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Identifying the Inner Beasts in Your Life: An Emotional Journey - Identifying Emotions in Teenagers

Navigating the Teenage Maze

Parenting teenagers can feel like navigating a labyrinth, filled with unexpected twists, emotional outbursts, and moments of sheer confusion. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, and you might often find yourself wondering if you’ll ever reach solid ground. But fear not! In this article, we’ll delve into the emotional world of teenagers, offering insights and practical advice to help you understand and manage these challenges. This video from Emma McAdam, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, on her channel Therapy in a Nutshell provides a detailed introduction on how to process emotions effectively in the video: "Name it to Tame it," below:




 

Drawing from my expertise in emotional resilience and my book "Invisible Worlds: Belly of the Beast," I aim to equip you with the tools needed to support your teenager through this tumultuous journey.




Understanding the Emotional Turmoil in Teenagers

The Emotional Challenges of Teenagers

Teenagers face a myriad of emotional challenges, from the intense pressures of academic performance to the social complexities of fitting in[i]. Recognizing and validating these emotions is crucial for their healthy development. Emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness are common, but without proper understanding, they can be misinterpreted as mere teenage rebellion.[ii]



Recognizing and Validating Emotions

For as long as I can remember, I always felt my emotions were just too big, and far too shameful when I expressed them. In adult life, I understood that no one in my childhood home really knew what emotions were, how to work with them, or the gifts they brought. Emotions were instead polarized into good ones (the ones it was socially acceptable to have and express, like happiness, joy, and funnily enough, humour) and bad ones (well, everything else). I remember being 9 or 10 years old, on a school fieldtrip, playing tag in the forest and accidentally running into a tree. As I sat on the ground crying, one of the parent supervisors said, “Oh, that’s just Juanita, she’s always crying.” A major lesson about pain that unbeknownst to me had been simmering on the stove of my subconscious and within my nervous system for many years prior, had established itself at full boil: I need to be tougher, less emotional, less weak than this or people will make fun of me. In short, I learned my emotions were bad.

I was way unprepared in adult life in all of the interrogatives of emotions because as a child I didn’t really have the time or space or guidance to understand the who, what, where, why, when or how I felt the ways I did. I only knew that I felt emotions deeply and so intensely they took over my body and mind. I felt like stuck in them, and very powerless to them. My parents did the best they could, but they lacked knowledge and the practical modeling from their own parents. They didn’t know how to help me navigate my emotions more effectively. 


According to Karla McLaren’s work on emotional vocabulary, having the right words to express emotions can significantly improve emotional intelligence.[iii] It is a very important step. You can explore her detailed emotional vocabulary here.



 

The Impact of Hormonal Changes

The teenage years are marked by significant hormonal changes that can influence emotions. Hormones such as estrogen and testosterone fluctuate, affecting mood and behavior. This biological upheaval can make teenagers more prone to mood swings and emotional outbursts.


During my teenage years, I remember feeling overwhelmed by emotions I couldn’t explain. One moment I was ecstatic, and the next, I was in tears over seemingly trivial issues. By that point I had internalized shame for being sensitive and feeling big emotions. Also, I was being modeled dissociative and numbing out behaviour by the adults around me so it was quite natural for me to withdraw into perfectionism and become fiercely self-critical. 




Understanding these hormonal influences can help parents empathize with their teenager's emotional state and respond with greater patience and support. In the following video from Chris Williamson’s Modern Wisdom podcast discusses the underlying reasons for chronic stress and provides actionable tips to manage it, which is beneficial for both teenagers and their parents.




Social Pressures and Peer Influence

Teenagers are also navigating the complex social landscape of high school. Peer pressure, the desire for acceptance, and the fear of rejection can all contribute to emotional turmoil. Social media adds another layer of complexity, often amplifying feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.


Even though on the outside, I was part of the popular crowds, I was wrestling with abusive inner shame-demons so big I could never really feel connected to myself or others. I feared I would be ostracised, shunned and cast out at any wrong word or action. Every social interaction didn’t just feel like a test, it was a test, and I knew in my soul that I was constantly failing. All I could do was pressure myself to do better, be the best … but of course the best wasn’t good enough.


