We, as adults, often reminisce about our adolescence with fondness. Those great years with no worry about life and career, the first crush, the first party, endless summer afternoons with friends and so on. The mind has this incredible ability to fade difficult memories like the constant struggle for independence, the academic pressures or that heart-wrenching break up.
Yes, the pain, the rejection, the confusion, all forgotten because that was just 'teenage stuff'. Any serious talk about relationships with the opposite sex and everything that goes along with it is often considered to the domain of adults. If teenagers struggle with infatuations and break-ups, oh well, they will get over it.
And of course most do, but there are a few who are not able to cope with these pressures. The distress may become serious enough to trigger depression. Among the most significant stressful events during adolescence, a break-up of a relationship is considered to be one.
We have to remember that teenagers are still growing up. They are forming an identity of their own and various interactions with the opposite sex help them form their sexual identity. If they have positive interactions it leads them to believe that they are attractive and wanted which in turn boosts their self-confidence and their self-esteem. They experience a thrill that is far more exciting than getting a good grade in a Math exam. If these initial interactions continue, they often transition into relationships.
Young people tend to single-mindedly focus on anything that gives them pleasure and it is no different with relationships. Once they start enjoying the new relationship it becomes the centre of their universe. The world seems like a wonderful place with promises of a lifetime of togetherness.
These relationships, however, are not everlasting. By their very nature, teenage relationships are fragile as are teenagers themselves. When they are faced with a break-up they feel like their world is falling apart and they are filled with feelings of rejection and confusion. Hopelessness and helplessness are common which lead to feelings of sadness. They often become withdrawn due to a breakdown in their self-confidence and it is this withdrawal that further reinforces their lack of self-worth. In other words the less they interact with the outside world, the less positive experiences they will have and consequently less evidence to challenge their negative thoughts.
These thoughts and feelings are characteristic of depression if they last long enough and are accompanied by other symptoms like changes in sleep and appetite along with lack of interest in other activities. Young people are not always aware of constructive ways of coping with their distress and it is this lack of coping mechanisms that aggravates the problem. If only they would reach out and talk to a friend, focus on another aspect like family to feel loved and cared for. But that seldom happens as there is an over-focus on the break up.
At this point the right support and perspective from loved ones can go a long way in helping teens cope with this crisis. They must be encouraged to talk and negative thoughts challenged by more rational ways of thinking. For instance, some common thoughts are 'I am not good enough' or 'No one loves me'. These may be replaced by reminding the teen of the things s/he is good at and of friends and family that genuinely care about him/her.
While not wanting to talk is a problem with some teens, talking incessantly about the break-up is a problem with others. This too is unhelpful and they must be encouraged to distract and focus on neutral conversations. Engaging in activities that were previously enjoyable can help with experiencing some emotions of pleasure once again.
A small percentage of young people may require more time and some professional support to overcome their issues. Particularly those who show signs of depression and are not responding to support in their natural environment might be better helped by a mental health professional. This is useful not only to overcome the present situation but also to ensure that this crisis does not have a long-term impact like developing a fear of rejection or a negative self-concept.
As is true with any difficult situation, this too requires some time and healing. With the right support, teens may emerge out of this stronger, build their strengths and equip themselves with constructive coping skills.
NEXT MONTH, ARPITA ANAND DECODES UNHEALTHY COPING STRATEGIES
Keep your comments coming in right here on ibnlive.com or write to email@example.com. Arpita Anand is a psychologist with more than a decade of experience. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org