Working With Teens

Uncovering the wellbeing that's already there


Q: "How can I stop these feelings of anxiety and insecurity?"

A: "By saying hello to them; and when you're ready, by getting to know them so well that you no longer wish them away."

Most–if not all–of the teens I work with come to me hoping to feel better. And by better, I mean that they want to be less anxious, insecure, sad, afraid, or lonely. Nearly every desire for change is a clever and compelling costume for what is hiding underneath: a fear of a feeling; a fear that a feeling will become so intense or overwhelming that it will render the teen helpless or irrevocably broken.

Some of these amazing teens have already tried various tools and techniques to hold their anxiety and other "unwanted" feelings at bay. Many have even managed to decrease the intensity of their fear, panic, or insecurity. But, these same teens tend to live in a state of vigilance, on guard for the feeling's unwanted return in a surprise attack at the worst possible moment. While techniques may offer moments of relief and respite, they often solidify the belief that certain feelings and sensations are not allowed as part of the human experience.

In our innocent attempts to teach our kids how to feel better, we often unintentionally vilify certain emotions and bodily sensations. Without meaning to, we strengthen the idea that it is not OK to feel uncomfortable, sad, worried, or angry. We set our kids up for a cycle of searching for things that will make them feel good, relaxed, and undisturbed at all times. Many of us–the adults in their lives–have forgotten that we are designed to feel all the feelings as well as the bodily sensations that accompany them. It is our attempt to fight or flee from the feelings and sensations that brings about suffering.

So, how do I work with the teens that come to me for help?

I begin by really listening. I ask lots of questions, and then I listen deeply as they give their answers. I listen for the sneaky, unconscious beliefs hiding like ninjas inside of their stories of lack, insecurity, or fear.

Then, together, we do two simple things.

1. We take a look at how human minds are evolutionarily designed to tell dramatic, compelling stories filled with negativity and confirmation biases.

We look at how unreliable that little narrator in the head can be when recounting past events or predicting future ones. We get to know the mind and all of its caveman-like antics of comparing, judging, catastrophizing, and labeling. We put on our anthropologist hats and get as intimate as we can with that little mind-machine that talks incessantly about the most absurd things. As we learn more and more about how human minds tend to work, the stories that the mind claims as THE truth begin to shimmer and dissolve. I help my teens begin to see-through the lies that minds tell in their attempts to keep us safe. My teens learn to work WITH that sweet little dramatic mind the way a parent works with a four-year-old who insists on "helping" bake a cake or unloading the dishwasher. My teens learn to notice the mind's non-stop doomsday chatter without jumping in to change it, quiet it, or push it away. They learn to say "Hello! You're back, again. And your story is more dramatic than ever. You have my full permission to be here; to tag along with me. I honor the fact that you like to be heard. Now, let's go together and seize the day."

2. We investigate their mind's habitual, intrusive, or scary stories with childlike curiosity.

We pull those vague, nondescript, mind-created "monsters" as close as we can. We give them so many detailed features that they are no longer amorphous. "What IS the feeling of panic when your mind says someone doesn't like you? Where is it in your body? Is there heat? Pressure? Dizziness? What meaning is your mind making up about someone not liking you? Walk me all the way through the moment you hear that someone doesn't like you. Let's get as close as we can to that experience."

Metaphorically, we sit down with the "monsters" and get to know them as intimately as we can. In the process, we uncover what has always been there: the teen's innate resilience, strength, wellbeing, and safety. Rather than looking for ways to feel better in the moment, we look at how our meaning-making minds have misinterpreted and misrepresented our feelings and sensations.

In between sessions, I often ask my teens to write, draw, or find any creative way give voice to the feelings and stories that have been kept silent. Sometimes, my teens write letters, draw detailed pictures, or look for song lyrics that capture what they're feeling. I find that the more my teen clients are encouraged to express what's happening inside them without fear of judgment, the lighter and freer they feel in general.

What can a teen client (and parent) expect?

When my teen client and I begin to say hello to the feelings, stories, and sensations that have been habitually pushed away and feared, there is often an initial bit of discomfort. But, my teens quickly discover that this discomfort is not a sign that something has gone wrong. Instead, it is a sign of growth; a sign that an opportunity or invitation is presenting itself.

As each teen discovers his or her innate, unbreakable core of safety, love, security, and strength, they naturally and organically become less afraid of their feelings. They begin to notice old patterns of thinking without identifying with them as much. As they see the value in honoring whatever is arising within them, they become more in tune with the innate wellbeing that defines them. They see that they already have everything they need within them. They are already secure, complete, whole, and strong. They just didn't realize that they've been given countless opportunities over the years to rediscover this truth for themselves.

Parents, if your teen is struggling, I invite you to read "We Were Born Complete" and "On the Day that You Were Born."



And if you'd like to chat, please feel free to contact me for a completely free, no-strings-attached conversation.