"I wanted to make sure I apologized for anything a did in the past to hurt her." That's what my teenage patient said to me, referring to his best friend.
This young man, and his best friend decided to have a conversation about past pain they caused each other. They wanted to clear the air and start over fresh. Nobody told them to do it, it was something they decided themselves. The goal was to forgive each other and grow in their friendship.
This is a conversation most married couples need to have, but they can't, because they're too prideful to be vulnerable. These teenagers didn't know how tough this conversation would be. It was so painful that they decided to give each other a few weeks to process and forgive. They agreed that in a few weeks they would come back together and move forward with their new friendship, free from the past pain.
You think I'm making this story up...?
...but I know, it's sounds too good to be real, but it's real. The only reason I know this story in the first place, is because of this second part. The patient wanted to use our therapy session to discuss how he should approach reaching back out to restart the friendship.
He wanted this to go well. He was aware that in the past he had not done a good job with these kinds of conversations, so he reached out for direction. He wanted to improve in his communication style. This surprised me because, I've counseled adult men who did not have this level of self-awareness, much less wherewithal to carry this conversation.
Many adult men avoid these conversations in their relationships, mainly because they don't know how to handle them and they haven't asked for help like this young man did.
This is the way relationships should be. We should all be this vulnerable, this open minded, this willing to forgive. Most of all, we should all be this willing to ask for help and talk things through. What are we so afraid of? A few tears.
Well his best friend cried for an hour of the conversation and at one point he had to tell her to "cut it out." He took control, he felt it was the right move in that moment. It moved the conversation forward and allowed them to make decisions on what to do next.
In the past, this young man couldn't care less about hurting someone's feelings. In fact, he may have even enjoyed it a little when he did. Today, he is a different man. He is a man who cares about his friends feelings, because he cares about his friends.
I started working with him because no other therapist in the area knew what to do with him. They were afraid of him. I didn't know why. He wasn't evil, he was hurting. Like many men I work with. There anger comes from their pain. They are hurting and they just want to know that they are accepted, appreciated, and loved.
In the early days of us working together, each week I'd ask my patient if he wanted a hug. He would always say no, but I didn't care. I asked him, not because I needed a hug, but because I wanted him to know I was willing, I wasn't afraid. I knew that underneath his pain was a loving man who would soon find himself and feel free to be himself.
Out of safety, the ACA code of ethics suggest not to hug your patients. It's a good rule, but it can get in the way of the therapeutic process. I offered my patients a hug, because I knew he would feel safer with me knowing I felt safe with him.
His parents were so brave. They followed my direct even when it wasn't easy. Each week I'd say, give him his power back. Let him be responsible. They did it and were happy they did. I was honored by that level of trust they put in me. The four of us together got to the bottom of the pain and now without any help from me or his parents, he is digging deeper and gaining insight on his own.
This is not the only mature thing he has done. The truth is he could have stopped coming to therapy a long time ago, I told him and his parents that. However, he opted to continue because he likes the growth he sees in himself and the relationship he has with his parents.
Through this journey, he has learned how to trust his own voice and not the ones outside of him. This includes society and his friends, but this also includes his parents.
Often, from 0-12 parents have a captive audience. After that, teenagers want freedom and responsibility. Many parents find giving teenagers freedom and responsibility hard to do. They want to control their children. Or should I say they have fooled themselves into believing they can control their children. When the teenager pushes back, instead of allowing them to learn they punish them for having their own minds. This is where the programming gets solidify.
So parents, I want to share a little secret with you. You're teenagers do not want the life you have. They don't want to be stressed and angry. They don't want to argue all the time. They just want to be heard. They want to tell you about how you've hurt them in the past and they want to forgive you. But you are so busy trying to impress them with your knowledge and control them with your rules that you can't receive their love.
Freedom, responsibility, fun, and unconditional love is a teenagers idea of a meaningful life. Don't take that away from them because you haven't quite figured life out yet. Learn from them.
Stop trying to be the perfect parent. They know you're flawed. They wouldn't care so much or slap it in your face, if you weren't trying so hard to hide it from them. They wouldn't point out your flaws if you were trying to give them direction when they can that you haven't quite gotten life right yourself. So who are you to give directions.
So, it's not about parenting perfect, it's about parenting well. If you're ready to hear the truth, ask your teenager the same question my patient asked his best friend.
What have I done to hurt you in the past?
Listen and ask for forgiveness. That's it, that's all. No excuses, no reasons, no defense. Just love.
Teenage honesty...Now That's Presidential!
Before I go and see you next week...I thought you might want access to a podcast interview I had this week.
This week, I was on a podcast called Love is Viral, were we discussed why anger isn't bad and why we should see it as a secondary emotion, that offers us an opportunity to explore deeper.
HERE IS THE LINK TO THE IG POST. CLICK THE LINK IN THE BIO: CLICK HERE