Believing positives about yourself when you feel crummy can be difficult and sometimes feels impossible. This is especially true for teens suffering from Anxiety or Depressive Disorders. Often times, teens, like adults, get stuck repeating or focusing on negative aspects or assumptions about them selves, and are resistant to looking for a more balanced or kind perspective. This constant self-criticism not only amplifies negative mood and behavior, but also makes it more difficult to see those positives that actually exist. To help counteract the negative self bias I hear from many teens I work with, I ask them to develop a “Positives List.”
Unfortunately for most, simply writing down positives is not a big enough step to actually believing those positives. The key step to making this process work is in writing a detailed account (1-2 paragraphs) about when, in the past, they actually demonstrated that quality or characteristic. I usually have them write 2 examples, but sometimes one is enough. When appropriate I also have them add when and how it impacted others or their environment positively. This process requires that they begin to search for actual memories to back up the positive they have listed, rather than just stoping with a word bank. Since the event has already occurred it is easier for the positive qualities to be substantiated.
To get started have your teen write down answers to the following questions and coach them to write everything they can think of regardless how small or insignificant they think it may be. Also, encourage them to solicit help from you and others.
1) What do I like about myself?
2) What are some of my achievements (past and recent)?
3) What are some challenges or tough times that I have overcome?
4) What talents or skills to I possess?
5) What do others say they like/love about me?
6) What negative qualities do I NOT have?
7) What are some positive qualities that I share with others?
8) What are some positive qualities that I had when I was a baby/toddler/pre-teen?
Now, have them write, draw, or tell a detailed story of when they demonstrated that quality or characteristic. I prefer to have them write it down so that they can look back on their work later. Take the time to go over each event with your teen so that you can reminisce with them and help add detail to their story from another perspective. Remember, this is suppose to be a thoughtful and safe activity for them to do, not something you “force” or do for them. Getting started may be frustrating and they may only come up with a few qualities at first. That is okay. Try to be gentle and supportive as they move through this process.
If you worry that your teen needs more assistance dealing with low self-esteem, low self-worth, or other issues, consider getting help from a Mental Health Professional or contact Wasatch Family Therapy for a Parent Consultation. 801-944-4555.