ParentTip: Bearing Witness to Your Teen’s Struggles

Photo by  Marta Boixo  on  Unsplash

Photo by Marta Boixo on Unsplash

One of the things parents have been telling me lately is that it’s hard to watch their teen go through so much pain.

From a logical place, we may understand that it’s painful to get left out or put down by “friends”. We can recall that things felt more intense when we were teens ourselves. Or, we may know all the facts about the developmental goals of being a teenager, yet we can’t separate that from the wisdom of being on the other side of the teen years.

Add all of that to the primal pull of wanting to protect your baby and I can totally get how hard it would be to watch your teen suffer.

So, if you are struggling with this here are a couple of thoughts and resources for you.

First, if you feel like teen-hood is so foreign to you and you would like to deepen your understanding of the experience of being a teen in the current era, I highly recommend, Untangled by Lisa Damour, Ph.D.

In this book, Lisa provides some excellent insight into the developmental social milestones, what’s going on a biological level as well as a sociological level (ahem, the influence of the digital landscape, etc.) She is also so compassionate to parents and teens and does an excellent job reframing some of the more challenging aspects of teenhood in a more loving manner. The book’s emphasis is on teen girls but much of the book could apply to tweens and teens of all genders.

Second, my expertise is in trauma work and one of the important things about bearing witness to others excruciating pain is to stay internally organized in the process. Essentially, this means to keep yourself cool as a cucumber and present to your teen while they are going through the emotional upheavals. The key is to stay connected without getting all upset yourself or trying to fix the situation or distract them from the situation at hand. Your capacity to be in the experience with them and stay calm role models to them how to do that. It’s subtle, but definitely gets internalized.

If you feel like you can’t connect with their feelings one totally random idea for you might be to create a playlist of music that lit your soul on fire when you were a teen or find an object that reminds you of some emotional aspect of your own teen years. The goal is not to find something that will completely bowl you over but more so something that will simply remind you that you once had similar intense feelings of your own at that age.

Third, staying internally organized may be a challenge. I get it. And for that, I highly recommend the book, Constructive Wallowing by Tina Gilbertson.

This book is all about how to ride the wave of emotions by leaning into them. The backbone to this whole idea is that emotions often get stronger when we neglect them and they often pass more quickly if we would simply let ourselves have them.

One thing that often comes up here in my work with adults and teens is this fear that if I allow this emotion to come to the surface then it’s going to take me over completely. There’s fear that the emotion won’t stop. Tina addresses this as well in her book and offers a lot of ideas about how we can create contained experiences to allow the emotions to flow but in a time or situation limited manner. Some examples include reading a sad book if you’re sad or listening to Rah! Rah! girl power music if you are feeling angry at “the Man” and the like. The idea here is to give yourself permission to feel all the feels during that span of time so you can put it aside and do all the normal, daily stuff we all gotta do.

And, of course, if you ever want any help with this feel free to reach out to us or your therapist if you have one.

Meet Natalia

Hello! I'm Natalia Amari and I love helping young women (particularly, twentysomethings and millennials) overcome experiences of trauma. 

Sound daunting? I know. I get it a lot. On planes. At parties. At the checkout line at the beauty store.

With wide eyes, strangers and new acquaintances in my life wonder aloud how I can "handle" hearing such difficult stories. The truth is that I know what it's like to have a few "difficult stories" of my own. Furthermore, what I hear most in those stories are resilience.

It takes a lot of resilience to even get to my couch despite what happened before. While trauma is challenging, the other side of it is survivorship, strength, and post-traumatic growth. That's incredible to bear witness to and to work with.

Trauma (and stress for that matter) is fundamentally a part of life. The only way to avoid hardship at all is to, in a way, avoid life. Which could be a painful experience in it's own right.

I'm honored to sit in both the pain and the growth of this kind of life experience with my clients.

Additionally, working with twentysomethings and millennials can be equally impactful work. Figuring out how to adult. Sorting out the stuff you inherited from your family of origin and deciding what to own and what to toss. Getting lost in the questions, "Who am I? What am I here for?" Learning how to handle failure and rejection. Realizing you keep dating the same people over and over again. Navigating new boundaries on your own. Putting together a life you own. These are the themes that come up most in my work with young women.

And, it's brilliant work. Too often we minimize this stage of life, but the impact of the choices we make as young adults can be long-lasting. Therapy can help us build a more present and compassionate relationship with ourselves. It can also help us get the most out of our efforts during this stage of life.

Finally, for those who feel intimidated by the idea of therapy - I get it. I've seen the way we are portrayed in movies and TV shows. Either we are cold and overly analytical or warm and unprofessional. Or it's a mixed bag because they had to speed up the plot. Hollywood hasn't nailed it yet.

