Social media influence is something few teens are exempt from. And nowadays, the messages being broadcasted on various platforms are, in almost every area, extremely polarized. Take self love, for example. There are glamorous, perfect, beautiful human beings making us feel ashamed of our bloated bodies, but there are also increasingly iconic role models that encourage us to throw the opinions of others completely out the window. So, as a mundane, naive teenager, which voice do we listen to?
It is indisputable that love of others cannot be achieved before the love of oneself. I myself, however, find it very difficult to adhere completely to both voices. In many parts of Asia, it seems that people are more likely to follow the former. It is especially common for young girls to control their diet, workout, use certain types of skincare to at least become part of the effort of “beautifying” young people that seems to be the fad right now, there. In the diverse West, it is the consensus of some youths that empowerment and disregard for others’ words are essential. After all, if they disagree with us, they are “haters” and do not need to be addressed. I have tried to follow both trends. However, I don’t believe it is far-fetched to say that a balance can be struck between the two, as with nearly all uncertainties in life. As to where that balance lands, I feel it best to belong to the decision of the individual.
Starting in fifth grade, I went through a period of complete uncertainty of myself. I had moved to America, and my English was becoming somewhat fluent. I soon caught up in my class and landed myself comfortably above the average test grades, so academics was no longer a concern. Transitioning from a culture of high pressure and one single goal of getting to a good college to a world full of possibilities, then, I suddenly found myself at a loss for purpose. What do I do? Who am I?
It is unfair to attribute this hilarious existential crisis entirely to the chaos that is puberty. After all, due to the nature of my parents’ work, my benevolent grandparents had spoiled me for ten years. The symptoms of over-sheltering a child was beginning to manifest, and it was not pretty on me. I was often angry, disrespectful, and rash. I bullied my sister quite often and used my bilinguality to curse up a storm every day. I upset my friends, and hated myself for doing it. I paraded my achievements around and alternated between the polarity of feeling so confident in myself it was as if I could shove my head into cloud nine with a light hop, and the terrible dread of time being wasted and self insecurity that I couldn’t express at the time. It did show, though, through the terrible day-to-day interactions with people, which I most definitely always screwed up.
I took up gaming and endless YouTube surfing in the middle of 2016. It was all downhill from there. I would go to school, yell at someone (or worse, get frustrated at myself), then come home and head straight to my room to play hours of mobile games on my phone. I couldn’t pinpoint the terrible feeling I had before going to sleep every night, but it was hate. I hated myself, my life, and every person within it. It’s so absurd to be that upset about a life that included three meals a day, infinite entertainment, and countless kindness. But I did it. I hated myself. Soon, that hate manifested itself into a need to be noticed. I pretended to sleep in class to earn the censure of my teachers. I imagined seeing the devil (a much kinder version than that of any religion, since my typical Chinese family is atheist and I didn’t have much preceptiong to go off of), and uttered gibberish around people that completely weirded them out. I talked about anxiety and self harm, and in truth I was thinking about it, though I never went to the lengths of actually hurting myself. Some became concerned, and reported my words to authorities. I went to the principal’s office at least one every year of middle school. The first two years, it was for concerned students reporting what I said to the principal. During eighth grade, I got into a fight. (Although, in all objectiveness of hindsight, that was for once not my fault.)
It is not fun not to love yourself. Again, that means you can’t love anyone else. And really, what is life without love? Every day just becomes a confused blur of ingestion and digestion. Words don’t matter, neither do actions. You have to cope with this hollowness somehow. You have to find the thrill in life that makes you look forward to, and that’s when some kids take up relationships, or the Internet, or weed. Frankly, none of these options are as healthy and rewarding as loving yourself.
I lamented my loveless fate sometime this year, and the last. I can’t tell what triggered the change, and I still don’t know what marked the shift from gray sameness to the vibrant appreciation I now have every day. Maybe it was my grandma, whom I had depended upon for daily affairs for the better part of 13 years, having to go back to China to renew her passport. Maybe it was the birth of my younger brother, who taught me the beauty of life. Maybe it was high school and its lieu of interesting classes. Maybe it was my rekindled friendship with my best friends. Perhaps turning 14 had something to do with it. What I do know is simply that I did things differently, and that this new way worked.
The mindset is really key when it comes to self-adjustment. Outwardly, my life might not have changed much to observers. I still had a 4.0 GPA, a variety of interests, a keen desire for good books and good music. However, you know when life is not it for you. And you, yourself only, knows when you are loved by you. For me, the ability to wake up, smell my grandma’s delicious home cooking, and breathe in fresh air under a blue sky is just such a blessing every day. At these moments, I know I am loved.
Finishing work is difficult, but desirable. I love it when I’m productive, but I do let myself take breaks. The best part is being rational about your internal feelings - after all, anyone can feel euphoria or despise. Neither of these are sustainable feelings. Having the sweet sense of appreciation trickle steadily through your everyday life is what makes a difference. I took up working out, and saw how lucky I was to be built relatively athletically, to have no major ailment that inconvenienced me. Volunteer work taught me the value of cooperation and the beauty of community. I found my passion in political interest and learning about human rights. Being indignant about injustice is part of me, and I love it. I love my drive that comes from it. I have come to terms with every bit of myself. Not complacently, but gratefully, and determined to love myself more every day.
In order to come to peace with yourself, you must understand that others will never stop superimposing (even often unknowingly) their way of life upon you. And you, in turn, will never stop desiring another way of life, different from your current one. However fulfilling, productive, or gratifying your status quo may be, it is human nature to want change, stimulation. and pursuance of the unknown. So do not run away from it. Come to peace with your unique superego, and let it guide you to higher and greater places in life. It should tell you to be where you need to be, and if circumstances allow - by all means, pursue that goal. Although self appreciation is complicated and it manifests itself in me in a multitude of ways, coming to terms with myself for me is one paradigm: strive for the better, and strive for what you want.
I have come to notice that every one of us goes through more or less the same process at some point in our lives. It’s a repositioning, a period of confusion often ends better than the way it started. If you have never struggled with this, that’s amazing. I hope you continue to live your fulfilling life, and end up achieving great things. If you are currently going through something of the sort, and a bit lost with what you really want to do, know that you will overcome this. As long as you actively pursue a purpose, you will find it. To sum things up, I’ll leave y’all with a few lyrics from one of my favorite songs.
What is the you that you dreamed of?
Who do you see in the mirror?
I gotta say:
Go on your path
Even if you live for a day
Do something and put your weakness away.
All the best,
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers with a platform to share and help others from their own experiences while also educating others on different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all teenagers around the world and support others. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.