Many years ago I worked as a Sex & Relationships Outreach worker for a small team based within the NHS called Teenage Kicks. We did 3 sessions as a staple offer. One on self esteem and rights, one on relationships and one on contraception. I’m unsure where this exercise came from (my guess is probably something from Jo Adams) but it has been one that has created so many AHA! moments for both young people and adults, not only in terms of self esteem but also in recognising that we are not mind readers and cannot always tell why someone is behaving the way they are.
This is how I use the Cycle of Self Esteem (though sometimes I don’t call it anything):
Getting young people to understand not everything is about them:
One day I was talking with 2 young people at war. Previously the best of friends, each swore blind that the other had stopped speaking to them first. Turns out, Person A had went to talk to Person B between classes, and Person B had walked off and ignored them. Person A then believing Person B had stopped speaking to them avoided them and effectively stopped talking to them. Person B had no idea what happened. They were so caught up in worrying about a test they had the next period that they hadn’t noticed Person A trying to talk to them, all they knew is that their best friend stopped talking to them seemingly without reason. So they didn’t talk to them either. What they both thought “they’re not talking to me, what did I do wrong?” caused them both to avoid the other person. They laughed when they realised what had happened. I use this example often when people get stuck in the “its their fault”
Changing our thoughts & behaviour to support peers
Along the same lines, within Psychological First Aid Training for Students I ask young people to write down all of the things that someone might be thinking or feeling when they are having a bad day, We often get ideas such as feeling upset, or angry, thinking no-one likes them, or that the world is unfair. Then I ask them to consider how this may impact their behaviour – examples are usually things like withdrawing, not talking to people, acting moody or snapping at people. How might others think/feel about them? And how will that impact their behaviour? The reflection here for young people, especially those who are being trained to provide peer support, is to understand that how people behave is rarely about those around them, it’s about them. So if our first reaction is to believe it’s about us, we will often withdraw as well which may further impact how bad the person is feeling. If our thoughts are “they’re clearly having a bad day” we are more likely to ask if they are okay and what they need (which may be to be left alone which is fine). It also seperates us from feeling automatically responsible for someone elses behaviour and helps them to take responsibility for feeling better.
Helps young people to think about coping strategies & ways to change mood
We all have bad days, heck sometimes even bad years, and sometimes our behaviour can be less than pleasant. It is important to stress that no matter how we feel we are always responsible for our own behaviour. Understanding what we need when we are feeling down to help us feel better or to recharge, and verbalising that to friends and family is really important. If you know that you get really angry and want to argue and fight with people when you’re stressed out, perhaps trying a different strategy like taking a really cold shower or venting it all out on paper is better. And be upfront about it – tell people that this is how you feel and what you need to do to feel better. Have those conversations, otherwise people may think your mood and behaviour is all about them.
Humans are social creatures and we often make assumptions about people based upon how they behave. As a side note I’ve found that explaining that a child has, for example, ASD or ADHD, can dramatically alter other people’s perceptions of them in a positive way, as they no longer think of their behaviour as defiant or trouble-making. The belief that a child is doing a certain thing just to annoy you, as opposed to they can’t help their behaviour is a seisemic shift when it comes to how we behave towards them, and how they in turn feel about themselves.
Is this something you think could be useful in your work with young people? Or is this something you already use? Let me know in the comments