What Do Teenagers Want?

Teenage Emotions

After a childhood of severe abuse, I am a walking web of defense mechanisms. The most destructive mechanisms were developed when I was a younger child. Because of their devastating impact on my adult life, it was absolutely critical that I identify and work with these defenses. The most notable defense was the dissociative response which manifested as memory repression. From the point of repression, my unconscious past ruled my life. And it was as disastrous as it sounds.

I also learned some other helpful tips as a child. I learned to hide who I really am and what I really want. I learned to meet the needs of others while ignoring my own needs. I learned to ignore all feelings. Emotions were definitely a problem in my childhood. I numbed out. It was the safest and best response to an abusive childhood from which I had no escape.

Although I have slowly learned to overcome many of these defenses, I have recently come across some new strategies as I delve deeper in my recovery journey. These strategies seem a little darker, a little less optimistic, a little less hopeful. As a young child, I believed that if I changed myself, I could establish a relationship with others, no matter how abusive they might be. But that changed when I became a teenager.

It has occurred to me recently that I am working with a teenage part of me who doesn’t see things the same way. I think my recent writings about my intense rage were an introduction to her. Don’t get me wrong, I have known about her for some time, but she seemed to play a supporting role. My younger child part seemed to be much more vocal. Not anymore.

My teenage part has some concerns about this life I am choosing, because this life relies on establishing relationships with others. She is comfortable with my children for the most part. They can be a little lacking in boundaries, but overall, she has learned to trust them. She knows they are not dangerous.

But in her opinion, everyone else can go to hell. I know you are thinking that this sounds like every teenager. But my teenager part remembers the sex abuse, the emotional abuse, the bullying from so-called “friends”, the complete and utter rejection that she experienced over and over. And through the years, she chose a path for her life. And that path was isolation. That path was complete removal from society, friends and most definitely, significant others.

So, I stand at a crossroads. I know that life does not have to be like those teenage years. My adult brain understands that when I feel left out of a group, I may need to make an effort to actively participate in that group. My adult brain knows that I have friends who truly care for me and want the best for me. I have better friends now than any time in my past. My adult brain knows a judgmental comment probably was not meant the way it came out, and if it was, the person making the comment should stop judging themselves so harshly. My adult brain understands that compliments are not usually an attempt to manipulate me.

But my teenage part begs to differ. She knows through her own experiences with abusive adults and bullies that people are bad. And the best way to avoid bad people is to avoid people.

So how do I negotiate with a teenager? The answer is clear. I don’t. She has to figure it out for herself. She has to see that life is not what she believes it to be. She has to discover that not everyone is out to get her. She has to integrate with that courageous part that sees life as something other than hell on Earth. But it has to be on her time, in her way. It has to be her decision.

And so I wait. I remain aware of the kindness that others display toward me. I gently call out my own pessimism when I am wrong about someone and their intentions. I try to allow myself to see things a little differently, to see that everything isn’t as it was in my childhood. And I know that one day, she will trust again. She will come around. She will say, “We will try it your way, but just this once, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll never do it again.” And when there is a positive experience, she will roll her eyes, and give me a little more leeway to make more connections. This won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. I know because I know her. And I know she doesn’t want to live in darkness. No teenager really wants the darkness. She wants the light. She wants love. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

*I normally do not refer to my parts in my writing and I want to clarify that I am not DID. I also want to clarify that every person has some separation and needs to do integration work of their parts. I believe that the separation of parts falls on a continuum of dissociation. Mine is more severe than some and less severe than others.


8 thoughts on “What Do Teenagers Want?

  1. I’m so glad that you wrote this. I can relate in so many ways, but I can’t seem to put it into words right now. I saw my therapist yesterday and she’s the first therapist ever to talk about me having child parts that need healing. She doesn’t know but it kind of freaked me out. I don’t think it’s DID either, I think it’s just like you say parts of me that still respond as that scared little abused girl, then teen…parts of me that haven’t caught up with my actual age. Dissociation included.


