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feeling alone

Dear Jean:

I am troubled. I feel very much alone and I keep thinking it's because of my age. I know you're thinking "well of course! Teenagers are supposed to feel alone." And I'll agree with that, so many things going on with the hormones and the psychological trauma that I'm not the only person in the universe. But because I'm smarter than most of my peers and see things more clearly (note: I don't mean to boast, I simply know from observation) I feel like whenever I tell someone my age, especially adults, they try to look down upon me. Even my own parents do that, not that I can blame them -- I've met THEIR parents and praise divine that I at least have fairly open minded parents. I relate more to people who are 5 to 10 years older than me and even dated older guys. But my peers, my parents, and my teachers all still look at me like I'm a typical teen that hasn't thought beyond next week. Have any words of comfort beyond telling me to get over it?

PS: I am 15 years old and female.

Jean responds:

Hi,

As you say, feeling alone really is part of the adolescent experience. I guess, in a way, it does have to do with the age, too, in the ways you reflect upon: so many changes, inside and outside, going on, some of them beyond your control.

But when you say you are troubled, my mind goes to, "To what degree?" Since all adolescents are troubled, I would want to know the degree to which you feel really unhappy, and over what duration? For instance, if your unhappiness is affecting your eating or sleeping and/or you cry a lot or are afraid of the way your mind is working -- and these symptoms are more than intermittent or fleeting -- you may be experiencing real depression. In that case, you do need to consult a clinician experienced in working with adolescents -- physician or mental health professional.

I'm sure I'd agree, if I met and interacted with you, that you are brighter and probably more mature in many ways than your peers. Any trait of yours that sets you apart from the rest of your peers also threatens to remove you from their company -- because teenagers do not know how they're supposed to be (as if there were a way!), and therefore, in their insecurity, tend to try to be like each other, just to feel safe. If you don't do that, you're different. Probably most young people your age will therefore fear you, others may admire you. Eventually, some of the stronger ones, who admire you, may approach you and want to be your friends. Or not. Sometimes people have to wait until college to find people they can really feel themselves with.

I guess I can relate to adult reactions that essentially convey the message, "Oh, you're just a kid." That is, I guess I do think there are SOME kinds of maturity that in the best-case scenario, simply do come with chronological aging, from accumulated life experience, although there are certainly numerous adults who obviously have not benefited from their age and experience. Probably when adults perceive your intelligence and maturity, they feel a little bit defensive like, "How can this kid have achieved these levels of knowledge and emotional development? I wasn't like that at 15!" At worst, they may also respond with a "Who does she think she is?" attitude.

Perhaps the thing to remember is that, when anyone, including adults, responds defensively to someone else, it's because in some way they are not feeling okay about themselves. I know it's hard to keep that in mind -- it's hard for all of us. (I am constantly reminding partners in couple's therapy that a defensive reaction on the spouse's part is NOT an accusation against the other partner, but rather a kind of "self defense" by someone who in some way feels accused or attacked.)

From the sound of your letter, I would wonder whether you may be responding defensively, yourself, to adults who respond defensively to you! I can certainly understand it if this is so; you feel frustrated and also 'accused' of being 'just a kid.' However, perhaps the next step in emotional maturity for you is to realize that you exceed most adults' expectations for how 15-year-olds function, and their defensive or non-acknowledging responses to you are their problem and only become yours if you let such responses undermine your own self-confidence. In other words, you probably have to accept that you'll just have to 'get past' their presumptions and assumptions and persevere in 'helping' them to feel okay with you and to understand and grasp your capacities and abilities.

Hope this helps a little. I guess I am saying 'get over it,' but also hopefully I'm suggesting an idea and an attitude that might help you to do that!

If you're miserable a lot of the time, I'd really advise you to find a counselor to talk to -- one who's had some experience with adolescents. It's my experience and expectation that in the safety and confidentiality of the counselor-client relationship, you will be respected for who you really are.

Best,

Jean.

Disclaimer: Ms. Walbridge's response to your question is intended to be educational and informative. It is not a substitute for face to face consultation or psychotherapy with a mental health professional.

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