Adolescence is an age in which the lowest and highest aspects of human nature flourish simultaneously and follow one another rapidly.
By Roberto Assagioli, unrevised notes of 1930, from the Assagioli Archives in Florence, Doc. #22044 and 23769[i]. Formatted and edited with notes by Jan Kuniholm
- Abstract by Jan Kuniholm: Adolescence is an age that strains the patience and affection of parents and educators and also offers great educational opportunities. There are over a dozen opposing characteristics that may agitate the spirit of the adolescent, which can be explained by the Law of Sudden Mutations, which deVries demonstrated in botony, analogous to Planck’s theory of quanta in physics, and which resembled the phenomenon of religious conversion. New elements irrupt suddenly, and the transformation of adolescence is analogous to that of a worm into a butterfly. New elements include sexuality, self-consciousness, new emotional attachments, new illusions, religious experience, hereditary elements, new crises. The education of the adolescent should inspire enthusiasm and create confidence, which require us to understand and love. Pupils must be given the right amount of freedom. Education should include the topics of will, psychosynthesis, sexuality, spirituality, and higher possibilities.
Adolescence is a very strange age — full of contrasts and contradictions which make it appear chaotic and almost incomprehensible — an age in which the lowest and highest aspects of human nature flourish simultaneously and follow one another rapidly — a troubled and tormented age, even if lighted by dazzling flashes and by almost ecstatic joys — an intolerant and rebellious age that strains the intelligence, patience and affection of parents and educators, and which also offers the greatest and most decisive educational possibilities.
To give an idea of the multiplicity of contrasting elements which agitate the spirit of the adolescent, I shall quote the list of twelve pairs of opposing characteristics enunciated by Stanley Hall, author of the largest and most important work we possess on adolescence (a two-volume work of nearly one thousand four hundred pages).
PAIRS OF OPPOSITES (according to Stanley Hall).
- excitement – laziness
- pleasure and gaiety – sorrow and sadness
- conceit – distrust of self
- altruism – selfishness
- virtue – sin
- misanthropy – sociability
- sensitivity – insensibility and cruelty
- curiosity – indifference
- reformer – conservator – revolutionary
- love of literature – frenzy of action
- open to sense impressions – reasoning about abstract and general problems
- general intuitions – mental shortcomings and stupid aspects
and the list could go on…!
Really, to almost every adolescent we can apply the keen portrait of Namouna made by A. de Musset:
Il était très joyeux et pourtant très maussade
Détestable voisin – excellent camarade
Extrêmement futile, et pourtant très posé
Indignement naïf – et pourtant très blasé
Horriblement sincère – et pourtant très rusé. 
He was very cheerful and yet very sullen
Hateful neighbor – excellent comrade
Extremely futile – yet very composed
Indignantly naive – yet very jaded
Horribly sincere – yet very cunning.
How can we explain all this?
The key to understanding the true nature and meaning of these contradictions, of this apparently absurd state, is given to us by an important natural and also spiritual law — which might be called the “Law of Sudden Mutations.”
It was first discovered and demonstrated in biology, and against the Darwinian theory of continuous evolution by insensible degrees, de Vries successfully expounded his theory of [abrupt] mutations, and gave its experimental demonstration in botany. 
In physics, too, the theory of continuous flow of luminous current was replaced by the recognition, mainly by Planck, that the energy radiated by incandescent bodies has a discontinuous character. Planck’s theory (the quanta hypothesis) — which has been called “the scandal of physics,” because it forced this science to begin on a new basis — has recently been increasingly confirmed. 
In religious life the action of this law is revealed in the phenomenon of conversion.
One of the clearest and most astonishing manifestations of this law is the psycho-physical explosion of adolescence.
Mendousse begins his valuable book L’âme de l’adolescent  with these words:
“L’enfance et l’adolescence sont peut-être les deux périodes de la vie humaine les plus distinctes l’une de l’autre, malgré les confusions fréquentes auxquelles elles ont donné lieue.”
“Childhood and adolescence are perhaps the two most distinct periods of human life, despite the frequent confusion to which they have given rise.”
This is not a gradual evolutionary development, but truly the abrupt revolutionary irruption of new elements, and at the same time the breakdown and dissolution of those which existed previously. It is, literally, the awakening of a new being — a new birth.
There is a fact in nature, perhaps the most astonishing and wonderful phenomenon in life, which presents a strict and suggestive analogy with the crisis and transformation of the adolescent. The worm that crawls calmly on the ground, instead of continuing its this little life, at a certain moment stops it — and shuts itself in its cocoon, where it will dissolve into undifferentiated living matter — the chrysalis — the larva will be formed, and after a period of obscure elaboration it becomes a butterfly which flies in the sky. The worm has died and is born again as a butterfly.
