EXCERPTS FROM ALL MANNER OF THINGS: perspectives for young people on Sex, Self, Relationship, & Life
THERE'S A WHOLE LOT OF NOT FEELING GOOD GOING ON
We already know that some of the choices we make when we’re sexual might be related to how we’re not feeling good about ourselves.
·Does this not feeling good show up in other ways as well?
If someone asked, "what kinds of things do most young people start doing and feeling when they’re pre-teens and teens", what would we say? Whether from our own experience, or watching friends, or hearing about other people, when we think of pre-teens and teens we all probably have similar ideas.
As well as other things, 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 tons of time on social media
getting interested in alcohol or drugs
not being able to make decisions
feeling like nothing is fair
worrying what other people think
feeling like they don’t fit in or belong
feeling they need to prove themselves or be right
judging other people
always 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 bunch.
·Are any of the behaviors or emotions on the list clear signs we’re not doing well, and something’s wrong?
. drinking a lot
. doing a bunch of drugs
. feeling depressed, or isolated
. hurting ourselves
. feeling suicidal
·What about all the other ways of feeling and behaving that happen around puberty? The ones we think of as normal? Are they signs we’re not feeling good as well?
Most all of them are something we do when we’re trying to feel better, which implies we're not feeling good in the first place.
. put down, intimidate, or talk about other people behind their backs, it makes us feel superior
. complain, it makes us feel important, or justified, or part of a crowd who are complaining as well, or gets us attention
. buy stuff, it’s often a quick fix that makes us feel good
. act like we know everything, it makes us feel better than others and like we have an edge
. think everyone is out to get us,
- we identify with other people who think everyone is out to get them as well. We feel like we fit in
- we emphasize our isolation and get more determined not to care, forgive, or feel like we’re of value, which
oddly can make us feel better. It becomes a way out, or makes it seem like things make sense
. get angry a lot, we feel justified or purposeful which helps mask the not feeling great
. act like we don’t care, or don’t engage or participate, we prove our feeling of being different, separate, or excluded is valid which gives us an edge
To varying degrees all these ways of thinking and behaving come from the same place; we don’t feel secure. In some way, each seems to make us feel better.
·If these ways of behaving are pretty common and they’re happening because we don’t feel good about ourselves, why aren’t we talking or doing anything about it?
Most all of them have come to seem like they’re part of growing up and who we are.
Whether we’re gossiping, rebelling, not showing up for school, feeling depressed or suicidal, or we’re unmotivated or getting involved in cliques or choices that are risky, during puberty it’s usually written off as normal. We’ve all come to expect adolescence to be a really rocky time.
Even though they may be worrying or challenging, behaviors like getting angry, hurting ourselves, or being involved in gossip or bullying are pretty much accepted and seen as part of a stage of life that, to different degrees, we all go through. Most of us don’t think to check in on what might be going on or if something can be done.
·Does insecurity and the ways of behaving that come with it only affect pre-teens and teens?
No. It doesn’t matter where we come from, or how young or old we are, the things we do when we’re insecure show up in all of us, even those who seem like they’re the most successful.
There are loads of interviews with people who we think of as successful (because they have money, fame, or seemingly everything they want) talking about how they get depressed and often wonder if they’re any good.
And there are loads of examples of people who seem like they have lots going for them who have self-harmed, overdosed, or committed suicide.
No matter how confident someone seems to be, or "should" be because it looks like they have everything—whether they’re a celebrity, our parent, neighbor, or someone at school—it's pretty much guaranteed they have their uncertainties as well. If we don't address it, the not-feeling-good can last for most, if not all of our loves. Feelings of being alone, unsure, that we're not good enough or don't belong are things we just get used to, as are the ways of thinking and behaving that go with them.
·If just about everyone has times when they’re doing or thinking things because they don’t feel good, why, in this conversation, are we just focusing on when we’re young?
Even though feeling doubtful about ourselves has no age limit, it’s leading up to and during puberty that things usually get pretty intense. It’s when we start to feel like we don’t really know who we are anymore and are trying to figure it out and are sort of lost.
If we can understand why the not-feeling-good begins when we’re young and become aware of the affect we let it have on us, we may be able to navigate it differently.
