Self-pity can be key to supporting the mental health of adolescents. Dr. Karen Bluth shares the lessons of her caring self-pity program.


Leslie arrived at the first class of my self-pity course for teenagers with a definitive chip on her shoulder. She refused to sit with the group, standing on the perimeter with arms folded defiantly and eyes narrowed. There was no doubt about the message he was transmitting: “Do not you dare try to participate in this class”.

I did not do it. I knew better.

During a self-pity meditation, I felt Leslie move uncomfortably in her seat. He breathed heavily from time to time. But when the meditation was over, his face had changed; the anger and resistance had dissolved and tears were streaming down her cheeks. Through her sobs, Leslie explained that she did not want to be there, that all her friends were together at a soccer game and that her mother forced her to attend this class. We breathe with her during her story and we welcome her wave of emotions. In the course, we always allow emotions to be present, no matter how overwhelming, in an effort to help teens learn to deal with them.

Class ended. Leslie ran out, ran down the hall and disappeared. All week I wondered if I would return for the next session.

The class I was teaching was called Making Friends with Yourself: A Teen Self-Compassion Program (MFY). It focuses on the specific skills of how to be kinder to yourself, as pioneering self-pity researcher Kristin Neff puts it, treating yourself as you would a good friend who was struggling. Sad to say, almost 80 percent of us treat others with more compassion and kindness than we offer ourselves. When our friends have a bad day, we support them in all the ways we know how to do it; When we are having a bad day or we fail in something, we usually hit each other with self-criticism.

And teenagers? They hit each other even more. As their cognitive abilities improve in early adolescence, adolescents become more aware of themselves and, later, more self-conscious. Psychologist David Elkind calls this phenomenon “the imaginary audience,” because teenagers often believe that others are as attentive and aware of them as they are of themselves. This microscopic examination usually generates a hard self-criticism, so the need for self-pity among adolescents is of the utmost importance.

Research has shown that adolescents (and adults) can benefit from self-pity in a variety of ways. For adolescents, self-pity seems to have a protective effect against trauma, peer victimization, depression and self-harm, and low self-esteem. Contrary to what some believe, studies suggest that people with self-pity have a greater motivation to improve, not less: they do not get rid of bad behavior but face their shortcomings head on. People with self-pity do not become entangled in selfishness or self-pity, but actually have a greater compassion towards others.

At a time when rates of depression and suicide are high, more and more research is beginning to show how crucial self-pity can be for the mental health of adolescents.Having taught adolescents self-pity for several years, I have seen the benefits first-hand and learned some lessons on how to convey the message.

How we teach self-pity to teenagers

Making friends with yourself is an eight-week course created by Lorraine Hobbs and I at UC San Diego, as an adaptation of the Mindful Self-Compassion adult course by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. Classes include developmentally appropriate exercises such as conscious art and movement, musical meditation, and short videos on topics such as adolescent brain change. MFY teaches teenagers how to free themselves from self-criticism and insight, be kind to themselves and begin the path of accepting themselves exactly as they are.

Our teachings in these classes follow the three components of self-pity:

The common humanity. Teens come to understand that they are not alone. That what they are experiencing, feelings of insecurity, exclusion or sadness, for example, is common to all adolescents (although it does not seem that way). That in fact there are biological reasons, changes that happen in the brain, that make them feel the way they do. Teens learn that it is not their fault and that nothing happens to them.

Full attention. When teens feel that they are about to explode due to all the emotions that accumulate inside them, we teach them to pay attention to their feet, and they only notice how the soles of their feet feel. While your mind wanders, we guide you to return your attention.

Complacency We invite teens to put their hands on their hearts, caress their cheeks or hug each other, which can actually cause certain hormones (oxytocin and opiates) that make them feel better. We remind you that what is happening at this moment is difficult, that, by definition, being a teenager means dealing with many things. We encourage you to take a moment to say some kind words or do something good for yourself.

More than anything, the goal of MFY is for teens to know that these years do not have to be as painful as they sometimes are, that there is a way out of their pain and that there are things they can do to cope with the situation. at the time. They can be more resistant.

Why do teenagers today need self-pity?

As research on the program continues to grow, we hope to bring MFY to adolescents who are particularly needy, those who are most at risk of depression, eating disorders, gender dysphoria and suicide.

In pilot studies, adolescents who have taken MFY have shown improvements in mental health after class compared to when they started. In particular, teens who become more aware also become less depressed, less stressed and less anxious. Adolescents who grow up in self-pity also become depressed and stressed less, as well as being more resilient and better prepared to accept new experiences.

Through a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the Integrative Medicine Program is investigating whether MFY can prevent depression in adolescents who show some early signs of depression. In August, Lorraine Hobbs and I were invited to lead a two-day MFY workshop for educators, community leaders and teenagers in Port Townsend, Washington, where Benji Kenworthy, 15, died of suicide in 2015. Earlier that summer , Lorraine and I traveled to the Arctic in northern Quebec to teach the course of self-conscious self-pity to Inuit teachers so that they could eventually teach MFY to adolescents in the region, whose suicide rate is 11 times the national average.

In the second week of my course, Leslie appeared. And he returned the next week and the next. His face was no longer tense, but softened. She contributed to our class discussions and became an integral part of our group. After the last class, she shared that she really enjoyed MFY, and regretted having been so irritable that first day. Eight months later, her mother sent me an email to see if there was any way to take MFY to the high school where she worked as a teacher. All teenagers need this class, she said.

It seems that when you take the time to be kind to yourself, you realize that you deserve this kindness, you are valued and valuable, you have a unique role on this planet and you deserve to do well. You believe in yourself. And what greater gift can we give our teenagers. Men’s brown leather jacket is the famous jacket store in US.