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Why I'm Challenging Myself to Heal My 'Inner Adolescent' as an Adult

When COVID-19 quarantine hit, it caused many of us to do some intense personal reflection and take some “life inventories.” Mine made it glaringly obvious that I had a lot of healing to do when it came to my relationship with myself. I was focused on filling my “happiness tank” and “quality time tank” with other people’s love and attention. I realized that’s not only unfair to those around me, but it’s also impossible to sustain in the long term. So I set off on a self-discovery adventure during which I acted on my own love language and took myself on creative “self dates” every few weeks until my relationship with “me, myself, and I” was the strongest, most reliable connection I had in my life.

But that’s not what this is about. This article is the love child of the unexpected lesson I learned from my “self date” challenge. I learned that adventure is my “healing language.” I know I can stick to the assignment when I make it bigger than therapy sessions, journaling, and reading.

I was in a therapy session a few weeks back, still working through the “intake awkwards” with my newest therapist as she tried her hardest to learn everything about me in a few hours, and I tried my hardest not to burst out in tears with every question. She gave me the classic “Mhm, I see” with a head nod, and I was immediately intrigued by what she had to say next. She told me it sounded like with everything I experienced in my childhood and early adult years, I had inadvertently skipped a whole phase of development: the adolescent years, which form our identities. I went from an innocent child exploring my own imagination and soaking up as much fun as possible to an adult juggling responsibilities, decisions and consequences.

I took this concept home with me. It played over and over in my head as I attempted to return to work, make myself dinner, and engage with my family. I thought about it before falling asleep at night and immediately upon locking eyes with myself in the mirror the next morning.

I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD). I had a lot happen in life pretty much back-to-back, and it all shaped who I am and how I react to people and events. What I never stopped to consider, though, is that those events had robbed me of the “identity shaping” period of my childhood. My struggles with things like making new friends, choosing hobbies, and responding to people telling me to “Tell me about yourself” finally made sense.

Naturally, I took myself on a new healing adventure. I want to use this time to explore and identify myself. Using Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development as the foundation for my exploration, I have committed to a new “self challenge” in which I go back to the “identity versus role confusion” stage of development — which most people go through as teenagers. I want to finally learn who I am.

That means answering several questions about myself. Who am I to myself? Who am I in my social relationships? Who am I in terms of my beliefs? What do I stand for? What do I like and dislike?

Here’s how I plan to do this. Each month for the rest of this year, I will commit to a specific age in adolescence and build experiences around that part of development. I will expand on Erikson’s age bracket just a little bit, starting at age 10 instead of age 12 and moving all the way through to the “big 18.” In the spiritual world, we hear a lot about “inner child healing.” As of today, I am committing to “inner adolescent healing.” I want to come out of this experience with an improved sense of self.

I plan on sharing updates on my identity challenge each month. I invite you to join me if you feel like your inner adolescent could use some extra love and attention too!

Getty image by Maskot.

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