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A Dose of Insight

In today’s interview I talk about the struggle of teens, but in a way that equally applies to adults.

Teens live a lot of their days feeling insecure, weird, overwhelmed, consumed, or let down by life, themselves, or other people. Just to name a few.

They also spend a huge amount of time feeling alone. Alone in their problems because everyone’s busy solving their own problems. Alone because nobody, even their closest friends, can fully understand what they’re up against. Nor can anyone really save them anyway.

They also feel alone because it looks JUST LIKE nobody else seems to struggle like they do.

But if you’re an adult reading this, chances are you’ve felt some, if not all of these things in the past month or week. Or maybe today.

The difference between teens and adults is that for teens, the volume is turned WAY up. Every feeling is loud. The good feelings and the bad.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go to any rock concert. Teens get so swept up in their enthusiasm they’re crying, screaming, and fainting. Nobody does a rock concert like a teen.

But for teens, the intensity and volume is higher because they’re hormonal, which supercharges everything, and they haven’t learned things like restraint, composure, or how to regulate emotions.

As a result, they do look like a different species. At first glance, it does look like adults are human, but somehow teens are made from a different set of pieces.

So parents, the general public, even practitioners in the mental health field can get focused on how extreme, moody, and messy teens are, and start seeing teens as different. As separate.

And there’s two problems with that:

  1. Teens pick up on the theory that they’re different, they’re malfunctioning, there’s something wrong with them, that they’re separate from adults. Which scares them.

  2. Adults start to FEEL separate from them, and like there’s something wrong with them. And when parents feel that disconnect from their teens, they start living in feelings of worry, judgment, fear, despair, or feeling isolated themselves in their struggle. And that creates more struggle for both the parents and their teens.

But because I spend all day listening and getting to know the vulnerable and real side of both teen and adult clients, I have a unique vantage point.

I easily look past the intensity, the mess, and the loud volume of teen emotions, and can clearly see how teens are, in almost every way, EXACTLY the same as adults.

So I share with teens how an adult client from last week, at 54, is in a free-fall of hopelessness because she’s suddenly divorced and has to start a new career, new relationships, and a new identity. And has zero confidence or inspiration.

And how I myself was frustrated, blame-y, and doubting myself just a month ago because of a trivial and ridiculous painting project mishap.

Pointing to how we’re all universally the same in the way we’re built, the way we get lost, the way we always ALWAYS find our way back is, in my view, the real truth.

Yes we’re definitely different from each other and from teens, but we’re more the same than different.

And that’s what brings reassurance, hope, and openness to my clients. Not just the teens and/or parents I work with, but all of my clients. The message I’m pointing to, of course, is what all clients ultimately need to connect with when they get lost.

That’s what I talk about in today’s interview.

To listen to today’s recording, click here or below. You’ll be taken to the podcast series called Under the Noise. This podcast is hosted by my colleagues Wyn Morgan and Kate Roberts.

Hope you enjoy.


Teens, just like us, often spend most of their waking hours fixated and consumed by certain problems, and yet have absolutely nothing to show for their efforts.

All that energy spent, yet they can't seem to move the dial even a single click the right.

So part of my role working with young adults is to give them a place where they can collect themselves, talk openly and unfiltered, and put it all out there.

That gives them a chance to look at things fresh, often for the first time, without all the insecurity and upset, and with someone that's truly in their corner.

It's also part of my role to help them understand WHY life at that particular age can get so overwhelming, uncomfortable, and out of control.

That it’s normal and explainable.

And that it's not because they're weird, broken, or doomed for a life of mental health issues.

To give them a level of hope that things do get better and show them why I say that.

And that in the meantime they can influence things right now in a way that will calm things down.

For a lot of young adults, their daily lives are generally filled with tension and angst. Sometimes in tolerable amounts. Sometimes intolerable.

There’s a few reasons behind this.

For one, at any given moment, there’s pressure to handle things the right way.

Because there's a lot at stake - their grades, their future, their friends, how they come across to other people, just to name a few.

In addition, when they’re not handling things well, it can feel like they’re seeing a sample of how they’re going to be for the rest of their lives.

So if they’re indecisive for example, it feels like they’re going to be one of those scared indecisive people. So that’s another fear they now carry around.

On top of that, for young adults, there’s often more questions than answers: Should I be working harder in school? Do I care? Will I care later? Is this person really my friend? Is there something wrong with me?.

