I had an interesting conversation with my son the other day. He is a senior. We were talking about friendships and how he views the culture in his high school. He made an interesting observation: “The kids in my high school all act like they don’t have any problems. They seem to put on a face and I have yet to have a real conversation with anyone. This is probably why all of the suicides lately in our area take everyone by surprise.”
I’ve thought a lot about what he said. And then yesterday I had a breakthrough myself. I was listening to a book about parenting and the authors talk about messages–the messages we tell you, our children: you’re beautiful, you’re so smart, you’re a great student, you are kind…or the opposite: you’re dumb, you look awful today, you can’t do anything right, you just weren’t meant to get good grades…
I reflected on some of the messages I got at home and school while growing up. One message was: “You’re perfect.” I heard it a lot in school because I got good grades and I had standards. I’m sure that everyone sending me this message was trying to build me up and make me feel good about myself. What I realized yesterday was the underlying message I took from this: I can’t ever make a mistake because I’m perfect. I need to do everything I can to be exactly “perfect” so that I don’t disappoint everyone that is giving me this message of perfection.
The result was years and years of “doing life on my own.” It was difficult to reach out to anyone and tell them I was struggling because that meant I was not “perfect.” It meant that I could be great at helping someone else through their struggles but I could not allow them to help me for that would show weakness which I equated with imperfectness. Although this has never led me to want to commit suicide, I can completely understand how another person in a similar situation may turn to suicide as an answer.
You have been given a message about yourself from your parents and friends. What is it? Is the message helping or hindering you? I invite you to rewrite the messages that are not serving you and then read the new messages every day. This will help to rewire your brain. Click here for an example of what to do.
In my particular area where I now live, I wonder how much the message of perfection is being inadvertantly taught. If you are a teenager living by me, you would know. Learning how to have real conversations with the people around you can help you in breaking free of the message that life is meant to figure out on your own. It can also help you to be healthy minded and to rethink any messages (specifically those in your head) you may be getting about suicide.
If you are struggling under this cultural subconscious belief, please trust me when I say that the adults in your life are not giving these messages to hurt or confuse. We just don’t know another way. I for one am learning a new way and that is why I am writing this.
TO PARENTS and TEACHERS: praising children and youth is important. The difference is praise that creates a false expectation and praise that helps the child/youth to see their genuine talents and gifts. For example: a child gets a high grade on a paper. Praise that says: “I really like how you developed the thesis in this paragraph. That shows a creative mind.” or “The way you used those two colors on that tree shows really good thinking.” These examples leave the child with the message, “I have a creative mind/I am a good thinker.”
Conversely, if the only praise the child receives in these situations is, “You’re a fantastic student,” the message could be, “I can’t ever get a low grade in school because I’m a fantastic student.” The pressure can then be immense–pressure to perform and pressure to not let on when they struggle.
I believe that being aware of and acting upon this idea, particularly in this area of the world, may drastically reduce what is contributing to the suicide epidemic. Let’s do our part in seeing below the surface by giving meaningful messages!