Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teenage Identity Crisis

Every kid reaches that age where they struggle to discover who they really are. It is natural to the process of growing up. We stop defining ourselves by our family, and start defining ourselves by our friends. We naturally want to push the limits, push our bodies, and push the rules. During this time, our dreams and feelings are larger than life, and Oh-so-real. Parents often make the mistake of shrugging off the teenage years as a “faze” in which their kids are overcome by hormones. They often chuckle behind closed doors about the latest “teenage moment” and make their kids feel patronized and misunderstood. Parents long for the day that their teen’s hormone levels will normalize and they will have an adult on their hands instead of a large, moody child. Talking and listening to your teenager is the best thing you can do for them. As young adults, all we want is to be taken seriously, and to be heard. The teenage years are a beautiful, fragile time in which children become adults.

In a Fundamentalist Christian household, the teenage years can be a very different story. My parents didn’t want their daughters to grow up. Ever. We were trained to serve and submit from an early age. Pushing the limits was NEVER tolerated. Emotions were either irrelevant, or labeled as rebellion. As early as age 11, I remember having those “teenage moments” of huge emotion. Like every kid, I felt misunderstood and unjustly suppressed. Instead of being asked how I felt, or what was wrong, I was taught that my emotions were the manifestation of my sinful nature.

Tired and sore in all the wrong places? Laziness, Sloth.
Sad, depressed? = Bad Attitude, Selfishness.
Anger? = Rebellion.

Whenever I showed emotion, my mother would be disappointed. “this is isn’t the Sarah I know!” she would say. “who are you trying to imitate?” She wouldn’t let me see my friends anymore. Not even my cousins. Because I was “copying” them and not acting like the sweet happy daughter she knew. Instead of asking me what was wrong, or how I felt, she questioned my identity. As a teenager, I was already struggling to discover myself. She told me that she knew me better than anyone else. I tried so hard to be who she wanted me to be. How could she love someone who wasn’t her daughter anymore? I second guessed every word I said. I was paranoid that my motives were impure, that I was a copy cat, that I had no personality. I am still struggling to trust myself, all these years later.
 I remember at around age 13 I rolled my eyes at my dad. This was a BIG no-no. Sighing, stomping, folding my arms, and rolling my eyes were all deserving of a spanking. He grew angry and ordered me to come to him for a spanking. The injustice of it all welled up in my chest and I suddenly shouted out “No!” He was shocked. I was terrified. My legs took over and I took off running down the hall. I had never run from him before. He caught me, in what turned out to be one of my worst memories of my dad. He grabbed me by the arm and threw me into the bathroom. I tried to apologize, but he mashed my face into the corner. I screamed and I cried and I begged, and I hated myself for every “I’m sorry” and every “please stop.” I had hand prints on my arms and bruising on my face. The wooden spoon left bruises all over my newly developing body. And I hated myself. My mouth had betrayed me. If I hadn’t shouted that word this would never have happened. My body had betrayed me as well. If I hadn’t ran away, my punishment would not have been so severe.


 I hated myself for not having total control over my sin nature. I started cutting myself. I picked apart shavers with a pair of tweezers and saved the individual razor blades. It was freeing to exercise this type of control. It was like bleeding out all my emotions so they could not cause me problems throughout the day. It was freeing, it was addicting, it was frightening. My body learned to crave punishment, and I learned to oblige. When growth spurts made me so hungry it hurt, I agonize over every bite I ate. I would stare for hours in the mirror, begging for the courage to deny myself these gluttonous urges. I cut myself again and again. For every extra bite, for every surge of anger, for every misplaced tear.

My parents were happy with me. I was showing self control. I was being their sweet compliant daughter again. My mother was happy to have me back. She thought she knew me so well. Thought she had encouraged me right back into the girl I used to be. But every conversation was tailored to please. I had no idea who I was anymore. I was a bloody, torn mess, buried under a hard shell called Self Control.

 Parents, your children are going to change. Please let them. Don’t pretend to know them. Ask them questions, listen to them talk, and understand that their reality is just as important as your own. Don’t use the teenage identity crisis as an excuse to avoid meaningful conversation. You’re children will grow and change whether you want them to or not.

If you want to have any influence on the rest of their lives, embrace them for who they are.

10 comments:

  1. I remember the first time I defied my mother. It wasn't pretty. I finally backed down, but it was the first time I tasted the freedom of independence and self-worth. Shortly thereafter, I bolted.

    Love you, kid.

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  2. Oh, how I understand. I remember those same "this isn't the daughter I know" and being cut off from others who must be negatively influencing me in that way. To simply be embraced for who I was...I can't even imagine what a difference that would have made.

    It's been such a long journey to get to the point where I no longer confuse my mother's views of me with how God views me.

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  3. This post was, frankly, terrifying to me because it sounded *just like me*, down to some of the stories you told. The details vary slightly but I have a very traumatic memory similar to the one you shared regarding your Father. I also started cutting.

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    1. Trinity, i've found so many stories from other bloggers that have stopped me dead in my tracks just like that! its so freeky when other's have memories so similar to your own. it helped me to know i wasnt alone, and neither are you!! ((hugs))

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  4. As a mother reading this blog, thank you so much Sarah for sharing. It's a bewildering time for mothers as it is for teens and yet everything you write is not just a wake up call to us but vital if we are to love teens the way you need and deserve to be loved. I am both grateful and humbled by your post.

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  5. i just love the article and kudos to sarah fpr sharing with us!!!

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  6. There is an unseen tragedy here. Your parents never got to truly know the awesome, courageous being they brought into the world. One can only imagine the self denial they exercised on themselves that enabled them to treat their offspring in this manner. Victims always pass on the pain and whether they mainly externalise it or internalise it it has to go somewhere and the result is a diminished humanity. Kudos to you for sharing Sarah, it's the only way change can happen. I wish you peace and joy and hope your parents find the same.

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  7. Hi Sarah,
    I am quite old (57!) and I found my way to your blog by accident, searching online for 'teenage identity crisis' - I'm a writer and was doing a bit of research for a new book. Your posts have touched me deeply. What a brave, beautiful woman you are - a true inspiration!I hope your life is as wonderful as you deserve.

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