top of page

EXCERPTS FROM
ALL MANNER OF THINGS: perspectives for young people on Sex, Relationship, Self & Life

CHAPTER THREE:
THERE'S A WHOLE LOT OF NOT FEELING GOOD GOING ON & THERE'S A WHOLE LOT OF VALUATION GOING ON TOO

If some of the reasons we decide to be sexual are because we don’t feel good about ourselves and we want to feel better, are there other things we do because we don’t feel good as well?

 

When we think of pre-teens and teens it’s likely we associate the age group with doing and feeling things like,

 

thinking no one really gets them 

being disengaged/not caring

spending lots of time on social media 

getting interested in alcohol or drugs

not being able to make decisions

feeling superior              

feeling inferior           

feeling like nothing is fair

worrying about what other people think

feeling like they don’t fit in or belong           

feeling they need to prove themselves or be right

judging people and things

buying or wanting to buy stuff

feeling like they don’t want to live anymore

 

If we circled what seems true about ourselves, or teens and pre-teens in general, we'd probably end up with a few. Some of the behaviors and emotions on the list are clear signs of concern. Like drinking a lot, doing a bunch of drugs, hurting ourselves and feeling suicidal.

 

Others we mostly think of as normal. But if we take a look, we’ll see that just about all of them happen because we’re trying to go from feeling insecure or meaningless, to feeling empowered. For instance,


-we put down, intimidate, or talk about other people behind their backs to feel superior
-we complain or get angry to feel justified, purposeful and alive, or to get attention, or feel part of a crowd who are complaining or angry as well
-we buy stuff which, for different reasons, makes us feel good
-we seem like we know everything and feel better than others and like we’re ahead of the game
-we act like we don’t care, or choose not to engage, and feel like we have an edge
-we go on social media out of habit. We want to feel the rush from a like or a connection, or the superiority of judging someone, or want to know who we are based on how others see us and feel like we have definition

 

To different degrees, the various ways of thinking and behaving that can start to happen during pre-puberty and puberty come from the same place; we don’t feel secure or like we belong and in some way they seem to make us feel better.

 

If these ways of behaving are pretty common and they’re happening because we don’t feel good, why aren’t we talking more, or doing more about it?

On one hand, we're talking about mental health a lot. Awareness is very much on the increase and more and more therapy is available.

 

On the other, parents and educators aren't always aware, or don't always know how to help. Also, a lot of what we do and how we feel is accepted as part of growing up. During puberty, if we’re gossiping, rebelling, not showing up for school, or we’re unmotivated, or getting involved in bullying or cliques, or making risky choices, it’s often written off as normal. We’ve come to think of adolescence as a really rocky time that, on different levels, we all go through and will grow out of.

 

The thing is, the feelings of insignificance and insecurity and the ways of behaving that come with them don't only affect pre-teens and teens. It doesn’t matter where we come from or how young or old we are, pretty much all of us experience them and think we don't fully belong and we’re not really loved. In some situations it's super apparent, and in others it's the last thing we imagine someone has going on.

 

There are loads of interviews with people who we think of as successfulbecause they have money, fame, or seemingly everything they wanttalking about how they get depressed and wonder if they’re any good.

 

And there are loads of examples of people who seem like they have lots going for them who bully or act superior, or who have self-harmed, overdosed, or committed suicide.

 

No matter how we appear to be—whether we’re a celebrity, parent, teen, neighbor, stranger, or friend—it’s pretty much guaranteed we all have insecurities, and often the feeling of not being meaningful can last for most, if not all our lives. We just get used to it.

The reason we're focusing on when we're young is because it's usually when the feelings begin. Leading up to and during puberty life can get pretty intense. Often we start to feel like we don’t really know who we are anymore so we’re trying to figure it out. If we can understand what’s happening at that time, and why, we may be able to navigate differently which, in turn, may affect the rest of our lives.

 

Why are pre-puberty and puberty so intense?

It’s a time when most of us feel the need to break away from what’s been familiar and begin to venture into the world. Simultaneously, there are a bunch of things going on that make it easy for us to get lost. Things like,


-our bodies and hormones changing, which can be physically and emotionally unsettling
-feeling more sexual energy, and sex and intimate relationships becoming possibilities in our lives, all of which are tricky to maneuver
-our schools, friends, and work loads changing, which can be overwhelming
-the connections we’ve had with our families most likely going through a shift. Often we experience more separation, miscommunication and conflict with those who, up until now, we’ve usually been closest to
-our world getting bigger; we have more mobility, more opportunities to spend time with different people, and more freedom in general which can be liberating, confusing, and conflicted all at once
-peoples’ expectations of who we should be and what makes us valuable getting stronger, and our own expectations getting stronger as well, which can be stressful and confusing


With all this going on, our footing in the world becomes way less secure and it’s easy to feel like we don't know who we are anymore, or we’re out of our depth. As a result we’re trying to get on solid ground. We want some sort of identity to anchor us so we’re looking for accepted and accessible ways that tell us who we are, who others are, how to go about things, and what makes us all worthwhile.