  2. As part of the process of coming to the ending of my marriage I found myself continuing longer term individual therapy with the psychologist with whom my ex-wife and I had attempted marriage counseling. His process of identification of the abuse and neglect I suffered as a child was gentle enough to allow me to ease into the process of realization that, “Wow, that was ME. That DID really happen.” It was HARD and still is, to see the little boy hunched over in a corner, numbed out, afraid and isolated and to begin to try to comfort…… myself. The fear of the endless sorrow slowly begins to dissipate with time and the ability to experience emotions SLOWLY occurs. The visualization of a safe, mature, nurturing adult figure slowly beginning to engage this long dormant part of my being was helpful to an extent but the mistrust of EVERYONE, including my adult self is pretty astounding.. It was a shorter trip to engage the adolescent rebel that still dominated my personality in its defense mechanisms and outright rebellion. I’m still unraveling the chameleon aspects of myself that keep all outsiders at bay and guessing at who they are really dealing with. There is a veritable Jedi knight of illusion and avoidance, well practiced in the martial arts of self avoidance and interpersonal evasion that vigilantly keeps me, alienated, lonely, but ‘safe’. I’ve learned that rage and anger emotions are things that need alternative coping techniques, not analysis, to effectively overcome. There is a skill that is a kind of quiet volition to CHOOSE to FOCUS on another avenue rather than becoming overrun by the flooding emotional pathways of anger. An acknowledgement that the anger is there coupled with the empirical knowledge that ‘resolution’ is a myth is helpful. When I feel the anger coming on, many times I’ll say, “I’m getting angry”, but that often seems to only grease the skids into crazy town. A more quiet form of acknowledgement allows the soft choice to disengage from that internal turmoil in favor of brief ‘limbo’ until some distraction or simple passage of time goes by that allows the anger window to pass. Having successfully quit a 25 year smoking habit over 10 years ago, I do see that it’s much like dealing with the urge to smoke in that a redirection of attention can help me stay ‘distracted’ until the anger surge passes. The internal awareness and sometimes exhausting vigilance continue to reveal new insights and teach new ways of interaction with my increasingly challenging world. Letting go of ‘why’ questions is key and letting go of the attachment to ‘results’ is also key for me.


    • Thank you so much Doug. It is clear that you really get the healing process. My approach to anger and rage has been journaling. It allows me to direct my anger to the page instead of being consumed by it. Of course, everyone has their own approach, and that is perfect. That is how it is supposed to be.


  3. Two months ago, low thyroid issues began to express in my physical person. One month ago, my healthcare person asked me what age I was when abuse began (to my current memory) –age 5-6, and then she asked the age of my oldest child (5+), and a whole floodgate of unconscious stuff came raging & gushing out. I think I had grown somewhat complacent on the effort towards healing and growth. I felt disappointed that “there’s MORE work to do”–because it seems like I’ve been doing this for sooo long (since 2002). Of course that feeling is just another form of sadness that these issues cannot be “put away” or “done with,” and, with this post, I recognize the feelings of the child wishing for escape.
    This is the second post I have read, after a ladies’ night out where a friend of a friend recommended this blog, 5 days ago.
    Your writings are filled with the empowering grace of truth, gentleness, direct confrontation with deep compassion, and so much beautiful *willingness*. I know I am going to find a helpful resource in these writings. Doug’s words about anger, above, are resonating through me, vibrating like a harsh and honest bell-tone. I scribbled notes as I read, and lingered on each paragraph.
    Thank you–to EVERYONE who is in the Process of healing, or raising awareness, or supporting others’ healing. It’s big, long, messy, intense work. And it’s so worthwhile.
    And there’s a really scared part of me who is just so glad to not feel alone right now, so thank you for that camaraderie, also. That is substantial.
    I’m going to go get some sleep, and allow this to percolate. Much gratitude.


    • I am so sorry you are going through this. And I am not surprised that you are experiencing new memories as your child reaches the age of your own abuse. That has certainly been the case for me too. I am so glad you found me. I appreciate your willingness to do this deep, painful yet liberating work.


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