Last Updated on December 1, 2023
Thinking back to your teenage years: what were your biggest struggles?
Do emotional outbursts, the need for independence, and feeling out of control come to mind?
If your teenage years were anything like mine, they were an uphill battle from start to finish. Not only are you struggling to adapt to changing responsibilities and added pressure from family, school, and peers, but you feel so damn ready for independence and to take charge of your life and its decisions!
Except…you’re not allowed to. (For better or worse, but nonetheless, this feeling is frustrating.)
This power struggle and the fight for control over your life can lead you to internalize a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Feelings that follow you well into adulthood. Hence, the concept of the “inner teenager” within you that holds onto unmet needs, emotional insecurity, isolation, and the feeling of being misunderstood.
We’ll cover what your inner teenager is all about, how it’s connected to your adult self, and share proven exercises you can use to heal a wounded inner teenager.
Defining the inner teenager
Your inner teenager is a representation of what you actually went through as a teenager and its impact on you today. Reflecting back on this and identifying the negative experiences and emotions you went through will give you a good clue as to where the healing needs to happen.
This includes the good, bad, and the ugly. On one hand, you may have deep-rooted insecurities, pent-up frustrations, and aggressive defense mechanisms in an attempt to protect your identity and sense of self.
The upside, though, may include strong passions for the things you valued or cared about. Your inner teenager is a strong-willed fighter, determined to get what it wants.
Your inner teenager may serve you well in some ways, and be a detriment to your development in others. Letting go of those negative components, releasing them for the sake of your wellbeing, is the #1 goal. Emphasizing and getting back in touch with those fiercely passionate qualities is your next goal.
How the inner teenager gets wounded
Your teenage years are also often the time where negative coping mechanisms rear their ugly heads for the first time. If you’ve grown comfortable using those coping mechanisms, it wouldn’t surprise me if you continue to use them in adulthood, even if they’re causing you trouble in your adult life.
Some common examples of a wounded inner teenager result from:
- Having a negative self image – as many as 7 out of 10 adolescent girls report believing that they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way. That number is incredibly disheartening. Never feeling like you have good enough grades, or the good enough body, or the good enough clothes can really take its toll.
- Feeling rejected – from peers, from parents, from teachers, from colleges…the list goes on, and none of it feels good. Rejection can happen all throughout the lifespan, but it seems there’s an ever-increasing amount of it during the teen years.
- Being bullied – and I’m not just talking about bullying at school, but even bullying at home. Not everyone comes from a warm, welcoming, and accepting family. Feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, or uncomfortable even just existing as a result of poor treatment from others really affects your psyche.
- Lack of control over your life – while freedoms increase somewhat as you exit childhood and enter adolescence, there’s still a lot that you have no say in. Where you live, what school you go to, the people you’re surrounded by, and many other lifestyle factors. This lack of control can feel really debilitating because if something is negative or harmful in your life, there’s no changing it.
- Adjusting to major change – you encounter so many changes as a teenager. This can easily overload your brain or feel like more than you’re ready for. Moving schools, your parents divorcing, friendships coming and going, starting your first job, navigating romantic love for the first time. This is a lot for anyone to deal with, let alone someone still trying to get their footing in life.
- “Parentification” or being expected to take on a parental role – having to step in to care for siblings, or even cover bills and things that aren’t meant to be a teenager’s responsibility. Due to a neglectful or emotionally unavailable parent, a teenager may be expected to grow up too fast and take on more than they should.
All of these examples can be extremely traumatic on the growing mind. When you don’t even feel stable yourself, these challenges are tenfold.
Think about how as an adult, when you’re put into a negative position (say, a toxic job, a toxic partner, displeasure with where you’re living), you can take action to change that. Teenagers can’t. They stay stuck where they’re at, no matter how detrimental, leaving their mental health to chronically suffer.
Your inner teenager’s brain after trauma
This is why it’s no wonder that teens are actually exceeding the stress levels of adults. This is what happens when a group of developing minds are expected to deal with far more than they can handle.
You should know that facing trauma in your teen years can permanently alter the brain. When the pressure of adverse experiences arises in your formative years, the brain does the only thing it can do: go into survival mode.
