Wednesday, July 27, 2011

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.


  1. I totally could have written this one too.

    Besides the experiences you described, my mom would get angry at me if she THOUGHT I was looking at her "wrong". I still don't know what kind of look it was.

  2. I remember mom saying that about you being an imitator! It is awful how they labeled us again and again. I still shudder thinking of how terrified you must have been that time when you were 13 and dad did that to you. Just know that all of these things were wrong. You never deserved to have any of them happen to you. You are amazing, and you are free to be whoever you are, whoever you want to be. You can't buy the responsibility to please them, because THEY DON'T WANT TO BE PLEASED. I'm glad you are writing about it all. You are a very brave person.

  3. AMEN! I think this is the biggest problem with families like ours - that parents can't let their kids grow up and become their own people.

    My parents favorite line was "we're not going to do teenagers." Meaning, we're not going to deal with teenage angst, depression, or rebellion. Those things are ungodly and wrong. You're not allowed to be a teenager. What they didn't realize is that those things are simply part of growing up and becoming an adult. But then, that's frowned upon, isn't it? It's all so messed up!

  4. This is so sad. :-(

    I remember when I was in my early teens, I felt like I was the most horrible, rebellious daughter in the world just because I felt misunderstood by my parents... I felt like that the very fact that I would cry and be upset after being corrected wrongly, or that I felt I might be right and my mom wrong, was proof of my horribleness. :-/

    And yes, like Anne said, I'd get in trouble for giving the "look" too. And my parents were always assuming they knew what was going on inside of me. They didn't. :-/

  5. You amaze me. I don't think I could speak to my parents after suffering such horrible treatment from them as a child & continuing to suffer awful treatment & hurtful words now.

  6. Again I ask...

    If it is all so right, why do many of the young women and men end up thinking thoughts of suicide, mutilate their bodies, and encounter severe depression and mental disorders.

    "They" explain those symptoms away as a manifestation of your sin nature, starting the cycle all over again. All it does is cheapen life and speed and empower death.

    I feel for you Enigma and send my love with all my heart. I know it. I grew up in it. The scraping of the crap off your brain is not going to be an easy ride, but you now have many supporters to keep you moving forward.

  7. I'm so sorry you went through that. Parents talk about teaching self control, but yet fail to exercise it themselves.

  8. Wow! I know what you guys mean about "the look." I never knew what would set them off. the only acceptable emotion as joy. but they were far from good examples of that. Incongruous, you'd think that they would listen to the statistics right? Ugh. What's it gonna take to show these people how wrong they are?

  9. The image of your father hurting you physically, emotionally, and spiritually in the bathroom made me flinch as well as weep. **Hugs**