By Kelly Skeen and Michelle Skeen, PsyD, authors of Just As You Are
How many times have you looked at your phone today? 10? 20? 30? 40? If you’re an average tween or teen you’ve looked at your phone 46 times. And, you’ve spent a third of your day using media—Instagram, Facebook, online videos, and music. Maybe you do it without thinking.
Have you ever thought about how all of these images are impacting your beliefs about yourself and others? It’s likely that, knowingly or unknowingly, you are comparing yourself to the images you see on your feeds every day. All of us struggle with some aspect of ourselves. This feeling is reinforced and likely made worse by social media and the constant and ever-changing messages you receive about what you need to do, to look like, and to act like in order to be accepted. It can leave you feeling like you need to hide parts of yourself that aren’t perfect and/or don’t fit within the norm. This by itself feels like a setup for failure.
As you might imagine, your beliefs about yourself are a mixed bag. You probably hold some beliefs about yourself that are positive. Maybe you make friends easily, you have great hair, you are close with your siblings, you excel academically, you’re good at sports, and so on. But you also likely have beliefs about yourself that are negative. In fact, this might mean that you are hiding parts of yourself because you fear being judged, not accepted, or both. You may feel that you are outside of the norm in some way. There might even be aspects of your identity that you have no control over or you don’t like—such as your ethnicity, religion, family, culture, height, eye color, body type…you get the point.
Of course, there is even more of your life that is out of your control, because you have parental figures who control parts of your life that you have little or no say about—where you live, what school you attend, activities you are or are not allowed to participate in, who you can be friends with, who you can date—the list goes on. There’s a good chance that you feel inadequate, flawed, or not good enough as a result of some of these factors.
Every teenager (even the ones that seem perfect!) struggles with feelings of inadequacy, defectiveness, and unworthiness. This impacts your feelings of self-worth, which might be holding you back or getting in the way of satisfying peer interactions and acceptance. Like most people, you care what other people think of you, and you probably spend at least some time comparing yourself to your peers. Social media feeds our natural tendency to compare how we measure up to others. This can result in feeling that you are flawed—not as perfect as other people might seem. When these feelings get repeatedly reinforced over time, it can lead to shame, depression, anxiety, and isolation.
We are all wired to connect with others, and when we do make healthy connections, we thrive. So it makes sense that we would want to be accepted by others, and we would fear being found not good enough and rejected. In fact, you may go to great lengths to avoid judgment or rejection from others. This might include seeking affirmation from others, being unable or unwilling to make decisions without approval from others, or having difficulty hearing even mild criticism.
You may find it difficult to accept and share parts of yourself that are out of your control, or you may feel like you need to be a certain way to be liked and accepted by others. Or you may focus more of your energy on others to distract them from the ways in which you feel insufficient. You may already be thinking about the parts of yourself that make you feel less than, or that you hide from others because you fear the response you might receive. And you might even be aware of the ways this holds you back from realizing your full potential or building the relationships that you long for.
The truth is that you don’t have to keep hiding from others or comparing yourself to others. You are beautiful and perfect just as you are.
Lifelong struggles with feelings of unworthiness and inferiority begin with beliefs formed when we’re teenagers. Just As You Are empowers teens to identify and eliminate these beliefs now, before they take root and cause problems like depression, addiction, and failed relationships in adulthood.
Michelle Skeen, PsyD, is author of seven books, all designed to enhance relationships by emphasizing the importance of identifying core values and valued intentions, limited thinking, mindfulness, self-compassion, empathy, and effective communication and conflict resolution skills. Michelle and her daughter, Kelly, coauthored Communication Skills for Teens and Just As You Are.