Written by Memoona Ahmed for TIC+.
When I was a teenager (not so long ago, I might add), I tried to be a lot of different people. I tried to be the smart one, the confident one (I read a lot of books with cutthroat women protagonists), the ‘popular’ one and sometimes the quirky one! Each of these different characters that I attempted to become represented the same desire: to be a whole person. A person that people would like.
I had this idea in my head that I had to be a complete person. No cracks or inconsistencies: just to be sure of who I was. The reality was, I tried so hard to be different whole people that I was left having no idea who I was at all.
Looking back at that time, it seems so simple to say that I was just going through what any teenager does: trying out different things and finding what really fits into your identity. I didn’t trust or have enough self-esteem for my real personality to let that identity fully show – anyone who told me to just ‘be myself’ just didn’t know what it was like to be myself.
Now, a few experiences older and having a much more stable idea of who I am – I wish I would have stepped back and realised that it was okay not to know who I was at that point. Identity is a dynamic, changing concept, and I didn’t have to have all the answers! Being a young person in any day and age is not a piece of cake. The world moves faster than the blink of an eye, and in the midst of it all, it can be exceptionally hard to step back from the blur of the moment to see the bigger picture.
Emotional growth is not the same thing as aging. For example, you are a couple of seconds older than you were when you read the first sentence of this paragraph. This was not a conscious effort. Growth is similarly natural, but requires making mistakes and learning from them; experiencing life and finding acceptance for those experiences. It happens on different timelines for different people, sometimes even in visible stages. A close friend of mine likes to refer to it as an ‘emotional glow-up’: evolving into a better version of yourself with time. Our mental wellbeing depends on the potential we all have to learn and grow and be kind to ourselves.
As young people, we can have the tendency to be extremely hard on ourselves for what we deem mistakes and ‘failures’. We want to be everything, at all times. When things are especially hard, we can become bullies to ourselves, directing hurtful feelings inwards. Soon, that vicious bully becomes an automatic voice, always there, ready to tear us down. It tells us things like ‘you’re never going to be that person’ or ‘you’re worthless’ – we all have variations of that voice. It tries its best to hamper that emotional growth – it wants to keep us trapped where we are. Acceptance is a constant battle against these forces, and sometimes it’s not one that is the clearest to fight.
My own emotional growth over the last few years has helped me realise that the person I was when I was a teenager may have had many cracks and inconsistencies, but that was what made her a whole person. There will always be cracks, and as we move through life we will have experiences that change us from how we were before. At first, I thought I really needed other people to like me. I was desperately pushing down who I was inside for other people’s approval. However, with years of learning (and help from my therapist), I have recognised that it was me who needed to like me.
The beauty of this is that I am still growing. I could do with forgiving that natural need for others to like me and focus on me liking me. But the growth it has taken just to get to this point is what I want everyone to be able to look back and smile on – because that is what will propel us on.
I wrote a poem at the beginning of 2022 that contained this line:
between that young self on the kitchen floor
and this growing self on all fours
At both points in time, I was growing. At all times, we are growing into ourselves, and it is crucial for us to recognise that; we are all works in progress.
We often know it subconsciously when we reach emotional milestones. I want you to pay attention, and celebrate those milestones. It might seem like one step forward and three steps back sometimes, but emotional growth is never going to be a straight line. There will be setbacks and loop-the-loops; it shouldn’t take away from those not-so-little internal wins.
We have to embrace our growing selves in order to nurture them, and continue. We can’t predict the future, but we can continue to grow, together. Say it loud and proud: I am a growing self, and that’s pretty awesome.
Memoona Ahmed – February 2022
If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
TIC+ also offers a Parent Support & Advice Line. If your child lives in Gloucestershire and is between the ages of 0 and 25 and you, as a parent or carer, would like support, please get in touch. To make it easier to reach out for help we offer a choice of ways to contact us on Freephone 0800 6525675 or web-chat. Whichever option you choose, there is no need to make an appointment, drop-in anytime during our open hours.
Alternatively, if you are a parent and would like to arrange counselling for a young person who lives in Gloucestershire and is aged 9-21, they can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. All they, or someone they trust, needs to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to give us some details so we can arrange an appointment.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!