Am I enough?

Life is full of anxieties, and many of them are perpetuated by our perceptions. Am I too tall? Am I too thin? Did I say or do the “right” thing? Perfectionism takes over. Repeatedly, we rule our daily lives with these little insecurities that overwhelm our senses and make us believe that we “have to” fit into some sort of mold. That somehow, we can find the right fit, the right way of doing things, the key to success, then we will be set for life. We trick ourselves into chasing the unachievable, perfection. All in the hopes that once achieved our lives will somehow have more meaning to the grander world around us. Adolescents are struggling with these thoughts too.

Adolescent Over-Achievement and Perfection

With the changing of the school structure due to the pandemic of 2020, growing pressures from peers to share grades and grade point averages, increased coursework from teachers and high achievement demands from the Board of Education, it’s no wonder why teens are turning to perfection as the solution to their problems. Dr. Veronica Raggi, Ph.D. with Psychology Today, states, “Teens high in perfectionism typically hold false beliefs that their negative self-critique is a necessary precursor toward greater commitment and persistence” (2022). Ultimately, teens are under the impression that if they are disciplined enough, their determination is great enough and the effort they put forth is irrefutable, then they can achieve perfection. But, at what cost? Seemingly, this repetitive thinking could be linked to a higher rate
of depression, high levels of anxiety, self-harm, and potentially other physical ailments such as hair loss, weight gain, and delayed response times. In the same article, Dr. Raggi goes on to say, “[Teens] engage in repetitive negative thinking about their problems or experiences that are intrusive and difficult to disengage from” (2022). This type of thinking is commonly referred to as “problem saturation,” or the belief that no new information can be recognized, processed, or added to the situation (Low, 2019). They are mentally stuck in the problem without an end in sight. It’s hubris to think it can be done “perfectly” 100 % of the time. This means that we are seeing a higher rate of school burnout, career burnout, and general work and life dissatisfaction (Jagodics, Nagy, Szénási, 2023). So, what can be done then if adolescents cannot see past their negative belief system?

Counseling Impression and Tips

It starts with teamwork and a massive support network. We must build resiliency and focus on the underlying strengths that are present. Turn their maladaptive behaviors into superpowers so to speak. For parents, this means teaching and modeling to their children what it looks like to accept failure comfortably. Difficult, I know, and yet this can be done by first avoiding your own self-criticisms and modeling self-praise (“I made a mistake on this, it’s okay and I know how I can find the answer to this.”). Second, praise more for being present rather than praise for doing (“I can see that you are focused and care a lot about what you are doing.”) Third, sit with them when they are struggling to find a solution without adding input unless they ask for it. Forth, avoid labeling and judgments (“You did well today,” “You’re brilliant,” “You can figure this out without help.”) instead try highlighting strengths used with openness and curiosity (“I saw how patient you were being earlier by how you took a deep breath and stayed calm.”, “Walk me through how you did this. I want to learn more about…”). Above all empathize with their experiences, model how you would reframe the situation, and if you don’t know the answer admit it and find support together! By admitting failure and showing a willingness to learn from your mistakes, you show them how they can become comfortable with failing themselves and see past the problem.