This survival mode causes the brain to go on high alert and maintain a constant state of hypervigilance. So much so, that the parts of the brain controlling anxiety grow to protect you, while brain areas that manage critical thinking shrink.
What’s more, the neural pathways related to fear are so persistently activated that you start experiencing attitude changes and shifts in perception.
This means that even after achieving safety in adulthood, and after gaining control over your life choices, your brain will remain hyperactive to even the smallest of triggers.
This is where nurturing your inner teenager is crucial, so you can resolve the impact your adolescence had on you.
This is also why seeking out a good therapist and building a quality relationship with them is so important. Especially when it comes to very complex, lifelong issues like trauma. (If you’re ready to seek therapy, I always recommend Online Therapy as they are the most comprehensive and helpful online therapy platform I’ve found.)
Does everyone have an inner teenager?
Every one of us has an inner teenager. We’ve all been through adolescence, and that adolescence made up a significant part of our development.
Those formative years shaped us in ways we didn’t even realize as it was happening. It’s often not until adulthood that we realize what happened. That’s when we realize “hey, wait a minute, I really may have experienced trauma growing up.”
This isn’t to say that everyone’s inner teenager is severely wounded and in trouble. But let’s be real, no matter how good your teenage years were, we have to admit that is a TOUGH period of time. It’s your first time juggling several responsibilities, high demands, and some pretty brutal social nuances and interactions.
It would be unlikely to assume you made it out of adolescence totally unscathed. This is why healing your inner teenager, or at least re-connecting to it, is worth exploring no matter your circumstances.
When does your inner teenager come out?
Your inner teenager can be seen through the maladaptive behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that you’ve held onto, sometimes without realizing. Here are some common examples of your inner teenager coming out:
- Labeling yourself over one mistake – remember when you said something embarrassing at school and thought to yourself, “I’m such an idiot!”? This is an example of a cognitive distortion that can easily carry on into adulthood.
- Acting on impulse – I’m sure you’ve heard this one time and time again: “teenagers are impulsive!” As our prefrontal cortex develops more and more, we get a better handle on impulse control. But sure enough, in moments of intense emotion, we all slip up from time to time and say or do things we didn’t mean.
- Getting defensive – when you feel insecure about something, you feel like you’re on hyper-defense. Sometimes you may preemptively get defensive over something you think someone will say, even if they never say it! All of this is in an attempt to protect yourself. And as a teenager, protecting yourself is of major importance. This knee-jerk reaction to defend can be a habit that follows you beyond your teens.
Sound familiar? These are just a few examples of many, but if you can relate to any of these, this is a sign to tend to your inner teenager. Dig deep and look into the “why” behind these behaviors and what drives you to resort to them. My inner child workbook helps you break down exactly how to do this!!
Instead of feeling ashamed by these behaviors, take these as messages your inner teenager is trying to give you. Take the time to listen. This is your chance to address past wounds so that you can ease up, loosen the reins, and encourage mental and emotional growth.
By creating this space for yourself, you can heal your inner teenager and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
The Inner Teenager vs. Inner Child
Pin this to come back later! You don’t wanna forget about this info.
You’ve probably heard more about your inner child than you have about your inner teenager, but they’re both pretty important!
Your inner child represents your core needs and feelings. This is where you first develop very basic needs and feelings, like the need for love and experiencing sadness, happiness, anger, and so on. This inner child also holds memories and beliefs from the past, as well as hopes and dreams for the future.
Your inner child is pretty helpless and was ultimately at the whim of its caretakers. If you experienced neglect, abuse, or any negative event that had a lasting impact on you, your inner child needs special attention, nurturing, and re-parenting to heal.
Your inner teenager, on the other hand, has mastered the basic core needs and feelings and is now motivated to act on them. When teenagers are not supported, accepted, or given the space to be independent and grow, they will lash out in an attempt to get those needs met.
The inner teenager is determined to get what it wants. The teenage years are the time where you start to identify your core beliefs, opinions, and your very own worldview. Every teenager needs space to explore this newfound part of them.
When that exploration is prohibited, or the teenager is faced with adverse experiences that hinder their growth, they suffer. This is when you start to see reactions like feeling conflicted, impulsive, and being hyper-emotional.
Inner Child Worksheets PDF
If you want to dive deeper into healing, rekindling, and connecting with your inner child, I have a complete guide on doing so! My 30+ page Inner Child Workbook (PDF) can help you give your inner child the love they deserve but didn’t get.
