One of the seldom-discussed types of loss is known as the loss of one’s sense of self. It is often talked about in terms of an unstable sense of self in teens with Borderline Personality Disorder or in teens who feel unmotivated about their future and lack clear goals. However, it is usually brought up in terms of how to build self-esteem rather than validating the grief that this can entail for teens who have experienced trauma or a depressive episode. 

Why Is it Important to Acknowledge Personal Grief?

Typically, we think of grief as a response to the physical death of other people. Grief is also a normal emotional response to the loss of health, romantic relationships, friends, and certain beliefs. It is even possible to grieve for aspects of one’s life that they are nostalgic for without referring to it as a pity party. Teenagers who have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy or who have experienced a drop in confidence may feel genuine grief around these insecurities. When we lose someone or something we have held dear or have felt attached to, it is natural to feel sad, anxious, or hopeless. While people should check-in and offer support, it is important to allow people time and space to grieve without judging the way they are processing their loss.

Many teenagers have reported a loss of sense of self during the coronavirus pandemic, as they have stopped attending school in-person, have lost touch with friends they can’t see as often, and many of the extracurricular activities they used to participate in have suspended operations. Their whole identities are wrapped up in their friends and their school activities, so without those, a lot of “who am I” questions are brought up. On top of losing that source of identity, they are also losing those coping mechanisms that would typically help them manage that stress.

Many of them are also feeling a loss of agency + control around who they interact with and what activities are available to them. While these losses may be temporary, they still have an impact on the way teens view themselves and have been associated with an increase in depression and anxiety. Although they may understand the concrete reasons that these changes in their lives have occurred, it doesn’t take away from the grief that they have felt as they reminisce on their “old lives.”

What Does Loss of One’s Sense of Self Look Like?

Using the coronavirus pandemic as an example helps parents to understand the universality of this experience, as many teenagers without pre-existing mental health struggles have been affected by personal losses. However, this phenomenon is particularly common among teenagers with mental health struggles. 

During adolescence, teens often question their sense of self, as they explore new hobbies and friend groups. As they “try on” new personalities, they may feel distanced from old friends or activities they used to enjoy, but most teenagers feel confident in their new persona. This is not always the case for teenagers who struggle with depression and anxiety, who may feel more disconnected from themselves. Especially after trauma and loss, it may take a period of adjustment to re-establish who they are and who they want to be.

Some signs that your teen may be struggling with identity issues may include:

  • Difficulty describing one’s personal strengths and goals
  • Ruminating on past experiences and relationships
  • Trouble remembering details from childhood or before a traumatic event
  • Deterioration of relationships with friends and family
  • Indifference to school and academic goals

How Can We Create Space for Teenagers to Grieve and Develop a Stronger Sense of Self?

Although the goal of wilderness therapy is to help teenagers learn to become more comfortable with themselves and discover new interests, we do not downplay the factors that may have contributed to feeling disconnected and hopeless in the first place. 

Teenagers develop a sense of self through feedback and mirroring and their identity is reinforced through supportive relationships with friends, family members, and mentors. For those who struggle with an unstable sense of self, a negative view of themselves, or a loss of their sense of self, the first step towards healing is acknowledging how their inner child may have been hurt, often in relationships. When they have reclaimed some semblance of a sense of self, the focus becomes developing core values that matter to them, like kindness, empathy, or perseverance. By understanding their values, teens are better able to establish personal goals that are aligned with their strengths. 

Wilderness therapy programs offer teenagers the opportunity to step away from reminders in their environment of the grief that they are experiencing and allow them to focus on their own personal growth and healing. Teens develop a strong sense of community that understands their grief and helps them reinforce new perspectives, values, and goals.

blueFire Wilderness helps teens who are going through the grieving process by teaching them:

  • How to establish a stronger internal locus of control
  • How to challenge negative beliefs related to past grief and loss
  • An emotional vocabulary to talk about grief and loss
  • Healthier coping mechanisms
  • The value of reaching out to others for support

blueFire Wilderness Can Help 

blueFire Wilderness Therapy is an adventure-based program for teens ages 11-17 who struggle with mental health issues, like ADHD, anxiety, depression,  and behavior issues. Wilderness therapy removes students from the distraction of peers, devices, and demands of life and allows them to heal in a supportive and nurturing environment. Students will be able to focus on themselves and become more aware of their troubling behaviors. BlueFire gives them the skills and tools they need to combat these behaviors and be on their way to a happy and healthy life.

For more information about grief in teens, call 1-844-413-1999. We can help your family today!

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