Because of this, I'm keen to foster a therapy space that is warm and professional, with a few f-bombs and YAS QUEEN'S thrown in. If it feels awkward at first, we can listen to some music, paint our nails, or play Bananagrams. And, yes, it would still be therapy. 

Lightening up the experience can make therapy more accessible and enable us to move towards the harder things at a gentle pace. Moving gently allows for more sustainable changes. And, isn't that the goal?

To learn more about me and how I approach my work, check out my website: and Our Team page here

LifeTip: Constellations of Adaptive Responses


When we experience a stressful or traumatic event our brains activate different response systems.  These are commonly referred to as adaptive responses because they help us adapt, stay safe and survive potentially threatening and/or sudden changes in our environment.

Some adaptive responses are entirely physiological and are a result of the body’s neurophysiological response to stress, threats, and/or danger.  These responses can include the fight, flight, and freeze responses, which are activated by the most primitive part of our brain, the limbic system, and at a most basic level, prepare our bodies to fight, run away or hide (freeze) in the face of danger.  

Additional physiological responses to stress include: panic attacks, hypervigilance, sleep disturbance, and the like.  Even though we are all humans, we don’t always all respond the same way to the same kinds of experiences.  For example, some of us can tolerate extreme sports and roller coasters, while others would find that too physiologically overwhelming.  The same is true in the face of traumatic events.

On the other hand, some adaptive responses manifest themselves more in the emotional, cognitive and behavioral realm.  Some examples of this include being angry, intrusive thoughts, using humor, throwing ourselves into advocacy work to prevent the traumas that happened to us from happening to another, or to avoid dealing with our own trauma history.  These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, really.  There are so many kinds of responses and each person has their own unique constellation of responses in order to get through life.

While it may be hard to understand sometimes, all of these responses are ultimately there to help us survive a given moment or experience.  It’s just a matter of teasing out whether or not they are indeed still helpful in our stimuli-laden, busy, modern lives.  Sometimes too, we find that strategies that worked in the past no longer work in the present and in fact, have become a source of trouble, or maladaptive.  When this happens it can feel like life is playing a big prank on us.

Many adaptive responses are involuntary, however we are also capable of utilizing new strategies, voluntarily, as we learn and grow.  Our work in therapy is centered on promoting self-discovery of the physiological and psychological adaptive responses.  What’s serving you?  What’s not?  What is your body, mind, heart, or spirit needing from you in order to get back in the driver’s seat of your life?  This is the work to be done.  And, this is what we are here to help with.


LifeTip: The Continuum of Stress & Trauma


Image © Natalia Amari

Sometimes the idea that a particular life event is a trauma can feel scary and overwhelming. The experience of labeling a specific event as traumatic or not is, in essence, subjective.

For many individuals, it can be powerful and relieving to name an event or series of events as traumatic. Others may consider a similar event a stressor, and it may be equally beneficial to refer to it as such. Even benign experiences, like taking a walk or eating candy, can be experienced as traumatic due to a history of trauma. Of course, it is also important to note that some events may not cause any stress at all.

Given how subjective these experiences can be, how on earth do we identify a trauma or a stressor?

After we experience an event we perceive it through many different filters, such as:

  • Human Physiological Response (heart beats fast, palms sweat, muscles tense…)
  • Life Circumstance (living alone, partnered, un/under/employed, in school…)
  • Temperament (personality, general outlook/approach to life…)
  • Cultural Norms (attitudes, expectations, traditions, rituals…)
  • Societal Response (news media, social media, local community, school, work…)
  • Resiliency & Vulnerability Factors (the presence or absence of diverse skills to handle adversity, such as social capital, self-efficacy, socioeconomic status…)
  • Prior Life Experiences (history of privilege, oppression, traumas…)

There may be many more filters than this, but these are a few notable ones.

After we perceive the event through these filters, we interpret the information on the continuum of stress and trauma as:

  • Eustress (the good stress that motivates you to work on that paper to turn it in on time!)
  • Distress (you know, when stuff breaks down and throws your day off course)
  • Acute Traumatic Response (an immediate reaction to the experience)
  • Chronic Traumatic Response (an ongoing sense of feeling traumatized by the experience)
  • Delayed Traumatic Response (when the impact remains dormant until something later in life that draws up the prior experience)

Viewing stress and trauma on a shared continuum creates a more open dialogue. One where the individual labels the experience on a continuum based on their own beliefs, values, feelings, and experiences. This continuum then helps to foster more freedom, choice and empowerment. And with this, comes more avenues for healing.