Many therapists see the same types of issues when working with teenage girls – girls struggle with their self-identity, low self-esteem, body issues, trying to fit in and ensure people will like and accept them.
Pipher (1994) in her book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, discusses these issues that adolescent girls deal with in their everyday lives. Pipher (1994) discusses a scene in which she was sitting on a bench outside of her favorite ice-cream store. She saw a mother and teenage daughter stop in front of her and wait for the light to change. She heard the mother say, “You have got to stop blackmailing your father and me. Every time you don’t get what you want, you tell us that you want to run away from home or kill yourself. What’s happened to you? You use to be able to handle not getting your way.” The daughter stared blankly straight ahead, barely acknowledging her mother’s words. The light changed and next she saw a very different scene. Another mother approached the same light with her preadolescent daughter. The mother and daughter were holding hands. The daughter said to the mother, “This is fun. Let’s do this all afternoon.”
Something very dramatic takes place to girls in early adolescence. Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls. They crash and burn in a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle taking the happiness away from them. In early adolescence, studies show that girls’ IQ scores drop. Girls lose their assertive, energetic personalities and become more deferential, self-critical, and depressed. They report great unhappiness with their bodies. Girls are often happy and free but then loose themselves in adolescence. They often fall in love with boys and live only for their approval. Girls have no sense of inner direction; rather they struggle to meet the demands of others. Their value is determined only by their approval. A girl once said, “Everything good in me died in junior high.”
Pipher then discusses some interventions she uses with these adolescent girls. The most important question she says she asks her adolescent clients is “Who are you?” She says she is not as interested in the answer as in teaching a process that the girl can use for the rest of her life. The process involves looking within to find a true core of self, acknowledging unique gifts, accepting all feelings, not just socially acceptable ones, and making deep and firm decisions about values and meaning. It includes discussion about breaking the cultural rules set out for women and formulating new, healthy guidelines for the self. These girls must figure out ways to be independent from their parents and stay emotionally connected to them. They need to discover ways to achieve and still be loved. They must discover moral and meaningful ways to express their sexuality in a culture that blasts them with plastic, pathetic models of sexuality. They have to learn to respect themselves in a culture in which attractiveness is women’s most defining characteristic. Therefore, it is imperative that girls find, define, and maintain their true selves.
Pipher, M. (1994). Reviving ophelia: Saving the selves of adolescent girls. New York: Ballantine Books.
Cindy A. Geil, M.A.
WKPIC Doctoral Intern