“I hate you!”
“If you loved me this wouldn’t happen!”
When your teenager lashes out because all their problems and pain are your fault and now you’ve ruined their life, it’s heartbreaking.
It’s like stabbing a knife in your heart, twisting it around, ripping it out, and then driving over it a few times. It feels so unfair having sacrificed and loved your child for so long in ways they can’t imagine.
Naturally, you feel triggered and start defending yourself against the verbal shots. Conflict erupts, perhaps more hurtful things are said, the conversation ends, and disconnection settles in. For many relationships, this pattern shows up often and rarely ends well. Neither of you feel heard, you both feel attacked or made wrong and the source feelings under the anger never get resolved.
“So, I’m just supposed to take it?”
- Model listening and not having to be right as you get to the source of your teen’s outburst.
- Demonstrate self-regulation knowing your teen’s feelings and thoughts are theirs and those don’t define your value.
- Hold boundaries around words and phrases that cross the line of disrespect and resume listening when things have calmed down.
Perspective is truth whether you agree or not. You and your teen may perceive and experience a moment in time totally differently based on filters of personality style, values, experience, and more. Getting into a pissing match is a waste of energy.
The fear of being wrong.
Your brain is wired to avoid being wrong because that got you killed in primitive days. Admitting wrong requires emotional intelligence and confidence in your identity to not feel threatened – two things your teen’s brain is still developing. You can be right about having sacrificed, loved and given every little thing you had in you to be the best parent that you could be. And your teen can be right about how hard it is to be a teen, feeling unheard, misunderstood and all the rest.
Defensiveness is a toxic communication style and coping mechanism when taking ownership of a particular experience or result feels scary. Your teen thinks it defines them as a failure so in the moment the adrenaline rises in their body and their brain goes into fight or flight, they blame you because that feels safer.
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Connect and validate.
Anger is a bodyguard of fear and sadness. Anger feels powerful and in control whereas the other emotions are vulnerable and scary. Validate your teen’s anger so they’re more likely to release it and get to what’s really going on.
“You sound really angry. Is that right?”
“It sounds like you’re really upset right now.”
“I’m sorry that happened. It’s really frustrating.”
When they’ve calmed down, ask your teen when they wanted to happen (only if they’re ready to talk about it and haven’t already answered this). Validate whatever they say.
“I get it, I’d want that too.”
“That would have felt better, I’m sure.”
“I understand why you’d want that instead.”
Your teen may break down in tears because you’ve broken through the covering anger to the vulnerable source. Avoid fixing or rescuing and keep listening and validating.
Talk about failure.
The only way your teen will stop blaming you for everything bad in their life is when they feel heard and they know it’s safe to fail. Sharing your stories of failure, the missteps and messes, know how you felt, what you learned, you make it safe for your teen to fail.
Sharing valuable life experiences with your teen also shows them you’re not expecting them to be perfect, you won’t label them as a failure and you’ll still love them regardless.
If you want your teen to take responsibility for uncomfortable emotions and results they don’t like rather than blaming you, make it safe to fail. When you have bad day, model taking responsibility for your feelings by expressing them without blaming the traffic, your boss, your dog, the lady at the check stand, etc. Your teen is watching and the way you manage tough emotions sets the tone for what’s normal.
Get more tips and specific scripts to navigate through defensiveness and other common pitfalls with your teen in my complete communication guide today! After 15 years of working with parents and teens I created “How to Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice” to address the top nine breakdowns with videos, the underlying science, and everything you need to improve communication with your teen quickly and start connecting.