Self-loathing manifests in a number of ways for teenagers – it can be poor self-esteem, extreme shyness or even self-harm. They are more susceptible to negative self-talk owing to two reasons:
In the teenage years, a brain is still forming all its neural pathways, or thought patterns. “During these years, people have connections that work 30 times faster than at any other age. When we throw the overwhelming negative self-talk into the mechanics of this pruning, teenagers are the most vulnerable and susceptible to both the short- and long-term effects of negative self-talk,” explains Fatima Abdullah, Psychologist and Managing Director of Dubai-based Enliven Counselling Centre.
The brain’s circuitry, which once responded to a parent’s voice, is now wired to respond more to unfamiliar voices. According to a study, published on April 28 in the peer-reviewed ‘Journal of Neuroscience’, by age 13 and 14, this shift indicates an evolutionary trait that allows for greater peer affiliation. This also means a greater hit to the sense of self when confronted with a jibe or public slight.
Teenagers are the most vulnerable and susceptible to both the short- and long-term effects of negative self-talk.
Evolution and the role of negative dialogues
“Negative self-talk is a dire mechanism of the brain that pushes us to focus on irrational and negative aspects of a situation. The evolutionary aim of negative self-talk was for safety and survival, so that humans could remove themselves from paths that seemed unsafe and dangerous,” explains Jyotika Aggarwal, Clinical Psychologist at UAE-based The German Neuroscience Centre.
“However, this process has taken an unhealthy turn. Negative self-talk, also called Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs), end up catastrophising events in our head. These thoughts bring to our attention the possible worst-case scenarios and replay them in our heads repeatedly. They are mostly made up of assumptions, ‘what ifs’ and self-defeating statements ,” she adds.
The evolutionary aim of negative self-talk was for safety and survival, so that humans could remove themselves from paths that seemed unsafe and dangerous. However, this process has taken an unhealthy turn.
Noticed your child hurting because of negative self-talk? This is how you can help.
Practise empathy: If you see your child disengage from an activity they once loved, ask them why. Listen and validate their feelings. “Let them know you understand them and that they are heard,” says Aggarwal. This acceptance of their viewpoint will help them open up to you.
Challenge and restructure: Once you have their ear, ask them questions about their negative self-beliefs. Ask:
- What evidence supports your thinking?
- Are your thoughts based on facts or your interpretation of the situation?
- Are you jumping to negative conclusions?
- If you were being positive, how would you perceive this situation?
“Once your child has had some time to think and answer these questions, they may able to see that maybe there could be different possibilities than the one they are focusing on. Now, help them re-create a positive yet realistic and healthier statement about the situation,” explains Aggarwal.
Role model: Show them the way by employing your own strategies. “You are your child’s role model at all ages. It is very important that parents talk more positively and realistically about situation, focus more on finding solutions, and show the child how to recreate helpful statements, especially in negative situations. The more you use self-sabotaging statements, the more your child will learn to do the same,” she adds.
Count past successes: Proof is the best weapon against negative auto-suggestion. “Evidence is a great motivator to help remind your child of the good in situations, their own skills and abilities, and help diminish the control of the negative-self talk,” says Aggarwal.
Try affirmations: Get your teen to write a daily list of five positive things about themselves, suggests, Abdullah. “Do this repeatedly so the brain builds an alternative neuro pathway of thought,” she says.
Bulent Ozturk, Medical Affairs Director at Janssen Gulf Cooperation Council, explains that some factors that contribute to the risk of developing the disease are chronic medical conditions, age, family history, major life changes and severe trauma or chronic stress. “In such cases, a detailed and in-depth information map of the teen, the family dynamics and other psychological and biological factors must be taken into consideration. Many other treatments are available for such cases, and the decision for these, are usually taken by the mental health expert in charge,” says Jyotika Aggarwal, Clinical Psychologist at UAE-based The German Neuroscience Centre.
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