For most of us, those tumultuous years from 13 to 19 were rough, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t get through them unscathed. The good news is, like with inner child work, we can take steps to heal our rebellious inner teen. Below, Meg Josephson, MSW, an integrative therapist, and meditation teacher, explains what inner teenager healing is all about, signs of a wounded inner teen, and tips on healing your inner teenager.
Inner child healing vs. inner teenager healing
Josephson notes there is some overlap between inner child healing and inner teenager healing because the fundamental desires are the same ( “wanting to feel safe, seen, and loved”) and the differences also vary based on the individual’s lived experiences. Generally, though, she says our inner child learned to adapt their behaviors to their surroundings as a form of protection. So, inner child healing focuses on nurturing and providing our inner child with that sense of safety that was needed.
“The inner teenager, on the other hand, is developed enough to see/start to intellectually understand what went on in their childhood and what's happening currently,” Josephson says. “Healing the inner teenager is more about allowing the them to safely express feelings and emotions that they were told to suppress as they started to make sense of their reality, and accepting them for who they truly are.”
Although we may feel like we were “old enough” to deal with things as a teenager (such as taking on adult responsibilities, for instance), Josephson says that couldn’t be further from the truth, as our brains aren’t fully developed until the age of 25.
So, in essence, Josphepson says inner teenager healing acknowledges those early inner child wounds and provides space to feel, express, verbalize, and process all the feelings and emotions that you had no choice but to suppress to keep the peace in your early environments.
Signs of a wounded inner teenager
Since our teenage selves had the developmental awareness to make sense of the dysfunction that happened in our early life, unexpressed anger and rage are big signs that your wounded inner teen needs healing. “For the inner teenager, they likely witnessed and experienced a great deal of pain and perhaps didn't feel safe enough to speak up about it, swallowing years and years of accumulative anger,” Josephson says. “A wounded inner teen may feel very emotionally reactive, saying things without thinking, especially around immediate family members. They're speaking from the pain that they've been feeling for so long.”
Josephson adds that a wounded inner teen also has a rebellious spirit, may engage in self-sabotaging behaviors to feel in control (e.g., overspending, procrastination, emotional eating, addictions, etc.), and tends to seek romantic partners that aren’t a good fit.
How to heal your inner teenager
1. Acknowledge and process the pain
The first step in healing your inner teenager is acknowledging and processing the pain. “So much of healing, in general, is simply looking at the pain and accepting it as it is, without rushing into fix-it mode,” Josephson says. “This is so important for inner teenager healing because we're reminding them: You don't need to be fixed because you're not inherently broken.” She adds that journaling, talking to a therapist, or looking at old photos to connect to that younger part of yourself are ways you can acknowledge the pain.
2. Identify your inner teenager’s core beliefs
Next, Josephson recommends writing down the negative beliefs your inner teenager is still holding onto and trying to identify when you first learned it and who told it to you. “Maybe you were told as a teenager that you can't possibly make a career from being creative,” Josephson says. “Or maybe you were told that you were ‘too much,’ so you learned to silence yourself.” Once you pinpoint those beliefs, she says you can replace them with an affirmation such as: “I am worthy of having an abundant life through my creativity.”
3. Accept your inner teenager
Inner teenager healing requires being your own best, loving parent, and that involves accepting your younger self exactly as they are. “For so long, they likely felt that something was wrong with them,” Josephson says of your inner teenager. “That they weren't good enough, smart enough, worthy of loving.” So when that inner critic comes up, she recommends affirming to your inner teenager that they are safe to be as they are. Josephson adds that writing a letter to your inner teenager could also be helpful to tell them what they wish someone had told them growing up.
4. Remember, healing is a lifelong process
We’re often quick to try and heal and “fix” things. With inner child or teenager healing, however, Josephson says the better approach is asking yourself: Who told me that I need to be fixed or that I need to be perfect to be enough? “Healing is a daily, lifelong practice,” she says. “Savor the journey and be gentle with yourself.”
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