Relationship Skills: Start Them Young

The only things I remember about learning life lessons and mental health skills in elementary school, middle school, and high school are learning things like “how to improve your self esteem” and, “how to give compliments to one another.” While these things are great, they really only scrape the surface of many issues kids face. And mostly, when the guidance counselors or guest speakers came in to talk about this stuff, everyone just viewed it as a great opportunity to take a break from school.

The point I’m trying to make is that these “life lessons” my school tried to teach us, instead, was blown off.  It was seen as a nice break from learning about formulas, grammar, and history. While I’m not quite educated enough myself to fully criticize the education system, there is one thing I can say with confidence – my school did a poor job of teaching how to be in a healthy relationship, and how to handle an unhealthy one. Relationships matter SO MUCH to peoples’ mental health and when you’re young and just starting to learn how to be in a romantic relationship, the impacts of these relationships can be profound. You may start to learn things that become ingrained beliefs, such as not being good or worthy of being treated with kindness and respect.  Or  you may develop unhealthy habits that can negatively effect your relationships in the future, and as you age these habits get harder and harder to break. You may learn that it’s okay to be treated poorly, that it’s normal and acceptable, because you don’t realize it’s not. You might just simply not know how to handle being treated poorly in a relationship. You may feel trapped and unsure of what to do.

This TED talk is a great example of some basics we can and should be teaching young people and I agree with what she says 100%:

In addition to what she mentioned in the video, specific problems need to be especially emphasized even though almost everything falls under the umbrellas of the topics she mentioned. First off, teach boys (and girls, but with society’s stereotypes and expectations of boys, this is more of a problem amongst boys)  how to be egalitarian in a relationship and, put simply, NOT ABUSIVE. Teach them that it is NOT okay to have all the power in their relationship, and that controlling and/or degrading their partner in any way is unacceptable. Teach girls (and boys, but as mentioned before, with the way society is, this is more of a problem among girls) what to do when/if they find themselves in this situation. Teach both boys and girls what to do when and if they find their friends in this situation. Teach them that it is NOT okay to ridicule their friend, harass their friend, and support their friend’s abusive behaviors. Teach them TO support and to treat their friend with kindness, and teach them how NOT to support their friends abusing their partner.

I realize it goes beyond education. I know that some of these problems are societal issues and psychological ones, deeply ingrained and learned from their parents or developed biologically. But I firmly believe that if we equip young people, especially around the age of learning how to be in a relationship, that they will have at least a little more success with their relationship and in turn their mental health will improve. This is something that cannot keep being neglected. It’s sickening how many people my age lack proper relationship skills, simply because they were never taught. Myself included, as I’m not perfect, but I’ve been learning so much about healthy relationships from videos and articles because it was never taught to me.  I’m lucky enough to have a passion about something that also helps me out in different ways or else I wouldn’t care to learn about any of this. Although, I can’t help but think that if I learned these skills earlier, I would be a little better off in my relationships.

Proper, in-depth relationship skills MUST be taught amongst the math and English classes at a young age because while schools do teach important skills for a kid’s future, the quality of one’s relationships is fundamental to their mental health and well-being and if we don’t teach them early on, it may simply be too late.

 

 

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My experience with social anxiety

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I have 21 drafts saved of this blog post. I’ve been wanting to write about my social anxiety for awhile, but it never seems to come out the way I want it and I can never seem to figure out how to wrap it up. How do I write about something that has impacted my life more than anything else, in just a blog post? I’ve decided to just do it, even if it comes out less than perfect. I’m less than perfect, so why can’t my blog posts be too?

I started struggling with social anxiety around 10th grade of high school. I had no idea what the cause of my excessive sweating in school was, even though I wasn’t necessarily warm. I didn’t realize I had social anxiety when I struggled to make eye contact with my classmates, my heart pounding and my words coming out shaky. I just figured I was awkward. I never really fit in at my high school, so maybe that was all just coming to the surface. I didn’t connect the dots when I rushed through a presentation given in front of five people (no joke), because I was having a full-blown panic attack.

It started to peak around (I believe) junior year of high school. I distinctly remember going into work feeling an enormous sense of dread, even though I genuinely liked my job. What I didn’t like were the customers focusing on me behind the counter. Making eye contact with them made me feel like I was under a microscope – being evaluated and judged like a one-celled specimen. I couldn’t make eye contact with people without my face turning beat red and having to look away and distract myself. Sometimes, my boss would pull me into his office for an evaluation or to ask for my opinion on something, and even though it was just a casual conversation, I felt myself becoming incredibly tense to the point where I couldn’t even hear what he was saying. I would start panicking just talking to him. I remember screaming at my mom in the car while crying, trying to get her to understand that I don’t even feel like a real person and that something is wrong with me, something controlling my life.