This workbook will help you:
I highly suggest making sure you cover inner child work AND inner teenager work. Your inner child is the very foundation of your formative years, so addressing this area FIRST will make healing your inner teenager so much more effective.
How should you talk to your inner teenager?
Put yourself in your teen-self’s shoes. What were your biggest pain points when others interacted with you? Did you often feel misunderstood, dismissed, or invalidated? Did you feel like older adults never took you seriously, even though you had something important to share?
These feelings are all too common, and remembering how these felt is your first step to getting back in touch with your inner teenager.
Above all else, your inner teenager needs to be spoken to with kindness and understanding. Being heard, respected, and taken seriously are all important aspects of this.
You might try some positive affirmations for your inner teenager, like…
- I hear you, I see you. Your frustrations are valid.
- You deserve the space to process and feel your way through difficult situations.
- You deserve to explore your most authentic self, no matter what that process looks like.
- You deserve happiness, security, and safety.
How To Heal Your Inner Teenager
Alright, now to get into the BIG reason why you’re here. How do you heal your inner teenager?
To be perfectly honest with you, the solution isn’t so cut-and-dry or quick and easy. It really takes a combination of things, like working through trauma in therapy, processing your past, cutting harmful coping behaviors, and strengthening positive coping behaviors.
But you’ve gotta start somewhere. That’s why I put together 16 proven exercises for healing your inner teenager that you can start doing TODAY so you can heal, thrive, and feel your very best.
16 Proven Exercises to Heal Your Inner Teenager
1. Acknowledge the tough feelings, experiences, and pain
As much as it feels comfortable to “leave it in the past,” avoiding the magnitude of what you’ve been through does yourself zero favors. You have to re-explore those old wounds if you expect to make progress in your healing journey.
But this exercise doesn’t need to be only tough love! Acknowledging your lived experience and all the emotions that came with it can give you the chance to give yourself the comfort, support, and validation you may not have received.
A good way to do this exercise is to open your journal and reflect back on some of the most difficult things you’ve been through as a teenager. Think deeply about your teenage perspective, your emotional response, and the feelings that are still pent up inside you about it.
2. Do things like a teenager
Many of us who’ve been through trauma in our teen years have some variation of growing up too fast. Whether that was because of parentification and needing to take on a more responsible role than appropriate, or because of peer pressure.
Whatever the case was, the pressure to hurry and grow up too soon robs us of living in the moment and experiencing life like teenagers should.
You can’t go back in time and correct this, but you can get back in touch with the things you loved as a teenager.
Going to concerts, arcades, and other activities with friends, dressing in fun outfits, doing wild things like hanging out in a parking lot late at night…lol! Whatever your cup of tea was, let loose and go back to having teenage fun here and there.
I walk you through how to get back in touch with your sense of fun in my inner child workbook, which can prove to be a pretty difficult thing for those of us that had less-than-ideal childhoods.
3. Seek out your internal supporters
Your support system doesn’t necessarily have to only be those physically present in your life. Having a role model, a public figure that inspires you, or a vision of your future healed self are all valid tools for support.
When you’re going through a dark time or you’re stuck while processing a difficult memory from the past, you can ask yourself questions like “what would my future healed self say to me right now?” or “how proud would teenage-me be of how far I’ve come?” Doing this practice can help put things into perspective for you.
4. Pinpoint your inner teenager’s core beliefs
Especially the negative ones. You’d be surprised how one “little” negative statement from someone you trust (or heck, even a stranger!) can seep its way into your belief system.
You could have been told, even just once, that you’re never going to get anywhere in life. Even if you have a million other pieces of evidence against that statement, just one negative message is enough to impact us long-term.
So take a look at the insecurities you still hold onto today. Do you feel self-doubt in any area of your life? Do you feel self-conscious about a behavior or mannerism you do? Where do these negative core beliefs stem from? Try to think back to the root cause, or the very first time, these messages were ingrained into you.
5. Reflect on your relationship with your parents
It wouldn’t be a post about trauma if we didn’t mention your parents, right?! There’s no denying that your parents have a major influence on your sense of self and mental health.