Recognizing the impact of social pressures can help parents provide the necessary support and guidance to their teenagers. But, also recognizing that their children may have internalized this pressure is important as well.[iv]

This video interviewing Dr. Andrew (his Huberman’s podcast has hundreds of hours of information on a variety of subjects) provides tips on cognitive and emotional regulation.




Identifying the Inner Beasts

What Are Inner Beasts?

"Inner beasts" are metaphorical representations of challenging emotions, often those polarized as negative, that teenagers often grapple with. These beasts can include:

·        Anxiety: The overthinking monster that makes everything seem overwhelming.

·        Anger: The fiery dragon that erupts without warning.

·        Sadness: The heavy shadow that lingers and dims their spirit.

·        Fear: The sneaky phantom that prevents them from stepping out of their comfort zone.

These emotions manifest in various behaviors, such as withdrawal, outbursts, or extreme mood swings.


When I started high school, my transformation wasn’t a typical one. I didn’t change from a cheerful child into a moody, withdrawn teenager almost overnight. I had been called a grump for so long that my kneejerk reaction to the refrains of “c’mon, would it kill you to smile?” were to withdraw even more. 


Understanding these inner beasts helps in addressing the behavior rather than just reacting to it. This video from Dr Gabor Maté delves into underlying emotional challenges.



If you’re interested in diving deeper into this concept, you can purchase my book "Invisible Worlds: Belly of the Beast" here It’s the first of a 4-part series for young adults and pre-teens that blends elements of fantasy, adventure, and coming-of-age genres. It utilizes magical realism to explore emotional landscapes and personal growth.



Recognizing the Signs of Emotional Struggle[v]

It's essential for parents to recognize the signs of emotional struggle in their teenagers. Some indicators include[vi]:

·        Changes in Behavior: Sudden changes in behavior, such as becoming withdrawn or aggressive.

·        Academic Performance: A noticeable decline in school performance.

·        Physical Symptoms: Complaints of head / stomach aches, or other physical ailments without a clear cause.[vii]

·        Sleep Patterns: Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much[viii].


Unlike the ‘standard’ rebellious phases of teenage-hood, I went a full 180 degrees. My grades didn’t plummet. I hid behind the dangerous veil of perfectionism and earned the Governor General’s award for graduating the top student in my province. I didn’t even know how much my unexplored and unvalidated emotional states were affecting my mental health and physical body and solidifying survival behaviours until well into adulthood.


By paying attention to these signs, parents can intervene early and provide the necessary support[ix].


Emotional Triggers and Coping Mechanisms

Identifying what triggers these inner beasts can be crucial in helping teenagers explore and learn from their emotions. Triggers can vary widely, from social interactions and academic pressures to personal insecurities.


Uuf, for me, the biggest trigger that still takes a bit to recover from was … and still can be … one tiny, two-syllable word … “STUPID.” I can’t remember ever being told I was, I just remember the fear of ever being stupid. I suspect this was modeled by mother who herself struggled with self-esteem and who would berate herself in front of us children Second to that were social situations where I felt judged or excluded, and the inner situations where I judged myself way harsher than anyone on the outside could or ever did. Learning to recognize these triggers, and a lot of trial and error helped me develop coping mechanisms to work through my anxiety.


Effective coping mechanisms can include deep breathing exercises, engaging in physical activity, or talking to a trusted friend or family member.


The Journey of Self-Discovery

Parallels with "Invisible Worlds: Belly of the Beast"

In my book, the protagonist embarks on a journey of self-discovery, meeting various beasts that symbolize different emotional challenges. This journey mirrors the emotional struggles[x] of teenagers, emphasizing resilience, self-discovery, and transformation.


The Role of Storytelling in Emotional Healing

Storytelling can be a powerful tool in emotional healing. It allows teenagers to see their struggles reflected in characters and narratives, providing a sense of validation and understanding.


I was an early and avid reader who consumed anything text I could. As long as there were words to read, the delivery system didn’t matter. I read comics, encyclopedias and anything I could drag to my hiding places of treetops and upper cupboard shelves. Creating my own stories when I was young was therapeutic, and protective. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was helping me to process my emotions and to gain a deeper understanding of myself, and the worlds I wished I could exist in.