Child and boy or girl = worm
Adolescent = chrysalis
Young adult = butterfly
* * *
FOREMOST NEW ELEMENTS WHICH IRRUPT
1. Awakening of sexuality
Physical puberty is a physiological transformation which involves the entire organism. But there is also a psychological awakening of new feelings, of love in a specific sense: love for the opposite sex.
This is important and would require a long analysis — but it is not the only awakening; there is an even more important and vital one, a fundamental awakening:
2. The Awakening of the consciousness of himself or herself, as a personality, as a self-governing individuality.
The consciousness of the child is more general; it is not yet true self-consciousness. In the adolescent, on the other hand, this arises and asserts itself in an exaggerated and extreme way. It is, as Mane Wecker de Saussure said, “un sentiment de l’existence plus fort, plus profond, plus intense” [“a stronger, deeper, more intense sense of existence”]. Enrichment of the whole emotive, mental, active life, waves of energy. . .
In addition to this self-awareness, the adolescent is more intensely alive, he has, as it were, a new revelation of the outer world and its wonders, accompanied by a sense of joy and exultation. On the intellectual side, there is a great eagerness to know, to enlarge one’s sphere of interests, to know the world, and not only to know it, but to possess and master it. Development of ambition — ambition is development.
This produces another curious contrast. On the one hand, such a tendency leads to imitation of the great. This has a useful function, but it easily leads to exaggeration, to excesses, and therefore also to dangers. It may be painful for parents, but it must be indulged. It is one of those cases of “losing in order to to re-find what was lost,” at a higher level.
New kind of love between adolescents and adults with characteristics of comradeship, friendship, etc., and no longer a love confined to one person. Parents, especially mothers, must overcome their own exclusive selfish attachments and must not be jealous.
Crises of affective detachment (i.e., liberation from the attachment and affective dependence of a childish type) are good and necessary. If they does not take place, serious psychological injury and nervous disorders are the result: development is arrested and affective infantilism is the outcome. (Freud-Jung).
New emotional attachments
Passionate friendships – love for people of the opposite sex – many varieties – often pure and ideal love – projection of an inner ideal.
Illusions and delusions (critical phase).
Overall waves of energy-exuberance – “embarras des richesse” [an embarrassment of riches] – their squandering.
Independent or direct religious experience
The religiousness of the child is generally passive, coming from outside influences; it is vaguely sentimental and somewhat intuitive. In the adolescent there is the possibility of direct experience, either a contact with the inner God, or with a divine personality, with Christ. Sometimes this experience is the outcome of an intellectual and moral crisis and causes a true conversion. In these cases the new “psychological birth” and the new “spiritual birth” coincide, or they quickly follow and build on each other.
Emergence of ancestral and hereditary elements
Stanley Hall emphasizes this fact, perhaps even in an exaggerated way, but certainly such emergence exists ([there is a] recent confirmation [of this] by Jung) and explains certain disconcerting facts, such as the upsurge of cruel and violent aspects, and also certain nervous and psychic troubles.
Nervous and psychological troubles of adolescence
Nervous breakdowns – Conflicts – Depressions – Impulses – Fantasies – Temptation to Suicide.
Importance of acknowledging them and treating them at their beginning and in a suitable way (psychotherapy). We prevent them from becoming fixed and multiplying, avoiding great deal of pain, etc.
On the other hand, one should not be too frightened: the crises and storms of adolescence should neither trouble us greatly nor be considered as anything abnormal; instead, they are useful and almost necessary. Mendousse observes with keen judgment that we must not judge too favorably those adolescents who are balanced prematurely. The problem of adolescence is the problem of the psychosynthesis of personalityformation, and it raises the question of education.
The pedagogy of the adolescent, says F. G. Lancaster, can be summed up in the maxim, “inspire enthusiastic activity.”  This shows an important and essential aspect, but it is not the only one. A subtler, abler, more interior, loving, skillful and patient action is often necessary. To create confidence — to understand and help the adolescent to understand himself. Never more than in this case do we need to understand and to love. To understand the contradictions, the inconsistencies, the excesses — to love this wonderful chrysalis all caught up in its labor.
Allow pupils enough freedom and inspire enough confidence in them, so that they do not hesitate to reveal their most secret thoughts through their conduct. 
But freedom, respect and understanding do not mean educational passivity, “letting them do [whatever they want],” not intervening. This is necessary: “The art that does everything, discovers nothing.”  To individualize education: [have] private conversations.
* * *
Education of the Will
This is the most suitable time, when it is most necessary to help the adolescent to discover and develop his or her will.
Will and psychosynthesis
Not only and not so much about the facts of sexual life, as integral education that includes love on all its levels. However, we must not neglect instruction: adolescents often have confused, one-sided, unhealthy, wrong ideas. For a broader education, the book Men, Women, and God by Herbert Gray is excellent. We must teach facts, and methods of transformation and sublimation of the sexual and emotional energies. (To be developed). Neither repression or strenuous domination, but channeling and fruitful, creative utilization.