In a few describing words, how did your parents treat you? Were they mean? Obsessive? Controlling? Dismissive? Narcissistic?
What hurtful or manipulative phrases did they repeat over and over again? “I wish you’d be more like your sister, she’s more responsible.” or “I guess I’m just such a bad mom, aren’t I?!”
Next, think about how your parents interacted with each other. Were they always fighting? Did they make you the “middleman” to send messages between them, instead of communicating with each other like adults?
After identifying these things, write down what a good parent should have said or done. This is a great opportunity to practice reparenting yourself. Which brings us to…
6. Reparent yourself
Yup, this is something you can do! Reparenting is the act of giving yourself what you didn’t receive as a teenager or child. To continue exercise #5, take what you identified and journal about what should have been said or done instead.
It’s amazing all the wrongs we see once we look back on things from an adult perspective. It’s sad, but also incredible how much we can recognize right from wrong now that we look back on the situation with adult eyes.
Let’s say your parents made you feel lazy or dumb for not getting straight A’s every semester. If you were a parent to your teenage self, would you have made them feel the same way? Likely not.
Instead, you may say something like, “hey, it’s okay not to get straight A’s all the time. Expecting perfection at all times isn’t healthy, nor realistic, nor even necessary for the real world! You are enough.”
7. Accept your inner teenager
Reminding yourself that YOU. ARE. ENOUGH. (just as you are!) is so crucial to healing your inner teenager. Adolescence is a time of major feelings of inadequacy for many. This pain point is probably one of the most important to address.
Your teenage self was simply trying to get through life, navigate completely new challenges, and stay afloat. You had a lot on your plate, and the fact that you did what you could to make it through that time was more than enough.
Give your inner teenager full, unconditional self love and acceptance.
8. Strengthen your adult rationality and reasoning
So, your teenage mistreatment is becoming much more evident now that you see it from an adult perspective.
Remind yourself that you did NOT deserve to be the victim of bad parenting. That simply existing as a teenager and doing what teenagers do was really, honestly, not a problem. If your parents had little patience or made you feel like a burden for being their child, that is a them, not a you problem.
Strengthen your rationality and logic surrounding the choice your parents took in parenthood. For example, reflect on the fact that…
- Parenthood is a choice. Before someone becomes a parent, they better think long and hard about whether they’re willing to take on such a major 18+ year responsibility. Parenthood is exhausting and that’s just the nature of the beast. But this isn’t your problem.
- Parenthood is a never-ending job of fulfilling a child’s needs. You had needs that deserved to be fulfilled, and it’s a parent’s job to step up to the plate.
- The “difficulty” of a child does not influence the value of the child. Oftentimes, children are “difficult” precisely due to childhood trauma or unaddressed mental illness! You were valuable no matter how much “trouble” your parents believe you gave them.
- Love and acceptance should be unconditional at all times. Being made to feel like you needed to earn your parents’ trust, respect, love, or care and that those aspects are contingent on your behavior is not okay. This does not create a safe and secure foundation for a child or teenager.
The more you remind yourself of the facts and recognize the difference between right and wrong, the more you can reassure yourself that you were not the one to blame for simply being a teenager.
Get step-by-step guidance on healing your inner child and teenager
Feeling out of touch with your inner child? Been through a traumatic experience? My printable inner child journal PDF can help you give your inner child the love they deserve but didn’t get.
This workbook will help you:
9. Remember that healing is a lifelong, non-linear journey
Oh how amazing it would be if we could magically recover from all this the second we turn 18! Unfortunately, this is not so. The wounds of childhood/teenage trauma can cling on long after the damage has been done.
Not only is healing a lifelong journey that takes regular maintenance such as going to therapy, practicing self care, and diving into self-reflection, but it’s also not linear. You won’t always be on an upward trend of “mastering” your mental health. And that’s 100% normal.
Progress can ebb and flow, so go easy on yourself if there are periods in your life where you’re struggling more than usual.
10. Catch yourself when your inner teenager comes out
Our inner teenager can come out even when we aren’t thinking about them. Self-sabotage, acting on impulse, and letting our emotions rule over logic are all ways in which your inner teenager may pop up and cause more harm than good.
This isn’t to say that you should silence your inner teenager. But it’s an alarm letting you know where you need to strengthen your adult self, adapt to more positive coping skills, and healthier ways of responding to stress.
