Unleashing My Inner Teen: From People-Pleasing to Authentic Self-Expression

“Be more afraid of losing yourself than losing the approval of others.” ~Unknown

Sometimes, when I feel restless, I listen to angsty music that I used to listen to as a teenager, such as Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance, Paramore, and Bullet for My Valentine.

I can still belt out every lyric to Misery Business with precision, without missing a beat, and with perfect intonation (okay, so maybe not the last one). As I was listening to music from my past, I tried to make sense of this inner restlessness.

Why has this been coming up for me so much and what is it trying to tell me?

Finally, it dawned on me—my inner teenager wanted out, and she wasn’t going to stop until she got the last word. She wanted to display her creativity, put herself out there, and express herself authentically. She wanted a way to make sense of her experiences, and I wasn’t allowing her to be seen or providing her with a vehicle to do so.

I had been thinking about sharing my writing online, but my fear of facing potential rejection and disapproval from friends and family was stronger than my desire for self-expression.

When I was younger, I loved to express myself online. I loved parodying my favorite YouTube videos with friends, such as Shoes (2007) and Candy Mountain, Charlie (2007). I would go to school, come back from volleyball practice, and work on my AIM away messages and Myspace profile for funsies.

I would go outside on a Saturday afternoon and take ~eDgY* and arTsy* photos of myself in an outfit and hairstyle that perfectly matched my mood, with a facial expression that conveyed the most precise emotion I was feeling at the time. I wasn’t just sad, I was melancholic; I wasn’t just happy, I was jubilant.

After about 500 poses and 1,000 pics later (I wish I were exaggerating), I would select a photo, change my Myspace song, and update my layout. I loved how a picture, song, and overall aesthetic told a story. I was posting visual diary entries for all to see.

My desire to express myself was so strong that, like many now early thirty-somethings, I taught myself basic HTML code to ensure my Myspace background fit my profile perfectly. I would change my profile as often as the color of a mood ring changes.

I was very in touch with my vision and had an eye for beauty and art. I loved that I could listen to Pop Bottles by Birdman featuring Lil Wayne one moment, and Have You Ever Seen The Rain? by Credence Clearwater Revival the next.

I used to love filling out those Myspace surveys in which you would answer basic questions about yourself and your opinions and post it publicly for your friends to see. I would craft answers that I thought cleverly displayed my personality and interests, and I took great pride in what I wrote and how I wrote it.

I would even go so far as to purposely misspell words to break free from the rigid structure that was being imposed on me in seventh grade English class (and because some words look better when spelled incorrectly like liek).

I truly did not care if one person or a million people saw my responses and liked what I had to say; I was going to post them anyway.

Somewhere in early high school, I stopped taking quirky photos, stopped posting cringy surveys, and stopped changing my page layout.

My thinking shifted from “I don’t care if one person sees this or likes what I have to say” to “If even one person sees this and doesn’t like what I have to say, then I’m not posting it.” It happened so insidiously that I can’t even pinpoint it to a cyberbullying incident, nasty comment, or slight roll of the eye.

When I entered high school, I became a strict parent to my teenage self. When she wanted to post how she actually felt, I would tell her to go to her room and not come out until she’d calmed down and was “thinking more clearly.”

I grounded myself, which is ironic, considering I now use the word grounding to talk about bringing oneself back down to earth and being real.

Looking back, I was never more real than when I was sharing how I felt in a way that felt true to me.

The fear of being ourselves is something we pick up on as impressionable teenagers, whether this is directly experiencing bullying or ridicule or witnessing it happen to others.

It causes us to go into full chameleon mode and shove the most real parts of ourselves so far down that we struggle to access our genuine feelings and opinions.

If we do this over and over, we become strangers to ourselves.

When we do not have a creative outlet, the internal restlessness builds and builds, and the internal voice becomes louder and louder. At first, it sounds like a gentle drying cycle, but eventually, it sounds like putting a pair of cleats in the dryer: distracting and likely to cause some dents.

Self-expression is an important part of the human experience and, if left unfed, will starve your creativity.

It’s kind of like learning a new language—if you don’t use it, you lose it. It will eventually come back with practice, but it might sound like Spanglish for a while.

But what happens when you use Spanglish in Spain? You’re embraced by the natives for at least trying. The same is true for any new skill: writing, painting, dancing—there will always be haters, but there will be ten times the number of supporters. We all love an underdog story.

I’m realizing that if fourteen-year-old me can cultivate joy and patience with the process of learning how to code HTML for a rinky-dink Myspace profile with some hearts on it, then thirty-two-year-old me can learn how to relax and write a blog post to share what I’ve learned in life and love, even if my writing is a bit rusty, and with poor grammar and punctuation and run on sentences such as this very sentence.

Your inner teenager is gunning for you whether you like it or not. They promise not to rack up the monthly Verizon bill or install LimeWire on your computer.

You can either be the parent who listens and encourages self-exploration, or you can restrict access and take away the keys, pushing your teenager to rebel.

My guess is, if you’re still reading this, that you resonate on some level with the need for a creative outlet for them; or perhaps you’ve already figured this out and needed a reminder.

“So, darken your clothes, or strike a violent pose, maybe they’ll leave you alone, but not me.” ~My Chemical Romance

About Ally Unger

Ally Unger lives and works out of her home office in Scottsdale, AZ. She is an online Relationship Coach for women who are anxious in love. Follow Ally on Instagram or TikTok: @allyunger_

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