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Academic result is not a measure of self-worth

Hvovi Bhagwagar, psychotherapist with a special focus on trauma work.

In your experience of dealing with teenagers, what is the relationship between academic performance and their self-worth?

Since my clinic is close to the IIT Bombay campus, I get a lot of queries where teenagers find it difficult to cope with academic pressure. They do associate their self-worth with how many marks they’ve scored.

When do you get the maximum number of cases?

The months from December to March are filled with these type of cases because board exams are going on. This is the time when the pressure is very high. And in June, the same pattern repeats. The results come out and the students feel like they haven’t got enough marks.

They also face discouragement from teachers as well. They tell them that if they haven’t scored high marks, they will be held back. Parents also contribute to this line of thought.

Could you share some tips on how to disengage from the idea that marks is a reflection of your self-worth.

1.Maintain a rational thought process: While it is important to score a 96 per cent, a 94 per cent or a 95 per cent doesn’t mean you are worthless.

2.Say rational statements to yourself: Rational statements such as, “It is important to score good marks, but it is not the end of the world,” helps in maintaining emotional equilibrium.

3.Read about successful people: There some personalities such as Mark Zuckerberg who were college dropouts but still managed to become successful in their chosen fields.

4.Focus on being good human beings: Aspire to become good human beings who will contribute to the society in meaningful ways, even if that means scoring less marks in boards or competitive exams.

5.Success lies in happiness: Happiness is a state of mind that drives us to excellence. There is a direct co-relation between the two. Strive to be happy in whatever you have and success will follow.

What are some of the reasons why teenagers cannot cope with academic stress?

1.No competitive spirit: Some teenagers are not prepared to pursue IIT. They get in after 4-5 attempts. If the competitive spirit is not ingrained in them, then they will not do well.

2.Parental and peer pressure: 40-50 per cent of the students pursue it because of parents and friends. Then their marks come in, which leads to depression, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts.

3.Self-identity and self-worth: Getting into premier institutions and academics has become a stamp of self-worth. Teenagers should ask themselves; is this something that they want to do? Unfortunately, they ask these questions to themselves after 1st year.

4.Loneliness: Teenagers from small towns find it difficult to connect with people in bigger cities. There is no outlet for them. Friends become competition; they also back stab.

5.No professional help: Reaching out and seeking professional help is imperative in such situations. Unfortunately, many do not have access to professional help.

Your message to teenagers across India who have given their exams and have yet to get their results.

Academics have become a stamp of your self-worth, which it shouldn’t be. Teenagers think that if I score 90 per cent, only then I am worthwhile.

I want to tell all teenagers that your worth is who you are from inside. Marks are just a number, they will come and go. If they disengage themselves from this view, they will be happier.

We are here to help you. If you feel you cannot cope with academic stress and want to talk to someone, you can write to us at expert@teentalkindia.com or send in a query by clicking on Contact Us/Email Us.

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Decoding teen abuse with Dr. Seema Hingorrany-2

Clinical Psychologist and Trauma Expert.
Ritika SrivastavaTeentalkindia Counsellor

Self-aware teens are powerful teens. Young adults who are capable of recognising their emotional health problems and dealing with them too, cannot be treated badly. If you also want to be in control of your emotional health, Dr. Seema Hingorrany has some advice to share. Read on...

  1. Can neglect be considered as abuse? If a teenager has probably suffered due to neglect by a parent or a primary caregiver, would this then be evident through their behaviour?

Yes early emotional neglect also comes under emotional abuse. Most of the neglect cases that I meet; are prone to drugs, prone to smoking and drinking, these kids are more likely to bully people around or get bullied. These neglected kids will never have a focus.

These are the people who either cling too much to people or develop narcissistic personality disorder are all cases of complex PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

All borderline personality disorders all come from early neglect, from the lack of emotional atonement and lack of parental nurturing. 

  1. Your message for teenagers who are living in hostels and have suffered from psychological abuse?

Speak up. Again, it’s important to talk. Speak to your parents, a trusted relative or a psychologist. Whoever you are comfortable talking to, just talk it out.

It’s the therapeutic alliance that you share with your therapist that helps you start healing.

  1. How easy or difficult is it for boys to talk about their trauma and mourn?

Men don’t talk. Most men just exhibit symptoms. Most men have mood swings because they have been told not to talk and that is because they have been told that men don’t cry.

Most teen boys just sit here and look up and down but not at me and refuse to open up. Teens boys today are better than what they used to be a few years ago. But it has again got a lot to do with conditioning that you are a boy so you can’t be weak because then who will take care of the family. Grow up, don’t be such a pansy, don’t be a sissy. All this is emotional abuse.

That’s the pressure that the patriarchy puts on boys. When my teenage boy clients finally break down, they say this is the first time they have actually acknowledged their feelings and cried in front of a lady or a girl. They are actually embarrassed about crying to a lady. Whats there to be embarrassed about. Boys are allowed to have emotions.

  1. How should teenagers cope with the after-effects of trauma and simultaneously handle transitions that teenagers typically go through?

If it is a one-time traumatic experience then family support and time can heal but in most cases of severe abuse, help is needed because abuse of any kind is going to manifest somewhere as a psychological disorder.

Secondly I suggest that teens read and stay informed about pubic and hormonal changes. So they know what is happening to them.

This has largely to do with parents and their teachings and attitudes.

  1. Your message for teenagers and parents across India on attitude towards mental health, in general?

I’m not saying this because I am a psychologist. But my message to teens and parents is that mental wellbeing and mental health is everything. If you have a sound and a healthy mind, everything will fall in place.

To parents I’d say do not project your insecurities and fears onto your kids. I say this to a lot of parents, that if you need to please take help yourself so you can understand your kid better.

I have had parents breakdown when they realise what they have been doing. I had a client who broke down when she realised she had been abusing her daughter. She would ask her daughter to pick up food from the dustbin and eat just to try and make her humble. All this because she had been treated like that by her parents.

I had to make her realise that this not something a normal person should do. So you need therapy yourself. But some parents don’t care about these things because in our country people are so focused on marks and IIT and engineering and medical that they just don’t focus on anything else. All they want is their child to become a doctor or an engineer so they can show off to the neighbours and relatives.

So I suggest parents take their child’s needs more seriously than the societal expectations.   

  1.  Can abuse lead to suicide?

Abuse leading to suicide is a high possibility. Because no one ever wants to actually kill themselves. Suicide is always a cry for help. When emotions get so overwhelming that they think no one loves them, no one will help them that is when people kill themselves.

Most suicide survivors I have spoken to tell me that they just wanted to be heard, they wanted to tell people that I am here can you hear me.

So please note that trauma and abuse both exist and my message to teens and parents is that don’t feel helpless. It can be worked upon and we are here to help.

  1. What is the attitude towards abuse in our country? What is wrong with it?

It’s really sad that we don’t teach our teen to express emotions. Even if kids do tell their parents that this uncle or that person abused me sexually, parents are like shut up. They shut the kid up because of the fear of confrontation and the fear that no one will marry my daughter. This is not done.

I tell parents, if you don’t want to do a police complaint at least walk up to the relative and confront them. In our country, teens are treated like some material that is waiting to be married off. Parents are not willing to put work in the cases of abuse victim kids. They tell me, in this room do something and make her better.

Sometimes I have found that it was a one-time assault. Sometimes by cooks or by drivers and these are young children so they haven’t spoken to anyone about it.

So the only way to deal with abuse is by understanding that you still have to report it and talk about it. Reach out to whoever you trust but talk about it. Know that it is ok to be angry and it is ok to be sad but also know that these emotions have a bandwidth and that they should not go into an overdrive.


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