by Lauren Angel, MA, LLPC
Being recognized is a value for all of us, but for teens, it is all they see. Am I enough? Not just enough for myself, but “Am I enough FOR THEM?”
In the process of trying to be enough and to please others, teens eventually become discouraged and look inward at what they have been told they are lacking by peers and society. Often times teens stop being themselves, no longer noticing their talents and gifts and instead begin to conform and focus on how to fit in. They begin to believe that they have a deficiency, which predominantly internalizes itself as shame. (i.e., “I am bad.”) This is different from guilt (i.e., “I did something wrong, and I feel bad about it”). Shame is saying there is something about me that is bad or wrong. The damage from this can snowball and destroy teens from the inside out; they come to believe that they will never be enough unless they fundamentally change.
This begins to surface and externalize through eating disorders, cutting, excessive drinking, having sex with multiple partners or turning to Twitter and Facebook for worth and affirmation. “I got 10 likes today; I am having a good day!” Or, “I didn’t get any likes today, I guess I’m not as cool as I thought.” When we do this we are placing our value and whole selves in other people’s hands; others who haven’t experienced our pain, our joy, or our presence. Or who aren’t in the fight with us doing the same hard work of being our true selves as teenagers… and we give them our power. They become the experts on our own lives, and we let them.
We then become powerless. We feel like we are empty, nothing, worthless, deficient.
Stacey Chadwick Brown, a practicing licensed mental health counselor and a member of the American Counseling Association states that “Self-esteem is at the core of everything we do. Low levels of self-esteem create a negative dialogue, an ‘inner critic’ that can really get in the way of achieving goals.”
In teens this is a normal occurrence; giving away power to others who aren’t deserving or worthy of it and having low self-esteem and negative dialogue.
So, how do we partner with teens to help them to take their power back?
- Change your internal “soundtrack”: there is a tape that plays over and over inside all of us. Change the song! Begin to listen to music that makes your heart sing! Songs that feel true to who you are. This can be saying no to a party where there will be excessive drinking and yes to going to a movie with close friends instead. One of my favorite songs is Try by Colbie Caillat
- Take better care of your body: Our bodies hold anxiety and stress more than we know. It tells us without asking us when something is wrong, so pay attention! What is your body telling you? More sleep? More self-reflection time? Go on a walk, go to a yoga class, have quiet time and prayerful meditation to unwind, journal what you are feeling, draw what’s going on internally, or go to a kick boxing class with friends.
- Exercise self-compassion: Recognize you are not alone. We all are imperfect and have experienced similar feelings at different points in our lives. Connect with the parts of you that you think are “unlovable” and say to yourself: “I matter,” “I accept my emotional self.”
- Ask for help: Counseling is a great way to begin to address what is going on internally and to talk about what has been silent for a long time. Talk to your family, a friend, a mentor, a pastor, or a friend’s parents. It is important to address your internal messages and allow yourself to reclaim your power and voice.
You can do it. I believe in you.