Sunday, May 16, 2021

Teen magazines.

When I was younger I used to pore through them, reading about health and wellness, style, celebrity gossip, etc. I vividly recall noticing, one Friday night as I was reading during that in-between time before Shabbat dinner, that there was an advice section. Readers were given definitive feedback, telling us exactly what we should do about a given subject. What struck me was that two months earlier in this monthly magazine, the exact opposite advice had been given. The subject was confidence and connection, and in one issue the feedback had been to be confident and put oneself “out there”—and the next time the feedback was that we should wait for others to come to us, inviting welcoming energy. Well... that was confusing.

I have been thinking about this more recently as we are inundated on social media with messages concerning how we ought to be. We are told what will make us happy, what will allow us to grow, what to avoid, how to speak to others.

Perhaps I am sensitive to this due to my role as a therapist; therapists are not meant to give out advice or tell others what to do. Whenever I watch a therapist depicted on television or in film and they make a judgment or tell the client what to do, I find myself sighing or rolling my eyes, knowing that this is not typically how things are done. Instead, therapists are meant to guide, prompt, challenge, reflect and teach. There is much that we do to try to help our clients, but this does not include quick advice or telling anyone what should be done, offering judgments. We can name ideas, but typically we are doing so from a place of reflection. We use what is given to us and help the individual by bringing out the already existing internal strength.

Perhaps it is simply because I am sensitive to the way that magazines, therapists and individuals on social media can all make it seem as if there is a one-size-fits-all answer, and this idea—or false reality—leaves me angry.

We are not meant to be the same, and the same recommendations should not be given and cannot be followed by all. That would imply that there is one right way, when in reality, there may be clear “wrong” (i.e.dangerous, hurtful) ways—but there is not one correct manner in which we will live, connect, grow or learn.

The process of growth is about the experiences—rather than being too attached to the results, though, of course, this may be tempting. Looking for easy answers or a manual to share how an individual should make decisions, communicate, express emotions or challenge oneself not only misleads the individual into ignoring internal cues, but it also cuts out the journey.

We want answers and we want them quickly. We want to be “fixed,” when in reality, we are not broken. We are complex people with a plethora of emotions and there is no one way of acting that will work for everyone. The process of being an emotional human being does not come with solutions. Instead, we can reflect on our desire for our pain to end, for the chapter to close. We can take stock of ours and others’ feelings in the moment, look for guidance and support, but resist the urge for being told what to do. We can resist the urge to believe that someone else’s perspective—especially when this is a stranger—will give us the answers we seek.

We can look inward, identify what we or those close to us need, and then make choices based on our intuitions, empathy and exploration. Are you feeling shy? Perhaps pushing yourself to branch out could be helpful. Or perhaps you need to stay safe and wait until it feels more comfortable for you to challenge yourself/see if there are others with whom you can connect who appear to be in a similar boat. There are likely tens of options for any situation, and following someone’s personal preference does not allow for us to take the hard step of thinking in the moment, taking into account the context and those real, complex human emotions we all have.

A magazine, influencer on social media, or writer of an article cannot give you definitive answers. You can learn ideas or gather suggestions from these sources as well as from people in your own life. Ultimately, it is your journey to sit with the discomfort of the unknown and to know that while you are not alone, you are the captain of your own ship. You may have a map and a first mate, but you are the one steering and this is because you absolutely can handle the task.

Temimah Zucker, LCSW works virtually at this time with individuals in New Jersey and New York ages 15+ to explore mental health concerns and to help them heal their relationships between their minds, bodies and souls. Temimah specializes in working with those struggling with body image concerns, eating disorders and disordered eating. She is a supervisor at Monte Nido, an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and speaks nationally on the above subjects. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com