At the same time that we’re looking for definition, the ideas of what we think makes us and everyone else valuable are getting much louder. L
et’s have a look at what those ideas are.

not listening

rebelling 

feeling depressed

self-harm

getting defensive

complaining

doing risky things

thinking they know everything

gossiping or being unkind

acting tough 

looking for a group identity

judging themselves

experiencing lots of drama

feeling no one cares

 

LET'S TALK ABOUT VALUE

 

Our ideas of what we think of as being valuable span across all aspects of life.

From the moment we walk out the door, we’re clocking everything around us. We note the people on the street—what they have, look like, their clothes, shoes, height, race. We notice what they’re doing—eating, drinking, being on the phone, talking to their dog—and how they’re doing it. We also note the weather, noise, if there are seats on the bus or not, etc. etc. Everything we note gives us information that we attach some sort of value to: the weather is too warm, too cold; the streets too busy, too empty; the person next to us attractive, aloof, wealthy, annoying.

Whether it’s the people outside our door, the food in our fridge, the food in someone else’s fridge, our house, our neighbor’s house, people we don't know, people we love, the traffic, music, politics, news—we evaluate everything, which in turn affects our response to it.


What do we think makes people valuable? What do we think gives them status and makes them worthwhile?
This might seem like a simple question.
Initially, probably loads of us would lean towards things like being royal, being famous, having money, having a house with a pool, an expensive car, a private jet. We might also throw in things like having a big following on social media, and having lots of people who are really into us. But really the ideas we have about what we think makes us valuable are endless. What’s more, lots of us think differently.

For instance, some of us think it gives us clout to wear certain brands. Others think avoiding brands is crucial. Some give worth to the popular crowd, and others think the alternative crowd is best. We say we should be pretty, smart, aggressive, good at sports, sexy, into drugs, be part of a certain religion, have a certain job or lifestyle, or identify with a particular culture, sexual identity, or race, and others say we should not be smart, aggressive, good at sports, sexy, or into drugs, and we should be part of this other religion, or have this other lifestyle or job. It depends.

The actual value of these things—being good at sports, not being good at sports, wearing brands, not wearing brands etc—hinges on us and how we perceive them. What we think depends on the values or "value system" we subscribe to, which in turn largely depends on where we are, who we’re with, and what we’re around. The media we pay attention to, our friends, families, parents, teachers, communities and governments all shape our ideas of what has or doesn’t have worth and where it falls in the status hierarchy.


If the ideas of what make us valuable are varied and we all subscribe to different ones, how can this conversation be relevant to all of us?
No matter the value system or the ideas that come with it, the things we’re given the most worth to have one thing in common: our focus has been on externals.

Depending on the time in history and the culture, we’ve defined our worth by things like being a ruthless warrior, being an obedient wife, being a king, believing there are many gods, believing there is one god, having land, gold, armies, slaves, natural resources, money, the latest home goods, likes on social media, a rich husband, a wife who gives birth to male heirs, a big car, a small car that uses no gas…the list goes on.

Our value has been determined by what we have, what we look like, our background, who our friends are, our title or role, what’s in our wallet, what’s in our wardrobe, the group we’re part of, and it still is. Without most of us realizing it, leading up to and during puberty the ideas of worth that we give the most status to become our guide. They shape our sense of meaning, and therefore our sense of belonging and security for most, if not all of our lives.


Does that mean that, when we get whatever it is we think gives us most status, we’re good?
Lots of us, at some point, experience an aspect of something we give value to, whatever that may be. We get likes on social media, we go to a hip party, we get a new phone, we cut school, we get money, we’re sexual with people, we get good grades, etc.

With these things happening as much as they do, we’d think more of us would be solid and the feeling of worthlessness wouldn’t be around as much as it is. But almost all of us feel it, including celebrities and people who have just about everything we think of as making us worthwhile - like fame, houses, private planes, great vacations, and a gazillion followers.

 

In his memoir, the actor Will Smith said that when he was broke and miserable there was hope, but when he was rich and miserable there was nothing left.

We can have a bunch of the things we think give us the most value and still feel insignificant and meaningless.


Why is it so rare for any of us to find or get on solid ground?
That’s what we’re going to find out.
Given most of us start to question our worth before and around puberty and this is also when we are putting more focus on ideas of value and whatever systems we’re around, let’s see if the two are related.

bottom of page