Mental wellbeing for young people

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Kate Middleton photo Kate Middleton · 20 Jul, 2020

One of the things your teenage brain-in-progress is trying to figure out is WHO ON EARTH YOU ARE!

It's all about identity baby, and did you know that your brain holds 3 different concepts as an adult that are all about who you are and how other people see you?

Here they are ...

1 - Who AM I??

This is about YOUR concept of who you are - good bad and ugly (we hope you don’t think too much that’s ugly, but actually the challenge here IS that - recognising you are not perfect (newsflash: no one is) and getting a good balanced idea of your strengths, weaknesses, brilliance, and flaws. The things that make you, you.

So when you hit early adolescence you’ve spent most of the time growing up only really thinking about life and the world from your own perspective. Got a younger brother or sister? They pretty self-focused? Yeah well so were you. Then you come out of that time and your brain starts to light up and form adult-type connections - and you realise that people are all different. So what does that mean about YOU? I mean - are you NORMAL?! How do you COMPARE to others?

At this point, most people like to hang out with others who are kinda like them. So being part of a tribe really matters and feeling like you fit in. Being different isn’t so great … I mean we all like to be individual but its a bit of a challenge when you’re in this zone. Don’t worry - it’ll settle but if right now you do have stuff going on that marks you out from others it might help to understand why that is so unsettling.

2 - Who do you think I am?

So here’s an interesting thing: you get to choose to some degree what other people see in you. I mean, we all know that most of our thoughts are very much better STAYING IN OUR HEAD after all. But what does it mean when you feel like you’re a different person in different spaces? Because you can be - people don’t necessarily know the REAL you, so if you hang out with different groups you can play a different role in those places. And especially in our world of social media you can LITERALLY play a role and set up a version of yourself for people to see.

To be honest this whole thing can get a bit confusing in the teenage years. Because you’re not totally sure who you are yet so it is kind of your job to try out different versions of yourself. But that can get complicated if you start something then decide it isn’t really you after all but by then you feel committed … or when you feel like you change, so suddenly don’t want to hang out with the same people anymore. Or if you end up with more than one Instagram account for different aspects of your personality. I mean, I struggle to find enough to post on one.

Most of all the thing to explore here is trying to find spaces you CAN be yourself - which includes sometimes not being sure who that is. And people who you can feel confident do get the real you. So, in this phase, intense friendships become really important - and they can get REALLY intense emotionally because having someone who understands you matters a LOT. Don’t worry about that - it's normal - and try not to confuse it with all the stuff around about sexuality - it can just be about who you’re mates with and doesn’t necessarily mean anything more.

3 - What should I be like?

Well, this is a thousand dollar question eh? Because once you start to get an idea of who you are, it's an obvious question - is that ok? And self-esteem is about basically thinking you are ok. I mean not the MOST AMAZING PERSON EVER (that’s not self-esteem, its arrogance buddy), but also not thinking you are UTTERLY USELESS (very unlikely to be true though we all have moments it feels like that.

What you’re after here then is BALANCE - a good idea of both what you are BEST AT and some inkling of the things that might not be your strongest qualities. But then …

Well, because it isn’t QUITE that simple, is it? Because we all feel under pressure from some spaces or places or people. And so once you start to get a sense of what you should be like, suddenly loads of other people have an opinion. Like your teachers (they tend to think you should be good at their subject eh?!), parents (hmm, they’re probably after polite, pleasant, basically civilised?), mates (hopefully they think you’re cool or they’re not great shakes as mates) - but also other places like the media (pretty sure we’re all supposed to be prettier, cleverer, richer, more popular?…).

So if your sense of who you are is BASICALLY in line with those other pressures, then its all ok but sometimes we get to feeling like someone is just disappointed in us. And sometimes it is OURSELVES because we look at stuff online, or other people’s social media accounts, then we look at ourselves and we feel like we just don’t match up. And that can make us feel rubbish.

The tricky thing to remember here is that those things we compare ourselves to are often not real - like Instagram only showing you about 1% of someone’s laugh (the tidy, photographable 1% that looks REALLY good … with the right filter of course …). Or they have a hidden agenda - like the teacher who WANTS YOU TO WORK HARDER! Or just work at all. Anyway, the thing is we have to remember this stuff when we manage the pressure we feel about what we think we SHOULD be like.

So - who ARE you?

Still not sure? Nah well, don’t worry neither are a lot of people your age. And a lot of people older than you. Figuring out who you are is a real journey - and actually, it continues into adult life because your concept of yourself is constantly adjusting and evolving as life changes and you face new challenges and learn new stuff about yourself.

So don’t freak out in the moments of mayhem or if you feel like you’re wearing a mask or disguise. It's normal to have these times and you’ll get more clarity as you explore yourself more and more and grow in confidence and experiences and stuff.

Enjoy the journey of exploring your identity and try out lots of different versions of yourself. Most of all though know this - you are AWESOME! No one else can be you. And even on the rubbish days that is something to be proud of.


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