·Why are pre-puberty and puberty so intense?
There are a bunch of things going on.
First, our bodies and hormones are changing which can be physically and emotionally unsettling.
Second, for most of us our schools, work loads, and friends are changing as well. It can be overwhelming.
Third, when we’re transitioning from being a child to being a young adult we’re probably broadening our horizons quite a bit. Our world is getting bigger, which can be liberating, confusing, and conflicted all at once.
Fourth, the connections we’ve had with our families are probably going through a shift. A lot of us experience more separation, miscommunication, and conflict with those who, up until now, we’ve usually been closest to.
At the same time all this is going on, the ideas that tell us how we should be if we want to fit in and feel like we’re valuable are getting much stronger. These include things like who we should or shouldn't be based whether we’re born a boy or a girl, how we should think, what group we should be in, what sex is, what we should have and wear, and the kinds of things we should be into.
With us changing, and the world we’ve come to know ourselves in changing as well, and a whole slew of ideas about who we should be coming into our orbit, our footing becomes way less secure. It’s easy to feel like who we’ve known ourselves to be doesn’t fit anymore and we’re out of our depth. We’re looking for some sort of identity or definition to anchor us.
This means, not only are the ideas of who we’re "meant" to be getting much louder, we’re also really susceptible to them. Because our sense of self is unsettled and we’re trying to get on solid ground, we give a lot of attention to what other people think, and more than ever we’re listening to and watching what’s around us to figure out who we are, or aren’t, so we can find where and how to belong.
·What ideas do we have about who we should be if we want to be thought of as valuable and feel like we fit in?
There are endless ideas telling us what makes us worthwhile and who we should or shouldn’t be: that we have to behave a certain way, be part of a religion, identify with a particular race, wear certain clothes, or like some kind of music. We’re told what’s important - from what we should look like, to who our friends and enemies are, and just about everything else.
·If there are these ideas about what’s important, how is it we all think differently?
The ideas telling us what's important pretty much depend on where we are and who we’re around. They come from our friends, parents, teachers, governments, communities, and whatever media we pay attention to, and they are all different. For instance, some say we should be pretty, or smart, or aggressive, or good at sports, or sexy, or into drugs, and others say we should not be smart, or aggressive, or good at sports, or sexy, or into drugs. It just depends. The actual value of those things hinges on us and how we perceive them. For instance, some of us think it gives us clout to wear certain brands. Others think thrift store finds are priceless.
Ideas can be opposing and really different, and each of us treats whatever set of ideas we subscribe to as important and true. Here's a fairly extreme example:
Before the civil war in China in 1946, it had been prestigious for people to work as teachers and professors, and to have connections abroad and a college degree. During the Cultural Revolution launched by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1966 and lasting for ten years, approximately one and a half million intellectuals and elderly people were killed, and millions more were imprisoned, publicly humiliated, and tortured. Being a teacher, professor, or someone who seemed to be part of what Maoists believed was a system of oppression, could cost someone their life. One set of ideas of what was valuable and what wasn't took over from another.
Depending on the time in history and the culture, we’re valuable if we have things like kingdoms, or lots of wives, or a rich or strong husband, or a husband who stays home and looks after the children, or a television, or the right body, or a wife who is obedient or gives us male heirs, or people who work for us, or a high paying job, or slaves, or land, or lots of weapons and armies, or the right car, watch, shoes, or if we have gold, or crypto, or money. The things considered valuable are, and have been, constantly changing.
·If ideas of what’s valuable are all different, and we all think differently, how can this be relevant to all of us?
No matter what the ideas and value systems are, they all have one thing in common: they come from a core narrative where the focus of what’s important is on externals, i.e. what’s in our wallet, our wardrobe, who our friends are, our family’s status, the car we drive, the groups we're part of, the causes we believe in, our skin color, where we’re from.
·When there lots of importance given to externals, what happens?
We base our value, or lack of value, on what we do or don't have and how we look or seem to be. As a result we're trying to get more of the narrative's value - land, armies, natural resources, the right belief system, the right friends, likes on social media, enough money, the right body, the right stuff.
