Have you ever felt bad about yourself for what felt like no reason at all? Do you sometimes prioritise the opinions of others more than your own? Do you feel pressure to conform, uncomfortable saying no, or simply being who you are? This was and sometimes still is me and bit by bit, I'm learning to empower myself through self-acceptance, self-confidence and an understanding that I am enough. I hope this blog post helps you do the same too.
For a long time now, I have realised just how much other people's opinions can affect how I view myself. Not only do the views of others affect me, they also have an impact on my relationships with family and friends too.
An example of this is recently I was told that my relationship wasn't going to work out with someone due to the fact that we had “different friends”. This upset me because they were implying that their friends were “cooler” than mine or simply “better”. This may seem rather insignificant and “petty,” but at the time it really upset me and made me feel unwanted and hurt. It is so important to acknowledge and recognise your feelings as opposed to feeling pressure to conform to what others think is 'petty' or 'small'. For me, this was big and had an impact on me. I was able to overcome it with the right support from people I trust and my own self-care and wellbeing practices, I have now realised that I don’t need to constantly be pleasing or taking on the advice of other people, but what is most important is that I am and continue to be happy in myself. To do this, it's really important we take time to process our feelings, think about our reactions, trigger points and ways in which we can overcome adversity too. It helps with confidence, growth and self-acceptance too.
Of course, it is important to listen and acknowledge different voices and often they do help in different circumstances. But, it is important to realise the difference between constructive criticism and negative judgment. It is also key that you realise who is providing the information that you may take to heart. If the person has been in your life for a long time and you have built up a strong relationship, then it may help to trust their judgment - not always, but sometimes. If they are not, and someone who you really don't have a relationship or level of respect for (which is entirely ok to admit from time to time!), it's totally acceptable to breathe, smile and move on!
Teenagers can inadvertently be very judgemental of each other, of themselves and sometimes completely unintentionally. I have been in many situations when I have overheard hurtful and harmful gossip; sure, it might seem like 'nothing' but again, being kind is often underestimated and overlooked. It gets you nowhere when talking negatively about others; it's a waste of time and energy, energy that could be spent doing so many other positive things, like taking care of our own wellbeing!
As teenagers, there is so much pressure at school, with friends, family, ourselves and the online world. We need to do more to support one another and not be part of a toxic bullying culture. We don't need to be unkind, pick on each other and make people feel uncomfortable. Instead, when we see unkind behaviour we should call it out, not engage and encourage each other to be kind, fair and caring. Personal happiness and self-acceptance are more important than thinking a few minutes of unkindness can bring any kind of joy?! Being mean should not be something we aspire to or want to be.
To help with self-acceptance I believe that you should surround yourself with people who believe in you and want the best for you. It can be hard to find those sorts of people in life. Finding the right type of friends takes time, but once you do it is the best feeling. Simply knowing that you can totally be yourself around people is amazing.
It is also necessary in life to try and be the friend that you would want to have. Not only does this encourage greater self-reflection, but also allows you to understand the qualities of positive friendships. Friends are just as important as family in my opinion, especially in a school environment - you need your safe space, your fun space, the space where you can just be.
Whenever I used to feel like people were judging me, I felt like disappearing and completely escaping the situation. However, people can often judge others when they feel insecure in themselves, unhappy with a situation, or they simply are not someone you want to be around. Now when I feel judged or made to feel uncomfortable, I really try to reflect and think:
Who is this person and I do I need, respect or will I gain anything from their view?
Does their advice have my best interests at heart?
Will I be happier and feel better if I take it, or simply move on?
These can be really good questions to ask yourself, especially when growing up at school. They can help you avoid conflict and develop a greater sense of confidence and self acceptance too.
Not only does peer judgment occur in person but it happens just as much online. This causes many issues between friends and peers as they feel that they can't escape it.
For me, social media has helped me to maintain friendships, especially over lockdown and times when I couldn't see my friends. Although, for many people the internet can fuel abuse and judgment and to avoid this, teenagers should not engage in negativity online, block toxic accounts and report harmful behaviour. There is always someone to speak to at school and it's so important to communicate when we feel overwhelmed and unsafe online. Switching off and reminding yourself of the good you're surrounded by whether that be through journalling, talking to friends and family or simply going for a walk and listening to a podcast, can really help you disengage from toxic social media.
Surround yourself with people that make you feel happy and good about yourself. Don't talk ill of other people. Focus on positive energy, positive thoughts and values of kindness.