Research has demonstrated that many girls and young women are not happy these days. By mid-adolescence girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety as boys, with the prevalence at adult levels, 14 to 20%. Seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some ways, including their looks, performance in school, and relationships with friends and family members.
One culprit is that girls are still being conditioned to be “good girls” who put everyone’s needs before their own and to be selfless before all else. As a result, resentments build up and unhappiness follows.
I encourage girls to be more self-ish, and the following are 6 ways to do so.
1. Self-quiet: Girls and young women need times to withdraw from all of the noise and distractions around them and to find solitude within. It’s in the quiet moments that they will find answers to important questions, creativity, new perspectives, and peace of mind.
2. Self-efficacy: This is a can-do attitude that empowers girls to go for it, persevere through challenges, make things happen, and trust that they have what it takes to create the life that they wish. This ‘grit’ is earned through being allowed to make and learn from mistakes, overcome hardships and obstacles, initiate and create experiences for themselves, solve problems on their own, and to take risks.
3. Self-insistence: All girls need to be encouraged to insist upon her right to choose how and with whom she will spend her time, define her boundaries, respond to people, and to live life on her terms. She deserves the freedom to carve out her own path and future. This is a powerful way for women to affirm themselves and their worth.
4. Self-motivation: Girls who are supported to derive their motivation from within become more independent and empowered. Autonomy in what you are doing results in higher levels of engagement, and this in turn creates the energy for mastery.
5. Self-responsibility: True freedom comes from taking full responsibility for everything in your life and blaming no one but yourself for your predicaments. Girls who refuse to be victims have the moxie and grit to pull themselves out of ruts and hardships and to get their needs met.
6. Self-love: Accepting and embracing all parts of yourself brings great contentment. It requires being in charge of your self-talk and having the ability to notice and to switch any stinking thinking. It looks like being willing to take time for yourself to relax and recharge your batteries. It means be willing to say no and set boundaries. And it means caring enough about yourself to let others know how you are feeling and what you need.
If girls follow the “good girl” script and live a life dominated by self-sacrifice and self-forfeiture, they are on track for resentment and misery. Balancing out being self-less and of service to others with times of being self-ish, i.e. taking good care of yourself, will put women on track to contentment and happiness. Girls need to be given permission and the tools to do so.