We're also comparing ourselves to others using a lens that determines our and their value accordingly. While the degree varies, with this lens there's an inherent better and worse. An us and a them.
·How does the narrative and its ideas show up?
Often the narrative’s ideas are around without us always thinking about or realizing it. As we said, we let all sorts of things tell us if we're worthwhile. Some of us give value to being part of the popular crowd. Others think the alternative crowd is best. Some put importance on having a steady job, others the opposite. What we think of as valuable depends on which of the many value systems we’re choosing to be a part of and the ideas telling us what’s worthwhile and what isn’t that come with it.
However, as we said, no matter the value system, there’s one narrative behind all the various ideas which is consistent. It tells us we need to look, be, and seem certain ways and have certain things—whatever those might be—if we want to be thought of as worthwhile or important. Our value is determined by the externals of what we have or look like, and the behavior and thoughts we’re expected to exhibit based on who we, and the world around us, think we are or should be.
·What does the narrative and its ideas have to do with pre-puberty and puberty?
That’s what we’re going to find out.
We know puberty is a time when we’re broadening our horizons. To different degrees, this is when we’re starting to be around the narrative and its ideas more and more. Because puberty is also when we’re trying to figure things out—who we are, who other people are, and how we all do or don’t fit in—as we said earlier we’re also more susceptible to the narrative and the various value systems and ideas we render out of it. They’re getting louder, they're readily accessible, they or ideas like them have been around for what seems like forever, and generally there are no other apparent ways to measure our worth and know who we are.
Without most of us realizing it, leading up to and during puberty the narrative’s focus on externals and the ideas of definition that come with those externals become our guide. They shape our sense of worth and belonging for most, if not all of our lives.
·If this has been going on for so long, why bother looking at it now?
Puberty has never been easy. These days though, it’s especially challenging:
- what we've counted on as solid and tangible in the past, is less and less reliable. Fake News means we can’t always know
what’s going on; computers can generate anything, from documents, to peoples' images and voices; scams are prolific; cat
fishing is a household term
- online porn and dating apps have brought a new level of normality to disconnected, objectified sex
- value is increasingly given to being part of groups that take sides against others which means polarities are more
and more extreme
- climate change makes for an unsteady foundation
- we’re inundated with choices and accessibility, from what clothes, food, or products to buy, to our gender, and don’t
always have a clear sense of what’s actually going on with us, and what’s right
- social platforms where we share our lives make for constant pressure. We’re always viewing and comparing and,
likewise, are always on view. Our looks, how many likes we have, what our lives seem to be like, what groups
we’re a part of, whether we fit certain brands of cool—we let these things play a big role in determining our value.
As such, social media amplifies the narrative’s focus on our sense of worth coming from externals, and our
reliance on who we seem to be has never been greater.
·So where do we begin?
Given most of us become insecure before and around puberty, and this is also when the narrative comes more and more into play, it’s probably a good idea to see if the two are related.
·How do we discern if there’s a connection?
Some of the main changes and ideas that kick in right around puberty are:
. ideas of who we and others are and should be, depending on whether we’re born a boy or a girl, get much stronger
. ideas of who we and others are based on what we look like or have also get really strong
. Social Media and the Internet become big parts of our lives
. our bodies change
. we feel more sexual energy, and start liking people and having relationships, and sex becomes a possible or actual part of our experience
With the narrative and it’s ideas getting stronger, and these changes happening as well, let’s look at how the two relate. For instance,
- if the narrative bases our sense of self worth on external attainment—a new phone, shoes, car, clothes, the right friends, popularity, status—how much focus do we put on those things? How much space do they take up in our lives? What’s the impact if we do or don’t get them?
·If we realize the narrative has a detrimental affect, what’s next?
Given we’ve been going along with the narrative and the various ideas we form from it for a while, it makes sense to check in and ask, is the focus on externals the way things have to be? If not, then what?
In short, we assess what’s been shaping our experience, determine if our interaction with it supports us, and if it doesn’t we assess whether we want to start laying a groundwork that, rather than magnifying our insecurities, uplifts us instead.
doing risky things
thinking they know everything
gossiping or being unkind
looking for a group identity
having lots of drama
feeling no one cares