Reflect on when and how your inner teenager comes out. What are some common weak spots or areas of vulnerability where you might be more susceptible to acting on teenage, rather than adult, logic?
11. Put yourself in the shoes of your inner teenager
Can you remember times where you did something as a teenager that you don’t condone now? Of course, as we grow and develop, it’s natural to look back on the decisions we made as teenagers and cringe or disapprove.
But as you pinpoint some of these experiences, can you remember why you did the things you did as a teenager? What were your motivations at the time? Where were you coming from? Practice following that teenage thought process of yours and make those connections.
12. Write a letter to your inner teenager
Journaling can do so much to help you manage your mental health and writing a letter to your teenage self is a great form of this. This is just another way to tell your inner teenager what it needs to hear.
Offer comfort, support, and probably most importantly: reassurance for the future.
I know there were plenty of times during my teen years where I really felt like I was never going to make it out of where I was, and that things were never going to get better.
If I knew that things absolutely made their change for the better, I would have found it easier to deal with the present knowing that it was only temporary.
13. Write a letter your parents (but don’t send it)
This can be 100% private and never needs to be sent to your parents, but the exercise is cathartic nonetheless.
Write a letter to your parents as an act of releasing all the negative feelings you’ve accumulated over the years. You can describe things you wish they didn’t do, things you wished they did more of, and how they could have better supported you.
14. Identify your emotional triggers
Triggers usually result from a negative experience that shaped part of our lives. Did you develop any emotional triggers during adolescence? Was there something you had felt really good and confident about, up until a negative experience with it?
Knowing is half the battle, so identifying your triggers is the first step to learning how to manage them in adulthood. I have step-by-step guidance on how to identify your triggers in my inner child workbook!
15. Always be educating yourself
Thankfully, there are SO many incredible resources on trauma, inner child work, and inner teenager work right at your fingertips. Before my own diagnosis with PTSD, I knew practically nothing about trauma and certainly not any of the ways it impacted me.
I highly recommend the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. This book really deep-dives into the science of trauma and how it rewires the brain and body in ways you’d never imagine.
16. Do recount the positive
While much of this inner teenager guide is focused on targeting the tough stuff, don’t forget to reflect on the positives of your teenage years too.
We all need a break from processing the negatives. Reminding yourself of the positive experiences you had during your teenage years can give you something to smile about and feel comforted by.
If you need help with this activity, my inner child workbook will guide you in finding a happy balance between processing difficult memories and holding onto the good memories that lift your spirits!
Quick Journal Prompts for Healing Your Inner Teenager
- How would you describe your mental well-being in your early teens, mid teens, and late teens? Did they differ?
- What was your biggest conflict between you and your parents?
- What was your biggest struggle socially as a teenager?
- When under stress, what did you usually do to cope?
- What kinds of negative messages were pushed onto you?
- What was the hardest thing you ever went through?
- Did you feel like you were more or less sensitive to change than others?
- What did your support system look like?
- What are some positive coping tools you’ve picked up between your teen years and now?
- Looking back, do you think the authority figures in your life were unreasonable toward you?
- What expectations did you feel like you had to live up to?
- What happened if you didn’t meet those expectations?
- How can you shift toward self-acceptance now, by setting your own expectations?
Want the best results? Work with a therapist.
While these exercises for healing your inner teenager are a GREAT first step, this alone is not enough. These goals require a lot of work to accomplish, and this can’t always be done on your own.
In my own journey with overcoming childhood trauma, therapy has given me some serious guidance that I needed to persevere and finally see real progress.
If overcoming your trauma and nurturing your inner child and teenager is something you really care about, I cannot recommend therapy enough.
Your best solution? Online Therapy. Not only are you paired with a licensed, effective therapist, but you actuallyyyy get a complete mental health toolbox!
- 1 live 45-minute/week video, voice, or text chat session with your therapist
- Unlimited messaging
- 8 easy-to-follow sections, including 25 worksheets
- Activity plan, worksheets geared to you, + a journal
- Yoga and meditation videos
- The ability to change therapists with a click of a button
- Therapy on a secure and confidential platform from the comfort of home
Get yourself the support you need to heal your inner child and don’t do it alone! You can get 20% off your first month at Online Therapy with my link below.