My Inside vs. Your OutsidePosted: June 16, 2014
A client’s mom recently asked me what I see as the biggest challenge for teens. I thought about all of the work I have done with so many different teens and answered based on what is most commonly discussed in my sessions. As teens walk through the hallways of their high schools they encounter hundreds of peers at each class passing and scrutinize the clothes, hair and bodies of their classmates. These teens see what appears to be ‘put together’ kids who look happy, confident and surrounded by friends and compare this image to their own inner struggles of anxiety, depression and low self-worth.
I remind my clients time and time again that they are comparing what they feel on the inside to what they see on others’ outsides. A teen who is feeling insecure and shy sees a bubbly group of kids walk by and assumes that the bubbly girls are happy and ‘perfect’. What the insecure teen doesn’t know is that Ms. Bubbly’s parents may be getting divorced, she may be failing in school or she may have an eating disorder. Another piece of this puzzle is that as low as the insecure teen may feel, Ms. Bubbly might look at her and think that she has it all together and is stress free.
One never knows what is going on inside of another person or what happens behind the closed doors of what appears to be the perfect home. Too often we assume based on what we perceive to be someone’s happiness, and so many times we have assumed wrong.
I have clients tell me that they work really hard to look “happy” at school so that people won’t know that they are suffering. I ask if they share their sadness or problems with their friends and most of the time they say that they don’t; they don’t want people to know, they don’t want to burden their friends or it is just easier to not discuss their pain. I’m grateful that these kids are able to open up to me (or rather break the silence after gentle therapeutic coercion; they rarely want to talk to me either). I do wish they had others with whom they felt safe about disclosing their personal challenges.
I have yet to meet the ‘perfect’ person. I share this with my clients regularly and the notion that everyone has challenges and bad days. It is true that some suffer more than others, but there is no one that is issue- free. Often I use the word “human” when trying to impress upon my clients that no one is perfect. We are all human; we hurt, we laugh, we grieve and we celebrate.
I must say, we grown-ups often fall into the same patterns of comparing our insides with others’ outsides. That one has a nice car, great kids or perfect vacations; not so true. Just like with the teens, we adults are not always aware of the struggles that our peers endure. If you or your teen falls into the “compare and despair” habit, try to remember that things aren’t always as they appear.