As a life coach for teenage girls, my coaching sessions address everything from academic pressure to poor body image to stress management. Even with such variety, one issue in particular has proven to be the true foundation of teen girl development; identity formation.
Identity formation has long been considered a hallmark of self-exploration and is largely concentrated during the teen years. Girls are constantly inundated with messages about how to look, act and live. My clients often explain how their minds swirl with thoughts like, â��Who am I, really?â�� and â��Where do I fit in?â�� The pressure to fit in can feel insurmountable and often lead to confusion, sadness and lack of fulfillment.
I’ve been working with Bree* for nearly three years, and have watched her blossom into a thoughtful, kind and self-aware young woman. When I came into Bree’s life, however, the picture was not so rosy. As a preteen, Bree told lies in order to live up to everyone else’s expectations instead of developing her own. Naturally, the lies began to catch up with her and suddenly Bree found herself socially isolated. Desperate to fit in, Bree did whatever it took to be accepted by her peers. She adopted the styles of her classmates, dressing in outlandish outfits and chopping off 10 inches of her hair. Bree started smoking cigarettes with her new crew, and quickly found herself smoking a pack a day, while carrying perfume to hide the stench from her teachers and parents. Her newfound relationships took priority, and her grades rapidly declined. To emulate the other girls, she adopted a flirtatious personality and landed a boyfriend practically overnight. It seemed like Bree finally had what she always wanted; friends, social connections and a coveted spot on the inside.
Although Bree claimed she was happy, I was skeptical. When she talked about her new relationships, her smile seemed forced. Despite her excuses for missed assignments and negative report cards, I could tell she was embarrassed about her slipping GPA. When I inquired about her boyfriend, she was evasive and seemed disinterested. After a few months of maintaining her charade, Bree finally came clean.
The truth was that Bree was miserable. Her new relationships felt hollow and phony. She carried immense guilt about her grades, knowing that she was capable of far superior work. She longed for her old clothes. She hated her cigarette addiction. When she looked in the mirror, she hardly recognized herself. Her identity was lost in a sea of other peopleâ��s desires.
When Bree hit rock bottom, our real work began. I highlighted the many ways she had sacrificed her own needs in order to please everyone around her. By allowing others to define her, she would never feel fulfilled. Instead of looking for the approval of her peers, Bree needed to dig deep and define what success meant to her. Our sessions focused on writing, meditation and self-reflection exercises that allowed Bree to clarify what was most important. Through active visioning, Bree began to formulate a true identity. Her daily actions became more aligned with her core values, bringing her consistent, long-term happiness. As a result, many of the relationships Bree had formed faded away. She began to attract friends with similar values who accepted her for who she really was. Today Breeâ��s grades are steady, sheâ��s smoke-free and surrounded by relationships based on honesty and kindness. Bree and I continue to check in with her list of core values to ensure she's living a life based on authenticity.
*Client name changed for confidentiality purposes
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