The real reason that Gen-Xers hate Millennials is simple and terrifying. It's so obvious that most of us spend our lives ignoring this basic fact and do everything in our power to pretend it isn't the case. But before I tell you the terrible truth about this intergenerational feud, I'm going to show you why this conflict exists using psychology.

As a life coach, licensed therapist, and someone earning my doctorate in clinical psychology, I get significant exposure to a wide range of psychological thoughts. One of my favorite aspects of my profession is the opportunity to share this information with others. And seeing the constant headlines describing the conflict between Gen-Xers and Millennials made me curious about why this conflict feels so important at the moment.

One relevant psychological theory comes from Erik Erikson, who proposed a developmental theory. He mapped out eight stages that take place across a person's life span, with each containing a psychosocial crisis--or a major tension between the personality and the environment--that needs to be completed.

According to Erikson's theory, Gen-Xers are in the seventh stage, that of adulthood, which involves a conflict between generativity and stagnation. During this stage, adults are face to face with the challenge between giving back to younger generations in meaningful ways or becoming complacent with their shrinking influence.

While many Generation-Xers are giving back in meaningful ways, large numbers are also angry at the virtues they see in Millennials. These older individuals perceive a sense of entitlement, difficulty taking feedback, a tendency to ask too many "why" questions, and a lack of work ethic in the younger generation. These perspectives prevent Gen-Xers from giving back and may lead them to feel even more isolated from contemporary culture and the youth they raise.

Another useful psychological concept is envy. The psychodynamic thinker Melanie Klein believed envy is the feeling of anger you have when you see someone with something desirable. Klein said that this anger is often accompanied by an impulse to take away or spoil the desirable item. So, what is the most valuable and desirable thing that Millennials have that Gen-Xers don't? Time.

The brutal truth is that Generation X is terrified that they are going to die.

The reality of death creeping into their lives is at an all-time high. They are witnessing their parents and others of that generation pass away, while at the same time seeing younger people attempt to override them in the marketplace. Personally and professionally, Gen-Xers are sandwiched between the youth that they no longer have and the death that they fear.

Psychological studies show that death anxiety is higher in middle adulthood than any other time of life. I imagine it feels like having a voice in the back of your head acknowledging, "I'm up next." For Gen-Xers, feeling disconnected from the youthful culture that no longer reflects their values and becoming more aware of their own physical fragility forces them to react.

Some people cope with their death anxiety by having a "midlife crisis"--or an attempt to keep death at bay by reconnecting to youth. Whether it's a red sports car, divorce, a younger spouse, or traveling, each Gen-Xer finds his or her own way to avoid thinking about death.

Another popular way to defend against awareness of your mortality is to get angry. Angry that you don't have more time to build the life of your dreams. Angry at the fact that you didn't make the best use of your time. Angry that you aren't the exception--that you too are noticing the signs of aging. And all of this anger has to go somewhere.

These intense feelings either get placed back on the self and experienced as depression, or they get externalized onto an easy target--the younger generation.

Blaming Millennials is a great way to make yourself feel better. It makes you feel like you did something "the right way" and they are doing things "the wrong way." It also helps you feel justified in your actions, giving meaning to your suffering. The more you can deal with an external conflict, the less you have to look in the mirror.

What older individuals aren't admitting is that it's their desire to take away Millennials' youth that propels them to blame younger people. That envy, along with their efforts to avoid the terror of death and non-being, is why the conflict between Generation X and Millennials is so prominent in your newsfeed--and why (they hope) it won't go away anytime soon.

How Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers Can Work Together
Published on: Feb 21, 2017