“Rashomon” was a great movie that probably none of you have seen. It’s about seeing one event from multiple points of view. There are many literary novels that utilize this device. It is a 1950 Japanese period film directed by Akira Kurosawa in which various characters provide subjective, alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident. To me, it’s fascinating because as we have long known, point of view is highly subjective. Feelings too are subjective. So when teens are in their own reality, lost in their well-documented, egocentric, limbic system point of view, objectivity can be very enlightening!
For example, Layla came into my office with a big problem. Her parents didn’t know that she failed one gym class at college and didn’t get her Associates Degree. Pretty disturbing. For Layla, carrying that secret was eating her alive with guilt. That’s what secrets do. So here are 4 ways to seek help for a guilty conscience.
1. Come Clean – it’s better to unburden yourself than to carry the shame. Brene Brown says, “If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”
2. Acknowledge You Are Not Perfect – people do make mistakes. It’s how we learn. My kids are always saying “I’m bad at this…” You are not born being good at everything. In fact, most people are not good at everything. It takes practice (practice, practice) to master things. That’s why staying in your room and avoiding controversy is a really poor idea. There is no way to grow and learn if you don’t fail. (Or as my father often says, “You can’t hit a home run if you don’t come up to bat”).
3. Hit the Pause Button – It’s important to take time to care for yourself, look at yourself and even feel sorry for yourself. Feel your feelings. Then move on. This is how you know that feelings come and go. That you are not identified with your feelings. Zooming out and getting a moment of objectivity about your own foibles is an essential task of growing up. Instead of getting defensive about her relentless nail-biting, now my daughter and I laugh that we are both life-long nail-biters. That’s a step in the right direction.
4. Try to See Your Parents’ Point of View – As hard as it is to be a teenager, it’s hard to be a parent too. Imagine they just chucked $10K for a semester of classes right down the toilet! Boy will they be mad. But more mad if they didn’t even know til later! They might even appreciate your honesty if it means they can trust you and they can possibly even help your mistake soon after it happens. You have to trust them for them to trust you.
If you can do these things with a professional, even better. Good therapists are there to guide you with the process of self-awareness, not tell you what to do or waive a magic wand, but help you recognize where your fears are coming from, expose them to the light, and recognize they are not so terrible. Layla did eventually tell her parents and she did complete her gym credit and she did receive her degree! Better ending.
Remember, you can revise your story. Like Rashomon, you are a work in progress, with many facets and outcomes.