As a secondary school educator, I frequently hear stories of being passive and aggressive, especially from parents. Behaviours like these may have many reasons such as academic, family or peer pressure etc. But sometimes, these reasons have lasting effects on teens mental and physical health if proper actions cannot be taken on time. I recently met one of my previous students who is now becoming a registered nurse from a well-known healthcare institute. The way she was talking to me, it seems like she has a lot to say. We spent almost 2 hours talking about her recent transitions in professional life, where she shared her bitter experiences as well. While leaving, she said, “Sir, you know it’s been four years since I talked that much…I am glad I met you”. I always feel proud whenever I met my students, and after all these years, they still recognize me. However, I know her since school days, and I realize the feeling behind her last words when she was leaving. In today’s pandemic and virtually depressed times, teens are more exposed to mental depression where they don’t want to express their feelings to anyone – making them emotionally constipated.
When I say emotionally constipated, it means the inability or unwillingness to express one’s emotions that create the impression of a cold or unfeeling person. Although it’s a dictionary explanation, I believe when someone resists sharing their thoughts and feelings for any reason only to explode later, which gives the impression that a person is emotionally constipated.
According to the author Jeffrey Bernstein PhD of The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, explains the three signs of emotionally constipated adult children:
They lack empathy. Empathy is the ability to see another person’s perspective. Adult children who lack empathy will likely say you are “too sensitive” because they are not yet capable of having constructive conversations to work through conflicts. This is because they can’t own their feelings or consider yours.
They become desperately defensive. Struggling adult children frequently take swims in Denial River. They try to turn around situations by rewriting the facts to blame others for their own disappointments erroneously. This wall of defensiveness keeps their parents on their tiptoes as they feel emotionally held hostage to their adult child’s warped views of situations.
They are rigidly reactive. I hear many stories of adult children who have seemingly made a habit of responding to their parents in reactive ways that lead to fruitless power struggles. Anger (expressed aggressively or passive-aggressively) is their “go-to” emotion. Often, adult children are not aware of their underlying emotions, such as frustration, anxiety, hurt, sadness, or feelings of loneliness and emptiness.
What Parent Can Do to Unclogged Teens Emotional Constipation?
Parents can play a vital role in unclogging emotional constipation in teens. According to Kathy Hardie, Some effective strategies parents can use to support their teens in learning better dynamic management may include:
- Using nonjudgmental language. It is easy to assume we, as parents, know the intent of the behaviour teens display, but sometimes we don’t.
- Avoiding all-or-nothing thinking and accepting there is sometimes a grey area
- Facilitating independence by providing assistance
- Providing choices and limits
- Be willing to renegotiate and choose priorities
- Providing firmness and gentleness
- Displaying acceptance and hope
- Validating by paying attention, helping your teen clarify their thinking, normalizing your teen’s feelings or behaviours, and displaying empathy and acceptance. When appropriate, offer self-disclosure and vulnerability when your teen is vulnerable.
Lastly, self-care is an ideal strategy to handle emotional derailment. But what do they need to take care of themselves? Exercise? A long bath? Rest? Healthy food? What do they need from another person they can trust? A hug, words of encouragement, or a nonjudgmental shoulder that’s all an adult teen will need from another person. Teens and parents must learn to be vulnerable enough to reach out when they need emotional support and practice self-acceptance while remaining open to change.