Encouraging teenagers to engage with stories, whether through reading, writing, or other creative outlets, can be a beneficial way to navigate their emotional journeys.

Resilience and Self-Discovery

Writing "Invisible Worlds: Belly of the Beast" during the 2020 pandemic was a turning point for me. If there was ever a time to apply the old adage of ‘write what you know,’ it was through that book. I saw reflections of my struggles in the protagonist's journey, and I felt all the old feels I thought I had ‘conquered.’ It not only opened up a dialogue about my own inner beasts, but it helped my healing process.


The book highlights how trauma can impact emotions and the healing power of imagination. These themes resonate deeply with teenagers and their parents, offering valuable lessons in emotional resilience, especially as it relates to anger.

Central to "Invisible Worlds: Belly of the Beast" is the protagonist's journey through emotional turmoil, trauma, and the subsequent path to understanding and resilience. The protagonist, referred to as "Our Girl," navigates a fantastical realm that mirrors her internal struggles, providing a vivid metaphor for the journey of self-discovery that all teenagers undergo.


Imagination and Transformation

The transformative power of imagination plays a significant role in the protagonist's ability to navigate and cope with her emotional world. Imagination becomes a tool for healing and growth, illustrating how creative thinking can provide solace and solutions in times of distress.


I used to escape into my own imaginary worlds whenever life felt too challenging. It was a way to process my emotions and find strength within myself. This is probably why I work in both the magical and real worlds with my clients.

Connection and Isolation

The story delves into themes of connection to oneself, others, and the natural world, juxtaposed with feelings of isolation and misunderstanding. These themes are particularly relevant to teenagers who often grapple with their sense of identity and belonging.


Feeling isolated and misunderstood was a constant during my teenage years. Exploring these themes in "Invisible Worlds: Belly of the Beast" helped me feel less alone, but also illuminated that even as adults we still may need to time travel back to those younger parts of ourselves which desire validation and need support and kindness.


Practical Strategies for Parents

Tips for Supporting Your Teenager


1. Active Listening and Open Communication

What It Means: Create an environment where your teenager feels heard and understood. Active listening involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and remembering what your teenager is saying. It’s not just hearing words, but truly comprehending the emotions and needs behind those words. Open communication means creating an environment where your teenager feels safe to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or repercussions.

How to Incorporate It:

1.   Be Present: When your teenager speaks, give them your undivided attention. Put away distractions such as phones or laptops and maintain eye contact to show that you are fully engaged.

2.   Reflective Listening: Repeat back what you’ve heard in your own words. For example, “It sounds like you’re really upset about what happened at school today.” This shows your teenager that you’re listening and helps clarify any misunderstandings.

3.   Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage your teenager to express more by asking questions like, “How did that make you feel?” or “What do you think would help in this situation?”

4.   Empathy: Use empathetic statements to show understanding and compassion, such as, “I can see why you would feel that way. It sounds really tough.”

 

2. Encouraging Emotional Expression and Validation[xi]:

What It Means: Validate their feelings without judgment.Encouraging emotional expression involves helping your teenager to articulate their feelings, while validation means acknowledging and accepting their emotions without judgment. This does not mean you have to agree with everything they say, but you respect their right to feel the way they do.

How to Incorporate It:

1.   Normalize Emotions: Let your teenager know that all feelings are normal and valid. For instance, you might say, “It’s okay to feel angry or sad. Everyone has those feelings sometimes.”

2.   Label Emotions: Help your teenager identify and label their emotions. You can say, “It seems like you might be feeling frustrated because of the situation. Is that right?”

3.   Avoid Dismissing Feelings: Never tell your teenager how they should or shouldn’t feel. Avoid phrases like “Don’t be upset” or “You’re overreacting.” Instead, use statements like, “I understand that you’re feeling really upset right now.”

4.   Model Emotional Expression: Share your own feelings in an appropriate way to model how to express emotions. For example, “I felt really anxious today at work, and I found that taking a few deep breaths helped me.”

 

3. Providing a Safe Space

What It Means: Ensure your home is a safe space for emotional exploration.

