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Who Are You – And How Do Others See You?

Who Are You – And How Do Others See You?

Do you ever wonder who you really are? Maybe you feel like many different people all trapped in one body. Sometimes, you enjoy being very social, fashionable and extroverted, while other times you might think this really makes you feel uncomfortable and realize you’d rather be with people that are more mellow, quiet and chill.

Perhaps one day you are perfectly happy wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt and then you suddenly have a desire to be more trendy and fashionable, wanting the latest styles of shoes and clothing. I have good news for you. All of this is actually normal.

Teenagers are at a stage in their lives when they are searching for and forming identities separate from their parents. This is supposed to happen, because as much as your parents do love you, they probably don’t want you living at home until you’re 40. It is a vital and necessary part of growing up to differentiate yourself. Some of the typical questions that a teenager might have are:

  • Who am I?
  • How do others see me?
  • How do I see myself?

These are actually three very interesting questions, because who you are really is influenced by how you see yourself and how others see you as well. People tend to move towards those traits that you see in yourself and that are seen by others. Along the way, you very likely will explore many different ways of being, until you find the things that really feel right to you.

Being a teenager and trying to figure out who you are can be really hard. There are many struggles that you will face along the way. Some of the common struggles teens explore and experiment with are:

  1. Material stuff. This includes clothes, shoes, devices, cars, and more. You might feel like you must have the same clothes and shoes that others have in order to fit in. Or you might feel like you absolutely don’t want the same shoes as everyone else. It’s an exploration of how you fit into the normalcy of what everyone has and how important that is to you. Do you like your Samsung phone more than an iPhone? Do you feel like you need the “right” devices in order to fit in? Or are you the person who really doesn’t care what other people think?
  2. New behaviors. For example, plenty of teenagers experiment with smoking, drinking and sex as ways to sort of try what they perceive to be adult-like behaviors. It’s a feeling of not being a kid anymore, so teens try some things that might be risky but more typical of adults than kids.
  3. Rebellion and separation. Sometimes, you might feel like in order to separate from your parents, you have to rebel a bit. It can be a way of trying to assert your independence by basically saying no to whatever is being asked of you or expected of you. In order to form you own identity, you may feel that you have to discount everything your parents think or believe.
  4. Who do want to be like? Is it your favorite sports star or celebrity? Often, teens will dress like someone they idolize and even copy their hairstyles, mannerisms and speech. I know teens who dress like their favorite rapper and try to talk like them, and others that dress and style themselves like a supermodel. It can actually be fun to emulate your heroes or those that you identify with.
  5. It is not unusual for teenagers to suddenly decide that they can only associate with and be seen talking to certain types of people. That kid you’ve been friends with your whole life is kind of a nerd, so you don’t want to be seen talking to him anymore, or you risk being considered a nerd as well. You might even start hanging out with a completely new set of friends, those that have qualities you identify with or want to be perceived as having.

The beautiful thing about life as a teenager is that you can try on lots of different identities. You can be hip hop one week and country the next. There are no rules about that. Go ahead and play around with different looks, different hobbies and different people. It can be fun and it’s your right to do so.

Hopefully, along the way, you will learn a lot about yourself, what “fits” and what doesn’t. It is very important to make good decisions along the way. While you will probably make some very bad decisions and mistakes, you can learn from them and grow. But please, don’t do anything that could seriously harm you. Experimenting is one thing, having ups and downs with friendships and relationships is to be expected, but being reckless with drugs, alcohol or driving could be disastrous.

At the end of the day, it is normal to not know completely who you are. It often takes well into your 20’s to really have a solid formed identity. Along the way, stay safe, focus on your strengths and your passions, don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t let anyone tell you who or what you ought to be. Stay true to yourself and your values, and you will eventually find your way.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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