“It’s Just Too Much”; Why Teens are Mean pt. 2

Yeah, yeah, it’s been a while. Are you still there?

 

As promised, I’m here to continue the conversation about communication, emotions, and our ability to express them in a healthy way. Today I want to focus on emotional numbing and how it affects the psyche.

In my last post I highlighted the ways in which all humans have a tendency to ignore or discount their own feelings and emotions. For maturing teens, this is especially difficult. Bottling up emotions can lead to violent outbursts and feelings of confusion and pain. When we express our emotions in a healthy way, we are able to let go of the need to bottle them up. Letting go of this natural tendency will allow more energy to flow through your heart, body and mind.

During transitional phases in our lives, bottling up emotions can seem like the only way to get through it. It’s not always possible to express our emotions constructively and many people don’t know how to start. Some people suppress their emotions, while others ignore them entirely. When an individual becomes overwhelmed with stimuli, a natural response is to shut down. Like a computer running multiple programs that hasn’t been restarted in weeks, the human brain becomes slow and bogged down.

You may wonder what the difference is between bottling up emotions and becoming numb to them.

When you bottle up an emotion, there is an air of secrecy. Maybe you think your feelings are unjustified, unimportant or that no one will care how you feel. In these situations, you keep your feelings and thoughts to yourself and ignore the emotions connected to them.

Emotional numbing is when we become closed off and unable to feel deep emotion altogether. Sometimes this is in defense against pain or injustice from our past, but there are innumerable reasons. When we feel overwhelmed by our constant flood of emotions and thoughts, we can become overstimulated and unsure of where to start when it comes to figuring out “what’s wrong.” Instead, we might just close ourselves off to emotion entirely.

Common phrases to hear from someone who is emotionally numb are “It’s too much to handle” or “I don’t know how I feel.”

Emotional numbing is a natural way of protecting oneself. When we have suffered a wrong, it can feel easier to just block everyone and everything out rather than facing the pain head-on. Compared to bottling our feelings which leads to outbursts, emotional numbing can seem like the “healthier” way to deal with problems. But in reality, it is even harder to recover from emotional numbing than emotional outbursts.

Emotional numbing can be incredibly damaging on the brain and heart. It’s not the freezing of the heart that hurts. It’s the thawing out that shocks our system. You might ask why not just stay frozen? After all, it’s comfortable there. You feel protected there. It’s easy to stay safe and avoid all the bad feelings if you look at life from far away. I’ll tell you why…

When you close yourself off from emotion, you not only block out the bad feelings, but you simultaneously eliminate the chance for good feelings as well. I’m not just talking about happy and sad though. I’m talking about a general sense of feeling alive, moving your body and exercising your muscles, feeling loved and excited and getting worked up about something that moves you. These are the feelings you eliminate by closing yourself off to emotion.

And the biggest part of it is that no matter how hard you try to block out those negative feelings  (anger, sadness, loneliness, insecurity) it won’t really matter because you’ll probably still feel them anyway. Instead, you’ll feel them inside. You’ll have conversations in your head with yourself reminding you of how you didn’t do well enough or that someone else could do better than you. This is called self-doubt. Self-doubt is a truly crippling type of hell. Plagued by ideas in your own head of what others must think of you, you avoid contact with people. Those who are most closed-off are often the most self conscious and insecure.

But let me ask you a question.

What’s the worst that could happen if someone says something rude to you or judges your character?


Teenagers are so driven by community and a sense of fitting in that they would do just about anything not to be made fun of for being different. Being the “weird” kid isn’t a title many kids sign up for willingly. The craving for community is what leads many teens to drug abuse, gangs, and dangerous behavior. It also leads them to bullying and an overall rejection of kids who are different from themselves.

This fear of rejection leaves a kid with few social options. Sometimes the choice is limited to only two options: be made fun of or make fun of others.

If you ask a teenager the question I posed above, the answer is likely to be radically different from that of an adult and also quite different from the answer of a child. During transitional phases in life, we experience a heavily opinionated inner critic who contributes to our self-doubt and self limiting beliefs. Much like a childhood bully, this critic picks apart the aspects of ourselves that we see as “flawed.”

The best way of preparing a child for the onslaught of confusing emotions, conflicting beliefs and uncontrollable desires that come with puberty is acceptance. Teaching children to respect, accept, and honor their feelings, even if they don’t know what these feelings mean, will give the child a greater sense of calm when faced with bigger issues.

Reminding kids to BE KIND to everyone they meet is the most important lesson of all- for every person is going through his or her own battle that we know nothing about. Every outward reaction is a mere reflection of one’s own relationship with the self. When someone is hurtful, they are usually hurting even more on the inside. Teach compassion, empathy, and an overall sense of care for others’ wellbeing.

This reminder to be kind no matter the situation reiterates the importance of honoring our emotions instead of ignoring them. It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be honest with others about what you’re going through. It’s okay because we’ve all been there. The collective human experience is filled with pain and hardship, but at the turn of every corner, you will find a reward worth every ounce of pain. Just keep going. Just be kind. First to yourself, and the rest will follow ❤

Always with love
xoxo
Dee

“I Hate You”; Why Teens are Mean pt. 1

Dear Reader,

Think back to a time when your emotions were so strong that you had to act on them- maybe you got frustrated and yelled out in anger, maybe you were feeling afraid and began to cry. Re-read that sentence and really think about it for a moment.

For some of you, this memory may be from when you were very young, still a child. For others, this memory of intense emotion may be from your teenage and young-adult years. For ALL of you reading this, it’s also possible that you experienced this just recently! We are human, after all. Emotion is what enriches our lives and also complicates it.


