting from family and suddenly finding yourself in the middle of strangers. Oftentimes, one move to a new city, sometimes a new culture that further agitates it. In an individualistic culture, that’s the norm. In the hunter-gatherer era, the person still finds aunts, grandmas, and that local fisherman who knows your name and makes quick small talk every time you trade with them and tells you to say hi to your dad. But in a diverse and modern society: Strangers are the norm. We definitely grew into it, but what does that do to a person? An inevitable small “t” trauma that lasts a lifetime, and it creates anxiety-driven productivity which is unsustainable.

One might argue that a new environment and a new kind of alienation increases art, for it forces people to talk in different ways than peer-to-peer conversation. Loneliness might create art. But there must be a delicate balance of stressors and familiarity for that to happen: Routine, as opposed to the rhetoric of the suffering artist might tell you, is the best tool for creativity.

During the pandemic, I left college dorms and followed my online classes in the comfort of my home and family. Then I came back to the city and tried to do the same. It is different, knowing that deep down you are lonely, and knowing that when you leave the door to your room, you are with family. True, with enough time, other people in the dorm become the new family, but people in the dorm are immature: They are young, also away from their families and whatever city culture they come from. All 18 year-olds with the only similarity being in a new institution and society? Unhealthy relationships in that environment are programmed to arise. To be fair, I was in the type of college where very diverse people stay: Different countries, radically different cultures, different cities. But going to Harvard from whatever city in the United States, assumingly, makes for a similar environment.

“What is college? Stop going, till we figure it out. […] They put me in a weird cinderblock room […] I was in sweatpants all confused […] I didn’t drink water, the entire time. I lived on cigarettes, and alcohol, and Adderall. College was like a 4-year game show called Do my Friends Hate Me, Or Do I Just Need To Go To Sleep?”

Changing dorms is also normal from year to year, so you also need to adapt to new people. And in university, you are unique in the classes you take: You adapt to new people in classes every semester. In the country I was from, in High school, every person takes the same classes every year: You get familiar with people. Occasionally, you change classes and then grow with another group of people throughout the grades. Occasionally, you also have to make a decision on the branch of studying you go to for the future: Science emphasis? Math emphasis? German? You make this decision in certain years in high school and the end of Middle School. But it’s still less alienation than changing classes every semester.

How does moving out to college create the individualistic strive for productivity that Western societies pride themselves on?

Anxiety. And a new institution that defines your self-worth through grades. Unless people were brave enough to diversify their self-worth: Sports, president of the chess club. If you’re lucky, you have a group of friends in your first semester. But other than that, authority-strangers don’t care for your human Being, they care about things you do not necessarily control, but you definitely feel responsible for.

Hobbies and individual knowledge-seeking culturally normalized to get lost.

All of a sudden, after moving out of a living at home, at 18 years old, with a pre-frontal cortex still in development, the new authority are professors and university bureaucracy, and you make your self-esteem through assignments, readings, class discussions, and homework, which is good, but the problem is that these students will not be able to give their all to these demands, fueling new anxiety of their inadequacy that lasts a lifetime. They won’t be able to give their all to these demands because they have too little comfort and too big stressors for the new lifestyle, these are 18-year-olds, they are immature creatures. The result? Using drugs, drinking alcohol, getting involved in unhealthy relationships, and increasing lifetime problems. Furthermore, I believe we are raising kids more agreeable because we tell them not to question authority since school days, and by keeping them obedient and punishing them for Opposition. These agreeable people go into college and define themselves with grades because they feel too scared to question the authority and to define themselves with something else. So how do they cope? They define themselves with their productivity. When they come back home to their families, they feel at peace because they are loved and accepted for more. Some people go back every weekend, some are doomed to come back once a semester, once a year, and how often grows gradually grows bigger as they grow up. But that first enforced alienation that might be too big for them might stay a lifetime, and it might be the thing fueling individualism and consumption-driven-status lifestyle. Which sadly, makes for an anxious life, that’s a norm in the culture: A right of passage that everyone went through.

Now, that looks healthy, they come back to their family, remember a self-worth different from industrialization productivity-driven self-worth society. They do it often until they are good enough to fit into the productivity-driven self-worth culture. And they become productive, they help society (As they should! I am not against it). It seems good. And it is until you look into what that productivity-self-worth culture does to the productivity potential of the person!

The key phrase is this: One must have a delicate balance of stressors and comfort to be utmost productive, because productivity includes being healthy, giving love and support to others so they are also productive, and culture grows productive this way. But the small t trauma does not make for supportive peers, rather, they become elitist: They follow authority and productivity culture, and they frown on others who are lacking, they lack support for a group in pursuit of self-interest. Because they are alienated and anxious themselves: Too many stressors and too little comfort. Too little comfort may make them productive in terms of college demands, but they are not productive human beings: They do not seek knowledge outside the university, they don’t pursue their curiosity, they are not supportive and sociable to peers. They do drugs, consume alcohol, to numb the little comfort. And that trauma and its effects stay for a long time.

The difference is the definition of productivity: The trauma from moving out at 18 doesn’t make one happier, it makes one alienated and lonely, and consumption and production-driven, anxious, Therefore, the enforced College dorm life changes at 18 years old create inevitable small T trauma and does not make for a productive human being, if productivity defined as balanced mental health with productivity, but it does make one more productivity-driven, at the cost of their mental health for a long run. The small T trauma is normalized, but I think it makes the individualized society we know in certain countries, unlike the more collectivist cultures. Is it right because it makes one more productive? Perhaps it doesn’t make one productive: It makes one obedient to authority, and alienated and alienating: making others feel horrible as well. What do we define productivity?

Lifestyle blogger, growing up, & a person discovering things. Anything at: nabilchemseddine.houari2@gmail.com