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Adolescent Angst

Her voice had the tone of an adolescent who knows everything. What she knew, with conviction and absolute certainty, was that she was ugly. Yes, people said she had nice, big brown eyes. But her face, her face was all wrong. Kids taunted her with how “hideous” she looked; they called her “horse face” and “big lips.”

adolescentShe knew what they meant. She had an elongated, narrow face, big lips, big front teeth and big bulging eyes. She hated how she looked. To her parents, she was beautiful. To herself, she was always “horse face Jackie.” She wanted to hide. She had long straight hair which she used to cover her face. She had a way of keeping her head down and leaning inward, so that people could never get a good look at her. When she was feeling particularly bad about herself, she’d dig her nails into her skin. The pain felt good. It was a distraction from her psychic pain.

Her parents were wondering what happened to the girl she used to be. Just a few years ago, she was a kid who loved to have fun, who ran around with other kids and who hardly ever worried about anything. They knew that kid had to be in there somewhere. Yet, every time they told her how pretty she was, how smart she was, how lovely she was, Jackie would burst into tears, yelling at them that “they don’t understand.”

Yes, adolescence can be a tough time. We hear about kids who are humiliated to death by bullies. That’s rare, thank goodness. It’s not rare, however, for kids to be branded as ‘ugly’, ‘stupid’, ‘clumsy’ ‘slutty’ by peers who take pleasure in humiliating others. If a kid believes their taunts, getting through the day becomes a herculean effort. A heavy heart is a heavy weight to carry around day after day.

Today, Jackie is in a much better place. Happily, she has been drawn back into the world of the only slightly anxious adolescent. It took time, for she could not just shake off the humiliation, no matter what her parents said. She did, however, consent to try psychotherapy to see if it would be helpful.

At first, she’d feel a brief sense of well-being after a session. She could be listened to without judgment. She could speak her mind without somebody trying to change her. She could develop compassion for herself. She could admit that she had become a painstaking perfectionist. She could recognize that she was obsessed with what was wrong with her looks.

Jackie needed to talk freely about her inner thoughts and feelings before any significant change could occur. Much to her parents’ delight, that kid “who used to have fun and not worry all the time” emerged once again but this time she had the maturity and strength of character to:

  • Put hurts behind her, refusing to let them define her or drag her down;
  • Know that there’s a whole lot more to life than looking picture perfect;
  • Recognize that there’s all kinds of beauty;
  • Acknowledge that life creates challenges that require her to think for herself;
  • Appreciate that without struggle, there is no progress.

“They cannot take away our self-respect
if we do not give it to them.”
Mahatma Gandi

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