Spiritual and religious education
Its characteristic, the highest human characteristic and special opportunity to profit from it for anagogical education:
“… L’adolescent manifeste avec exagération le désir d’autre chose, le besoin de se dépasser qu’on peut considérer comme la marque la plus nette distinguant de l’animal.”
As Mendousse says, “a period during which the average can rise above themselves, and the best above their contemporaries.”
Special spiritual and religious possibilities
To be grasped in adolescence and fully utilized: idealistic, humanitarian impulses, religious fervor, love and devotion to Christ.
Help is needed to anchor them, to direct them, to organize them, to settle them into heartfelt and accepted faith, in good works. Instead, they are very often neglected, even mocked because of certain ingenuous or excessive aspects, and so [their faith] evaporates and cools off. This is done especially by the family. A great mistake is to let a soul starve, to wound it . .
The problem of adolescence is particularly serious and real in the present moment. Humanity is now collectively entering adolescence, a new adolescence. It is quite interesting to notice how several of the psychological characteristics of adolescence are found in the manifestations of the present age. This has been noted by several writers, especially in the American people.
The moral trouble that agitates humanity is the portent, the heralding tremor, sometimes already the clear manifestation of a new birth of the human spirit. This is felt by young people and adolescents; these, in a sense, are “double adolescents,” even squared. This explains the agitation, the frenzy of the new generation, the abyss that is rapidly being dug between them and the older generation, a painful and dangerous abyss. We must fill it. The only way to do this is for the adults of today to understand and go out to meet young people. They must open themselves to the new spirit, renew themselves, become young in spirit again. Then we shall be able to establish a deep accord, we shall be able to create beneficial exchanges for both sides; we shall be able to transmit something of our experience, our spiritual treasures, and the young will give us their freshness, their dynamic momentum, the “special note” of the “New Age.”
We will then be able to work united and smiling — even while the storm is raging — for the coming of a new, higher and nobler, worthier Humanity.
 G. Stanley Hall (1846-1924) was a pioneering American psychologist and educator. He was the first president of the American Psychological Association and first president of Clark University. He founded the American Journal of Psychology, and was the author of numerous works, including Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education (1904). Exact source of this citation is unknown. —Ed.
 Namouna was a poem by French dramatist, poet and novelist Alfred de Musset (1810-1857) published in a collection of poems in 1831.—Ed.
 (see Mendousse, L’âme de l’adolescent [The Soul of the Adolescent], p. 240) —Author’s Note. This book by Pierre Mendousse (1870-1933) was published in 1909, and later editions also appeared. Mendousse was a French philosopher and psychologist who supported the “New Education” movement. —Ed.
 Hugo de Vries (1848-1935) was a Dutch botanist and one of the first geneticists. —Ed.
 deVries’ mutation theory of evolution was presented in his The Mutation Theory (1900-1903). After 1930, mainstream science rejected much of deVries’ theory of how evolution worked, while retaining his concept of mutation. —Ed.
 Max Planck (1858-1947) was a German theoretical physicist whose discovery of energy quanta won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918. His discovery is the basis of quantum theory, which revolutionized the understanding of atomic and subatomic processes. —Ed.
 See Giorgi, “What Electricity Is,” pp.207ff. —Author’s Note.
 See Note 4. above. —Ed.
 This explains in good part the temporary coexistence of different elements. —Author’s Note.
 I have been unable to locate this name. It may be a reference to Raymond de Saussure (1894-1971), a Swiss psychoanalyst and first president of the European Psychoanalytic Asssociation. —Ed.
 Mendousse, op.cit. p.298. —Author’s Note.
 Ibid. p.80. —Author’s Note.
 Ibid. p.299. To study them when they are not aware they are being observed, and so fully manifest their nature. —Author’s Note.
 see Mendousse’s good remarks on ibid. p. 330. —Author’s note.
 This quote may be attributable to Gaetano Previati (1852-1920), an Italian symbolist painter. It is found in a book titled L’arte di Gaetano Previati nella stampa italiana: articoli critici-biografici e conferenze [Gaetano Previati’s art in the Italian press: critical-biographical articles and lectures], 1910, p.215. —Ed.
 Gray, A. Herbert, Rev. (1868-1956), Men, Women, and God: A Discussion of Sex Questions from the Christian Point of View, Glasgow 1922.Modern editions are available in print and online. —Ed.
 Mendousse, L’âme de l’adolescent, op.cit. p. 1. —Author’s Note.
[i] Doc.# 22044 is a typed document, mostly in English, with hand-written changes and corrections by the author. Doc. # 23769 is a typed manuscript in Italian. It is assumed that the Italian is the original and that the English was authorized by the author. Some changes and corrections of typographical errors have been made from both versions to improve readability. Date of the original or the correction is unknown, Editor’s interpolation are shown in [brackets]—Ed.