Providing a safe space means creating an environment where your teenager feels secure enough to explore and express their emotions without fear of criticism or punishment. This safety is both physical and emotional.

How to Incorporate It:

1.   Consistent Routines: Maintain consistent routines to create a sense of stability and predictability, which can help your teenager feel more secure.

2.   Nonviolent Communication: Use the principles of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to address conflicts and express needs without blame or criticism. For example, “I feel worried when you come home late because I care about your safety. Can we agree on a time that works for both of us?”

Here are some examples of using the 4-step NVC Framework from the classic "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life" by Marshall B. Rosenberg https://a.co/d/4dcVZdD :

a.   Observation: Describe what you see or hear without judgment. Example: “I noticed you slammed the door when you came in today.”

b.   Feelings: Express your feelings related to the observation. Example: “I feel worried when I hear the door slam.”

c.   Needs: Identify the needs or values causing the feelings. Example: “I need to know that we can talk calmly about what’s bothering you.”

d.   Requests: Make a specific, positive request for action. Example: “Would you be willing to sit down with me and talk about what’s going on?”

 

4. Open Lines of Communication: 

What It Means: Ensure that your teenager knows they can talk to you about anything, without fear of judgment or punishment.

How to Incorporate It:

1.   Respect Privacy: Give your teenager space and privacy to process their emotions. Avoid prying or forcing them to talk before they’re ready.

2.   Encourage Independence: Allow your teenager to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes.

3.   Create a Physical Safe Space / a Supportive Environment at Home: A supportive home environment is crucial for the emotional well-being of teenagers. Ensure there’s a place in your home where your teenager can retreat to when they need to calm down or think. This could be their bedroom or another quiet, comfortable area.

Karla McLaren offers excellent techniques for emotional awareness and integration, which you can explore here https://karlamclaren.com/start-here/


5. Encouraging Healthy Emotional Expression:

What It Means: Help your teenager express their emotions in a healthy way. Here are some activities that can facilitate emotional expression.

How to Incorporate It:

·        Art and Music: Creative activities like drawing, painting, or playing music.

·        Physical Activities: Encourage sports or other physical activities to release built-up tension.

·        Journaling: Writing down their thoughts and feelings can provide clarity and relief.


Luckily, our front yard was the ocean and a few streets away was the forest. I was also of the generation instructed to “go play outside,” and “come back by supper.” As long as I was with a friend, I was pretty much a free-range kid. Having that freedom to explore and ground myself in nature is something that serves to regulate my nervous system and help me to blow off steam to this day.



6. Seeking Professional Help

What It Means: Sometimes, professional help may be necessary. If your teenager’s emotional struggles seem overwhelming or persistent, consider seeking the help of a therapist or counselor.


During many particularly challenging times in my life, seeing different therapists from interpersonal group therapy to one-on-one counselling, family constellation work, EMDR and working with those trained in complex developmental childhood trauma made a significant difference. It provided me with tools and strategies to work with my emotions more effectively.


Integrating Emotional Resilience in Daily Life

Daily Practices for Emotional Resilience[xii]

1.   Mindfulness and Reflective Practices: Encourage mindfulness exercises, such as meditation or journaling.

2.   Balanced Lifestyle: Promote a balanced lifestyle with healthy eating, regular exercise, and adequate sleep.


Importance for Both Parents and Children

Emotional resilience isn’t just for teenagers; it’s equally crucial for parents. In fact, children learn a lot from what they see their parents doing. Children are observant and can see when their parents’ words are in misalignment with their actions.


Growing up in an alcoholic family, I witnessed a lot of the “do what I say, not what I do” mentality. Confusion was understandable in an environment where people were not walking their talk. 


As parents, maintaining your emotional health sets a positive example and helps you manage the stresses of parenting more effectively. Somatic practices like the TRE services and programs can assist families in building this resilience. You can learn more about the services I provide here.


Techniques for Building Resilience

Building resilience involves developing coping strategies and maintaining a positive outlook. Here are some techniques:

·        Problem-Solving Skills: Teach your teens to approach problems methodically and think of multiple solutions.

·        Social Support: Encourage them to build strong relationships with friends and family.

·        Self-Care: Promote self-care activities like reading, taking baths, or spending time in nature.




