In therapy, I speak to many young teens who express their frustration about various aspects of life. Much seems to be happening in their mental world and they often struggle to put their mental world into words. The following is a description by a teenager that offers a peek into their mental world, which may help us understand it better.
I hope to share my understanding of coping mechanisms and frustrations during my early teenage years. One of the most frustrating inducing aspects for early teens is emotional growing pains. As teenagers, we have ample amounts of frustration in our day-to-day life. We begin to realize that we are not children anymore and that we must contribute something of value or significance to society. Even if there is nobody actively reinforcing this it’s natural for us to feel this way. So, there’s a great deal of pressure to become an adult and take on more responsibility. This can be frustrating for those who aren’t yet ready to grow up.
When adults look back on their teenage years all they see are happy times and fond memories. They conveniently leave out the problems and pressures they faced while actually of that age to avoid frightening us. I can recall countless occasions when my parents or my relatives have taken a trip down memory lane and told me wonderous things about how relaxed and fun their teenage years were. Almost every time I hear their stories I end up idealizing that joy and freedom that they so colorfully describe. I think to myself, how is it possible that what are supposedly my “Best years” seem nothing like it? “
“Best years” in itself is such a pressurizing term, it’s obvious why we are so desperate to make these years count! Since not everyone knows how to promptly deal with it, frustration from various things piles up, and then we have strong reactions to relieve this frustration over time. Interestingly enough, that’s where the term “ Moody teenagers” originates. There are a few things that cause this immense aggravation or frustration on our part. Firstly, our education is at a point where there is growing pressure of perfectionism with each assignment. We are at a point where our grades matter more and more with each report card and every passing year is of the essence. Then, this is also our prime time to socialize and build relationships. Relationships come with dynamics, whether simple or complex, and this consumes a lot of our energy over time.
The teenage years are supposed to be when we make some of our best friends. Thus, every teenager is desperate to find that one person who is our “match”. We are also told to explore and create memories and experiences. Lastly, we need to gain independence and take responsibility in preparation for the future. We need to start holding our own, and slowly but steadily start entering the “ Real world”. Everyone tells us to go out into the world and make the best of these “ golden years” so we try to cram so many things into just 7 years of our lives! Juggling all these things at the same time is hardly easy, so obviously it causes stress and frustration. These are just some of the things that largely frustrate us but in reality, many small, daily things as simple as being confronted by someone in an acrimonious tone or being ostracized by our peers for a small amount of time can also cause substantial angst. When we’re in constant turmoil because all around us we hear a cacophony of voices, some offering positive reinforcement and some negative, the last thing we need is to be blamed for having strong reactions now and then and labeled as “ Moody”.
This frustration can affect our everyday life in many different and unidentifiable forms. Each individual has some patterns or habits that they resort to when overly frustrated. Taking my peers as an example, some of my friends are comfortable with sharing, so they discuss their difficulties hoping that they’re not the only one who has that struggle. Others hide from the public eye while internally drowning in all their backlog of frustration. Some people put on a mask and decide to not let anyone see that they are suffering because they don’t want their peers to consider them fragile. Nervous or angry outbursts are also another very common reaction. These responses tend to go from one extreme to another. While all these reactions are perfectly normal considering everything we go through, it also becomes a tendency for people to judge us based on them. For example, if you share, you’re a gossip, but if you’re closed off, you are awkward and shy. If you have outbursts, regular or occasional, you’re peevish or a hothead, and if you put on a mask you are a phony and fictitious person.
The list is endless and with every reaction comes a stereotype for people to judge us by. Dodging these judgments and taking them in our stride is such a big part of our regular lives that, for us, it’s almost considered a skill or art to be able to overlook these stereotypes. At this age, we are old enough to know ourselves well enough to distinguish between the coping techniques that work for us and the ones that don’t. All teenagers are experimenting with ways to be less frustrated or disturbed by whatever ails us.
More often than not, what I’ve called a “reaction” throughout this article is equivalent to our coping mechanism. The coping mechanisms we use are not always healthy. In fact, finding healthy coping techniques that are neither suppressive nor oppressive is something that boggles people of all ages, especially teenagers. I recently realized that the reason I was struggling so much to cope with frustration is because my approach towards it was wrong. My expectations from my coping techniques were mistaken. I thought that coping mechanisms are supposed to be a way for me to be oblivious to life’s idiosyncrasies. However, what a coping mechanism is truly supposed to do is to make these idiosyncrasies bearable so we can overcome them, and avoid lugging around a burden of frustration. This new approach has definitely helped me and I can see a noteworthy change in the way I deal with day-to-day angst.
In this article, I have written about frustration in teenagers to the best of my understanding. Although I have attempted to cover and describe the main frustrations we face daily, everyone’s frustrations and coping techniques are subjective to their personality and surroundings. These difficulties aren’t necessarily limited to teenagers but can be relatable and applicable to people of all ages in their respective proportions and scale.
(Teens section by Shari Khanolkar)
I’d like to bring the focus to two elements in the article. The first one is the element of judgment that the writer mentions. This is the age when a sense of self is still developing. If the teenager gets presented with many conditions of worth by society, he/she can learn to attach their self-worth to these conditions. They might learn the attitude that ‘ I am good enough/acceptable ONLY IF I fulfill certain conditions.’ When they find that most of their choices are negatively judged, they might absorb these judgments and berate themselves.
The second important element seems to be the process of change that teenagers are undergoing. They seem to be on the cusp of most things- they want to change but they are also scared of it, they want to be alone but they don’t want to be abandoned, they want to fit in but they also want to be accepted for who they are. If teenagers can be taught that they don’t have to be only one version at all times, they can take a ‘both-and’ approach to life. They can make space for complexity and variety and learn to accept themselves holistically and unconditionally.
About Author –
Swati Khanolkar –
Director of In Vivo and AEI Certified REBT Supervisor & Faculty
Swati Khanolkar, a trained clinical psychologist, is an accomplished REBT practitioner. She is an Associate Fellow and Supervisor of the Albert Ellis Institute, New York. She has taught psychology at both Graduate and Post graduate levels at SNDT University, Mumbai and affiliated colleges. She has conducted training programs for various corporates and has also been invited as a guest lecturer for several organizations and colleges in Mumbai. She is the Director of ‘In Vivo- The Mumbai Centre for REBT’ under which she conducts regular REBT training programs for students and professionals in psychology. She also conducts self-help group therapy and individual counselling, an initiative that has helped her clients make a remarkable positive difference in their lives.