Ever feel like you’re boxing ghosts at work?… Or worse, that you’re dealing with a room full of inner children? If you haven’t read the first three posts, it might be good to check those out before diving into the topic of the inner teenager. That phrase can be taken several ways, but in our context, it’s best to envision the first two dynamics in action at work—maternal triangulation and paternal approval seeking. When you understand those two ingrained patterns, you’ll see them in the office, in your community, and even at your own dinner table!
I’m the first to acknowledge that not everyone hangs onto to resentment for their mothers. Some of us, grew up without a mom—but society programs us to think of female authority figures as control freaks or nags. Just look at how we can’t wait to tear down a women in any senior leadership role. You could set your watch by it. But maternal triangulation isn’t about disliking our moms, it’s about our desire for independence from them. Later, when we encounter an assertive woman at work or in our personal lives, we reflexively, pull back from her.
The strong woman’s vision, intuition, self-advocacy, decision making, and accountability can trigger our rebellious inner teenager. I’ve seen conference rooms full of them when I’ve spoken my mind or held others accountable. I bet you have too. People’s unconscious bias against us usually shows up as:
- Lack of support and empathy for assertive women
- Shifting into neutral when a woman is in charge
- Or…making poor decisions to avoid yielding to a woman’s logic.
I’ve experienced grown men going against a recommendation or warning I offered, even when the facts were obvious! Absolutely undebatable facts can be summarily dismissed when one’s inner teen is activated. I often share the example of my male peers in the military stubbornly sticking with a route I warned them against—only to end up hurting four people. They dismissed what their own eyes could see on the map to avoid listening to a credible, female leader. It’s maddening—and it still happens every day, all around the world.
The question is—how do we deal with others’ inner teenagers?
That’s a tough one, but the first thing I’ll say is that we must first hang onto ourselves. If we fight their regression back to inner teen/anti-mom mindset with stronger regression of our own, nothing good can possibly come of it. Instead, consider the narrative that your coworker or boss is at the mercy of. When an assertive woman disagrees, defends her idea, or holds them accountable…WHAM! They reflexively resist her. Call it out and they’ll deny it. Their heels will literally dig into a concrete floor.
I recommend that clients not address it in the moment unless that’s absolutely necessary to stop a disastrous situation. A much better approach is to set up a team or one-on-one conversation at a more neutral time, when you can speak your truth about what’s been happening in a less emotionally charged moment. This requires a lot of skill, patience, and ego management…as you can imagine. Speak only for yourself—without accusing others of anything. (Yes, it’s possible to handle this conversation well!)
And remember…hang onto your sanity as you would with an actual teen at home! Figure out what their unmet need is (ego, safety, power, identity, etc.) and try to meet them there in some way. You won’t be able to change the paradigms and mental models they don’t even realize they have, but you can help them feel what they unconsciously need to feel in the moment. Help them satisfy their unspoken needs and watch the wall of resistance come down. This isn’t manipulation, it’s just skillful relationship building!
Need help planning that kind of high-risk communication? That’s what I’m here for! Book a call if you’d like to find out more about Coaching—or check out our Courses page for virtual workshops and retreats.