The Role of Physical Activity in Emotional Health

Physical activity is a crucial component of emotional health. Regular exercise can help reduce stress, improve mood, and boost overall well-being.


As a kid, I was always active, quite the tom boy. In high school, I also was a competitive gymnast and practiced different kinds of dance. It was hard though to cut the ties of competition and perfectionism from sports. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I would feel comfortable enough to dance in front of people, and that was only after I learned Latin dancing. I needed the rules and structure of a learned partner dance with specific timing and moves to feel OK.


Encouraging your teenager to participate in physical activities they enjoy can have significant benefits for their emotional health.


Managing Technology and Screen Time

In today's digital age, technology plays a significant role in teenagers' lives. While it offers many benefits, excessive screen time can negatively impact emotional and mental health. It's essential to find a balance that allows teenagers to enjoy the advantages of technology without compromising their well-being.[xiii]

Jonathan Haidt in describing his book, “Anxious Generation,” says:

The years between 2010 and 2015 is what I call the “Great Rewiring of Childhood.” Few of us understood what was happening in children’s virtual worlds and we lacked the knowledge to protect them from tech companies that had designed their products to be addictive.  

For this reason, we ended up overprotecting children in the real world while underprotecting them in the virtual world.[xiv]

He has specific advice regarding technology and children:

“As a parent of two adolescents myself, I worked especially hard to offer useful and non-obvious advice to other parents. My most important suggestions:

· Give children far more time playing with other children. This play should ideally be outdoors, in mixed age groups, with little or no adult supervision (which is the way most parents grew up, at least until the 1980s).

· Look for more ways to embed children in stable real-world communities.  Online networks are not nearly as binding or satisfying.

· Don’t give a smartphone as the first phone. Give a phone or watch that is specialized for communication, not for internet-based apps.

·Don’t give a smartphone until high school.  This is easy to do, if many of your child’s friends’ parents are doing the same thing.

·Delay the opening of accounts on nearly all social media platforms until the beginning of high school (at least). This will become easier to do if we can support legislators who are trying to raise the age of “internet adulthood” from today’s 13 (with no verification) to 16 (with mandatory age verification).

More about his book and where to buy it can be found here


Exploring Further

Understanding and addressing the emotional challenges of teenagers is vital for fostering a healthy, balanced family life. By recognizing and validating these emotions, you help your teenager develop emotional resilience. My book and services offer valuable insights and support for this journey.

If you're looking for more ways to support your teenager's emotional journey, consider exploring "Invisible Worlds: Belly of the Beast" available here for a deeper understanding of the inner beasts they might be facing. Visit my site, Twisted Tummy, or Instagram for additional resources and personalized support.

Taking the time to connect with your teenager and address their emotional needs can have a profound impact on their overall well-being and your family dynamics.


Additional Resources

Contact me for consultations and personalized support through my Twisted Tummy Services.


 


 


[i] Damour, L. (2016). Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. Ballantine Books.

[ii] National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Mental Health Information.

[iii] McLaren, K. (2010). The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You. Sounds True.

[iv] Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2012). The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. Bantam.

[v] Royal Society for Public Health. (2017). Status of Mind: Social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

[vi] Blakemore, S.J., & Choudhury, S. (2006). Development of the adolescent brain: implications for executive function and social cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(3-4), 296-312.

[vii] Deater-Deckard, K. (2001). Recent Research Examining the Role of Peer Relationships in the Development of Psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42(1), 99-119.

[viii] American Psychological Association. (2018). Stress in America: Generation Z. Stress in America™ Survey.

[ix] National Sleep Foundation. (2014). Sleep in America Poll: Sleep in the Modern Family.

[x] Hetrick, S.E., Parker, A.G., Robinson, J., Hall, N., & Vance, A. (2012). Predicting Suicide in Depressed Adolescents. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 73(1), 33-40.

[xi] Malchiodi, C.A. (2013). Art Therapy and Health Care. Guilford Press.

[xii] Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.

[xiii] Orben, A., & Przybylski, A.K. (2019). The association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use. Nature Human Behaviour, 3, 173-182.

[xiv] Haidt, J. (2024). Anxious Generation. Basic Books.

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