Helping Teens Be Kind to Themselves

Shame is seen as a dark emotion, much like grief and anger. It makes you feel inferior, unworthy and not good enough. The society we live in is a pressure cooker for breeding shame in our youth.

Brené Brown’s work shows shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, suicide, bullying and aggression. It shows itself when we close off from others and distance ourselves through a sense of not belonging.

Have you ever taken the time to think about the definition of shame? Perhaps you thought that being ashamed is the feeling when you do something dishonorable, disgraceful, or immoral? Shame self-talk is the feeling “I am bad” (as opposed to guilt which is “I’ve done something bad”), “I am not good enough” and “who would want me?”. 

Here is the revelation that we need to teach our kids: Shame is rooted in our innate desire to be loved. It’s a pretty innocent emotion and unites us all in the common desire to be liked and accepted. Shame is rooted in the belief that something is wrong with us, making us unlovable or flawed such that we cannot be accepted by others. 

The antidote to shame is self compassion. Growing up, we were taught to be kind and compassionate toward others, but nobody ever taught us the crucial skills to be kind and compassionate toward ourselves! This means talking to yourself in the same way you talk to someone you love when they are struggling. 

How to help a teen be kind to themselves

  • Teach them about shame, and its root in simply wanting to be loved and accepted.
  • Encourage them to write down how they might speak and act compassionately towards their best friend when they see them having a hard time. Then ask them to write down how they might speak and act towards themselves in the same, compassionate way. 
  • Help them discover what triggers them. It could be their appearance, comparing themselves to others on social media, or making a mistake in class. 
  • Encourage them to talk about it, as secrecy intensifies shame. It cannot survive being spoken about and being met with the empathy of someone trusted.
  • Be empathetic and listen.
  • Give them a reality check: Would they treat their best friend the same way they are treating themselves?

Most teens add to their struggles by unnecessarily judging themselves when problems and challenges arise. When they learn to treat themselves with the same kindness and compassion they show their friends, youth can build confidence, reduce their stress and anxiety, and face life’s challenges with more balance and resilience. 

It’s comforting for them to know that when they feel alone, useless and hopeless, there are some very simple things they can do to support themselves.