And while all of that’s happening, their emotional life has giant swings.

When they like something - a song, a friend, a boyfriend, a video game, their level of enthusiasm is much higher than what adults get. They get into things 100%. (Which is a huge asset that adults don’t often have, but that’s a topic for another day).

But that also means their negative emotions are big too. When they get insecure, sad, awkward, anxious, or angry, the levels are 10 times higher than ours.

So that’s a sampling of what’s often happening inside the young adult mind that creates so much instability and chaos.

But there’s more under the hood that’s harder to see.

Along with the instability, young adults also have equal levels of strengths and abilities that are less visible and less loud, but are always there.

And with a little bit of insight into the resources they have, they can actually influence how bad things get in their minds. With a bit of understanding, young adults can find more moments of relief, order and peace of mind to offset a bunch of the crazy.

For example, there’s a way teens and young adults will sometimes show up when their friends or family struggle or need their help. They’re calm, focused and confident.

And as a result they’re connected to their sensibility, common sense, and wisdom. And they show up that way on purpose. They know it’s time to drop everything and do that. To get present and open.

Which means that’s an ability they walk around with. It’s a skill they only bring out in certain situations, and it might not look like a big deal to them.

But it doesn’t matter how often they do it. It matters THAT they do it. That there’s an asset right there, double-parked, that they can connect to.

And it’s generally under-used in young adults.

And my job is to show young adults how to understand and tap into some of the survival skills that are built into them more often and more on-purpose.

That’s what today’s video focuses on.

This interview was hosted by my colleague Dr. Anne Curtis as part of a video series.

For more videos from Dr. Curtis, click here.

When I started my private practice and decided to put more energy into helping teens and young adults, I assumed all my sessions would be with young clients.

But what surprised me is that I spend an equal amount of time working with parents.

And stepping back, that makes perfect sense. Here’s why.

In many cases, young people that are struggling are too overwhelmed to put energy into getting help. It takes effort and time to talk to someone like me.

I’m a stranger, and an adult, which most young people avoid talking to at all costs because I could be weird, awkward, judgy or intrusive.

For most young people, talking to any stranger guarantees them some degree of nervousness, anxiety, and self-consciousness. Maybe a HUGE amount. So there’s a risk, and the experience could end up being unpleasant, uncomfortable, and sucky at best, distressing and destabilizing at worst.

For a young person who is troubled enough for parents to have to Google someone like me, they’re just trying to keep it together as it is. They may need help, and often really want help, but can’t handle another layer of tension involved in GETTING the help.

I get it.

When I had two kids in diapers, plus working and running a household, I was exhausted. I was fortunate in that I had family and friends offering to help. But to their frustration, I rarely asked for help simply because it was too hard and complicated to make it happen. It required extra thinking. Extra figuring out. Extra energy.

So if you’re a parent that sees that your kid suffering, yet is unreceptive to professional help, what do you do? Are they help-able from the sidelines?

Yes, they are. When we struggle, the people in our immediate circle can make all the difference in the world. For better or worse.

Here’s what it looks like.

I worked with the mom that had become consumed by fear about her struggling teen, became overbearing, intrusive, and hyper-vigilant (actually the daughter’s term was “uptight.”)

The teen didn’t want help. But I did a few sessions with the mom. The results were immediate.

The mom got her bearings back, and as a result she got more open, warm, and thoughtful. She gave the daughter more space which she realized was needed.

She did little things like let her daughter listen to her music on the car stereo and asked about the show she’d been binge-watching.

Not only did the mom change, but the culture of their house changed. And that created a level of change in the daughter.

In these scenarios, which happen fairly often in my practice, the young people always change as a result of the parent changing, but may still struggle or need help down the line.

But what I’m pointing out here is that the mom in this example went from bringing more tension and upset to her daughter and her parenting, to bringing more clarity and presence of mind.

That kind of shift can turn things around and open new doors.

Ultimately, parents are in a leadership role. The best leaders in our lives have been the ones that can keep their own composure during difficult times. When parents calm down, and become a little more reflective and strategic, the kids inevitably calm down.

That’s the focus of today’s recording. This is a podcast episode.

In this recording, I’m interviewed by my friend and colleague Dr. Amy Johnson.

Click here to listen.

To learn more about the amazing work Dr. Johnson is doing, click here. I highly recommend her podcast and her programs.

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