When you get into the car and realize you’ve forgotten your phone, you head back into the house trying to remember where you set it down. You retrace your steps backwards from the hallway to the kitchen, to the bathroom and… you find it.
When you’re parenting your teen, peace sometimes is to be found by retracing your steps back to your own adolescence and finding a healthy way to finally express the emotions that you had to suppress back then.
How our Adolescent Wounds get stirred up when Parenting Teens
When our teen and young adult kids go through heartache, angst and confusion, our own memories of youth cannot help but be awakened. We remember how much it hurt when we were left behind by our friends. We recall the humiliation of being dumped.
And then, if we’re fully self-aware, we recognize that their experience is not ours. And allow those feelings to pass through.
But more often, against our best intentions and before we know it, we get entangled in their situation and we're furious with the kids who ditched them - bloody little heartless jerks!
Of course, that’s partly your natural protective instinct.
But what you call empathy may actually be an expression of your feelings about your own experience when you were younger. It could be an incident or circumstance that you clearly remember, or it may be an adverse experience that your system has repressed as a coping mechanism.
When things are tense with your kid, that’s when your adolescent wounds can burst open and the impact of your adolescent experiences, nicely tucked away for a couple of decades, finally makes itself known.
Think about this:
When we were teenagers, we were old enough to see what went on in our childhoods and understand how it was affecting our lives.
And it pissed us off. We saw the injustices. We felt like victims of our parents’ and teachers’ ineptitude. We were shushed, ignored and presumed guilty by society in general.
We were confused trying to make sense out of the dysfunction that happened in our early life, equipped only with our limited life experience and our still undeveloped brains.
What happened to that teenage anger and frustration? For most of us, it went underground.
You’ll know that your wounded inner teenager is present if you’re unusually emotionally reactive. You feel like you’ve just got to express the feelings that you had to quash to stay under the radar and keep the peace. You feel a heightened craving to be accepted for who you are.
You may also recognize your inner teenager if your rebellious spirit is running amuck with behaviors like self-sabotage, overspending, procrastination, binge eating, etc.
As a parenting coach, I’ve often heard this story:
“I don’t know why but I just lost it. I felt like I was in a cage yelling at my mom instead of my daughter.”
“I could almost see my dad standing there, hands on hips and tut-tutting at me.”
Our teenage wounds were truly painful. And, once awoken, they can easily be amplified when we’re in the heat of an argument with our teen. But then, let’s face it, there are just two teenagers in the argument.
That’s when you know you need to retrace your steps - back into the house, as it were - and tend to your inner healing.
How to Heal your Adolescent Self
1 Acknowledge the pain.
The first step in healing any pain is being willing to look at it. To say it exists and accept it as it is. You don’t need to change anything right away - just allow yourself to really see it.
This calls for courage and gentleness. You might do some journalling or look at old photos to remind you of your younger version of yourself. And please, if this triggers something too big to handle alone, talk to a therapist.
Remember, your inner teenager’s pain stems from a belief that, if they were treated so unfairly by parents and teachers and ditched by friends and lovers, there had to be something inherently wrong with them. The healing comes with recognizing that they were not broken or awful.
2 Identify your inner teenager’s beliefs.
Write down the negative beliefs your inner teenager is still holding. Picture yourself alone in your bedroom. What were you believing about yourself then? What were you told - that you were too quiet or too loud, too strong or too weak? That you needed to be fixed? That you were unlovable?
You're going to feel the hurt again. Be oh so tender with yourself and if it feels scary, ask someone you trust to stand beside you. Or light a candle and call in your guides and gods. Weep. Kick and scream. Curl up under the covers. Trust the difficult emotions to rise like smoke from their cloudy containers and be released back into the atmosphere at long last.
3. Accept your inner teenager.
In the space created by your emotional releases, plant a new belief that you are enough and just right.
This requires you to be the best, loving guardian to that teenager - the one that makes them feel safe to be exactly as they are. The one who sees their mistakes without judging or berating and offers words of support and encouragement. The adult who truly and fully accepts them and says all the things you wish someone had said to you in those tumultuous years.
How beautiful is that?!
Healing wounds like these takes time, my dear. There’s no magic that makes it evaporate all at once. We call healing a ‘journey’ for a reason. So, take your first step. And as you do so, please be gentle with yourself and the people in your life.
Trust that releasing old pain will bring you a new sense of lightness and freedom. And with that, a greater acceptance of your teenager, who they are right now and who they’re becoming.
As we heal ourselves, we pass our healing on to the next generation. This is the sacred role of parents – to shine light into the future.