The high school years can feel like a prolonged episode of “Survivor” for many teens. After feeling inadequate through most of his high school years, one young man likened his high school years to “four years of boot camp”. He constantly struggled with loneliness and fears of rejection.
What this young man did not realize is that the one commonality we share with every other person is that we are all inadequate. No one has a perfect life. If we try to present ourselves as ‘cool’ we may do things to be accepted by others who are also parading a false front. By trying to gain popularity we may make poor choices and act against what we know to be right. Often in an effort to be accepted ourselves, we may put others down, in order to improve our own ‘placement in the peck order’. Recognize that this is a defense mechanism – those who do it most are the most insecure, earning a poor reputation and no loyalty from those they are trying so hard to impress. Thus we can end up feeling even worse about ourselves when we strive to be popular. True friends will value our authentic selves, quirks and all.
How can we build healthy relationships with others despite our insecurities? Following are a few simple strategies that translate to any situation, at any stage of life, but are especially important for those in their teen years who struggle with a fear of rejection most intensely.
* Remember that everyone is in the same boat!
*Observing people around you reveals that most struggle with feelings of inferiority. Insecurities can be evidenced in pushy and aggressive behaviours, withdrawing from social situations, being obsessed with one’s appearance or seeking approval from others. In some way every individual develops their own mechanisms to cover up their feelings of inadequacy. Once you recognize that others feel the same way you do, you never again need to feel alone. Everyone is afraid of embarrassment and ridicule. As one author put it “we’re all sitting in the same leaky boat, trying to plug the holes!”
* Begin to build bridges
* Once we recognize that every person is attempting to cover up their own inadequacies in some way, we see why courtesy and kindness are such powerful tools in making friends. Simple acts of caring tell others that they are important to us, regardless of their flaws. Showing someone else that they are likeable often results in the beginnings of a bridge of friendship between people. The simplest things – a smile, an open door or a friendly word open the possibilities of friendship. There is one catch: we must be willing to move out of our comfort zone in order to build the bridges.
* Discover a skill/ Pursue an interest
* Consider whether a skill you can develop could connect you with a group of like-minded peers. A young man recently described how he handled his first years of “boot camp” in High School. By getting involved in an extracurricular Jazz band he made friends, toured new places and “filled up the discouraging emptiness of recess and lunch hours”. He also developed competency and respect from others that he didn’t know was possible.
* Play conversational catch
* We all know that to play catch, it takes two. Likewise with conversations. If you are asked a question, ask a question back. Imagine you are throwing a verbal ball. To look away, to fall silent, or to disengage from participation is a signal you don’t want the conversation to continue. Many people struggle with their shyness in the initial stages of conversations with others. Think of questions to ask before you are in a social situation, if you need it. Read up on current news. Listen to current songs. Have something to talk about. People skills are much like any other skill type. They need to be practiced.
* Forget popularity
* Remember that good friendships take time. Being popular allows you to be “the flavour on the month” for a short period of time and depends on how one fits the trend of the moment. But true friendship is built with others who share similar life values as you, who treat you and others respectfully and follow through on promises made. True friendship takes time to establish and is built with caring, trust and loyalty. It has been said that if someone has three to five good friends in a lifetime, they have done well. Friends keep us feeling connected and valued, and are always worth any effort. They are the key to survival in the “boot camp” of life.