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|
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,