Teens and Emotions

Teenagers experience a wide range of emotions multiple times a day. Flooded with neurotransmitters, the teenage mind is in a constant state of rapid change. You may remember what that felt like or you may have witnessed it first-hand as it happened to your own child. The fact of the matter is that teenagers have a lot going on in their heads and it affects their behavior and understanding of the world more than they may realize.

There’s been a heavy weight on my mind and my heart recently. I know a couple of teenagers right now who are going through rough transitions into young-adulthood. One in particular is my little brother. I feel the pain he’s in when he acts out. I recognize the patterns of anger, sadness, insecurity, self judgment, and emotional numbing that I went through when I was his age (and still go through when my mind is not balanced). My brother and I share a tendency to bottle up our feelings and have subsequent outbursts of intense emotion. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean, whether intentionally hurtful or not, as an emotional reaction to how we feel on the inside. It’s not a fun place to be. It’s actually pretty fucking scary.

As a third party in the lives of both of the teenagers I know, I realize there is truly only one way in which I can help them through this tough time: understanding them. Trying to tell them what I’ve learned and how I learned it will do them no good. In order to grow, you must learn things in your own way and on your own timeline.

There are many ways in which a person copes with intense emotion. Two natural ways of dealing with emotion are through emotional outbursts and emotional numbing. Outbursts are caused when emotions aren’t fully expressed and bottle up over time. Numbing happens when a person becomes so overwhelmed by their thoughts and feelings that they become desensitized and experience a disconnection with all feelings.


Cause: Bottling Up Emotions

Even though we may not enjoy these emotions -anger, sadness, insecurity, etc- they are all natural emotions that we feel as humans. If we don’t express them, they can bottle up. Sometimes it happens in such a subtle way that we don’t even realize it.

Example: Adults Bottling Emotions Example: Teens Bottling Emotions
  • Your roommate stayed up all night and kept you awake, but instead of knocking on the door and asking her to keep it down, you laid awake in bed thinking about how rude she’s being and reconsidering living with her.
  • A kid at school made fun of you and everyone laughed. Instead of telling the kid to leave you alone and that you don’t care what they say about you, you avoid the kid and all of their friends.
  • You get jealous when your partner spends time with other people. You trust your partner, but you are unable to shake the feeling of jealousy, so instead you hide it. Instead of expressing the feeling, you pretend you aren’t jealous and think negatively about yourself for feeling that way.
  • Your parents are divorced and speak negatively about one another around you. Next time one parent does or says something unfair to you, you remember what the other parent said. Instead of expressing how you feel about the unfairness, you talk to the other parent about it. Your attitude becomes negative around the “unfair” parent and you naturally spend less time with them.
  • Your coworker tells you the boss is writing employees up unfairly and you feel compelled to stand on your coworkers’ side. After all, camaraderie is important. But instead of getting the facts straight, you hold a grudge against your boss and over time you develop a sour taste for your job entirely.
  • You hear from one friend that another friend is mad at you. You feel betrayed and question all of your mutual friends to see if anyone knows why. Overwhelmed with all of the opinions, you decide it’s easiest to be mad at your friend too. Besides, you didn’t do anything wrong. Why should they be mad at you?

Effect: Emotional Outbursts

Over time, we bottle up so many little things that are seemingly harmless, but actually take up a big majority of our energy. Once we reach our max, we have to release all the pressure in the bottle. Some people learn to release the pressure gradually, but many of us have a tendency to explode.

We’ve all seen this happen. Your partner blows up at you for something small and seemingly insignificant. Later on, you realize they have been hiding their feelings out of fear, embarrassment, insecurity, or a number of other reasons. Your boss had a bad weekend and takes it out on you and your coworkers.

The teenage brain, already overloaded with thoughts and feelings, explodes more often and sometimes more violently than an adult. Teenagers can be especially hurtful to others during these intense explosions. Sometimes they cuss, yell, slam doors and say things like “I hate you.” It’s important to understand that these intense outbursts are a reflection of their inner feelings.

How To Help

  • Don’t mirror their behavior! If someone is acting out, the worst thing you can do for them is reinforce their destructive behavior by responding in the same way. Take a deep breath and put yourself in their shoes before you start yelling back.
  • Don’t take what they say personally. Remember how toxic those bottled up emotions can make you feel. Remember the desperation you felt to express those toxic emotions in an attempt to get them out. Every outward reaction we have to one another is just a reflection of how we react inwardly within ourselves. Think of the skin as a window, not a wall.
  • Give them time to cool off. After any intense emotional reaction or interaction, it’s best to back up a few steps and recenter yourself. Emotions can be complex and take time to work through. If you are able to communicate calmly, you’ll get much further in resolving the issue.
  • Be open and calm when you talk again. Try to express how they made you feel without blaming or attacking. Ask questions! Most of us have questions, but for fear of judgment or of “sounding stupid” we keep them in. It might be uncomfortable at first, but if you can ask just one question that requires depth and starts a productive conversation, you’ll be glad you did.

 

In my next blog, I’ll talk more about emotional numbing and why it happens. Emotion can be powerfully overwhelming if you don’t know how to effectively express it. Instead of bottling it up and exploding or letting emotion flow through you naturally, some people cope by cutting off emotion entirely.

Until then, I’m off to do some yoga and ground myself after the momentous rain storm that just hit the entire West Coast at one time. I spy a few cracks of sunlight through the redwood trees.

Always with love,
xoxo
Dee