Thankfully, I’ve worked past that part of my social anxiety, and I credit a lot of that to my therapist. I’m more comfortable in social situations and I’ve learned how to relax myself. But some of it still remains in more subtle ways. I was able to move about 5 states away and go to college where I didn’t know anyone. Although I didn’t do it strictly for this reason, I feel like I partially chose to go so far away to give myself a challenge and to get over my social anxiety. Going somewhere you don’t know anyone makes you vulnerable and could make you feel lonely. It forces you to open yourself up to strangers to get rid of this loneliness. I knew that if I went to a school in Ohio, particularly one where my friends from high school were at, I would just end up hanging out with people I already knew. I know I probably would have made other friends, but I just really liked the idea of going someplace new and starting from scratch.

So I did. I went to Florida State and met my boyfriend Aaron within two weeks. With him, everything felt very easy. I wasn’t anxious around him and we became comfortable around each other after a little while of spending time together. And while I was incredibly happy that I had Aaron in my life, I knew I also had to make friends, or else that wouldn’t be very healthy. This part is where I struggled.

Freshman year, I chose a friend group that I didn’t really fit in with. They weren’t very nice (sorry if some of you are reading this blog post) and I ended up being excluded from them, hearing later that it was because they thought I’m too quiet (among other things I’m sure.) After this group drifted out my life about a week later, I was in a free fall, relying on Aaron to keep me busy over the weekends. I was comfortable and happy with him – he was my best friend and we had a little group of friends together, but Aaron was ultimately my only close friend at FSU.

Sophomore year, I went through sorority recruitment. That was pretty rough and I’m not going to get into that now because I made another blog post about that here, but the sorority thing ended up being incredibly disappointing. It was basically discrediting all the progress I felt I made with my social anxiety. After sorority rush didn’t work out, all the negative self beliefs I had stored in my mind came flooding back. I’m so awkward, I’m not good enough for anyone to be friends with me, I’m boring, I suck, I’m basically less than human. But while that door closed, I also began rooming with an acquaintance I met at Starbucks the year before, and some of her friends. It took me a long time to open up to them. I was so comfortable and content with just being close with Aaron, why chance rejection again? As time went on, though, more time spent around my new roommates allowed me to progressively open up to them more and more.

I’m now about to start my second semester of junior year and now I can say that my roommates are some of my best friends, but I still struggle with formulating close relationships with other people. Those negative self beliefs sometimes come back and haunt me, making me delete drafted out text messages asking people to hang out and instead just spending the night at home. I still become shaky when I’m getting ready to go to a party, my heart beating loud into my ears. I still dread hanging out with people that I have no reason to dread being with at all. But despite this, I’m still trying, still occasionally sending those texts, and I’m still trying to work on convincing myself I’m worthy of friendship. I’ve learned (like the sorority thing) that if I rely on other people for self-validation, I’m always going to end up disappointed and feeling worthless. I need to find it in myself, as do many other people struggling with this and other issues. It can be hard, but I’ve put self love at the top of my priority list. Self acceptance, I’ve come to realize, is extremely hard, but involves loving yourself flaws and all. I don’t know if I’ll ever be 100% comfortable with public speaking or if I’ll ever have a plethora of close friends, but I hope to become comfortable with myself and at least form a few close relationships on top of the amazing ones I have now. I’ve come a long way, but I still have quite a ways to go.

To those who take politics too far

 

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With the 2016 presidential election coming up, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people treat other people with opposing political beliefs.

As a young college student who really has no experience in the real world, I like to stay open-minded about politics. I’m still learning and I want to learn as much as I can in order to formulate an educated opinion. My parents are conservative republicans and my friends are liberal democrats so I get exposed to a lot of differing opinions. Rather than hearing biased facts and opinions from either of these groups, I want to formulate my own opinion based off of what I learn of the world. One thing that bothers me about politics and makes me want to completely withdraw from the whole political scene, though, is how people can make judgments about other people solely based off of their political values.

Here’s the thing. As a young person (especially from the north, specifically a midwestern city), many of my Facebook friends are liberal. I’m going to reference some of the things my liberal friends have said. I’m not saying that there are not offensive, republican Facebook users, because there certainly are. I’m writing this post only off of my experiences on social media. Additionally, in general, a lot of youth are liberal and tend to be more outspoken on social media than adults, so that just so happens to be what I’m more exposed to. Any of the arguments that I’m making apply to republicans’ treatment of democrats as well.

Many of my liberal friends seem to assume that republicans are horrible people. I’ve seen insults ranging from “idiots” to “racists” to “a hate group.” I’m not a republican (I’m not anything until I feel more confident about my knowledge, although I tend to lean left about most things) but my parents are, so these things are really hurtful to me. My parents have good hearts and they would never intend to be racist, hateful, or hurt anyone. And they’re definitely not dumb. I’m not sure if I think this way because I’m a psychology major or because I’m just more of an open-minded person, but there is always a reason people think the way that they do. Maybe they just don’t see your perspectives about certain things. Just because someone doesn’t think EXACTLY THE WAY YOU DO, doesn’t mean they’re stupid or wrong. Perhaps their parents thought a certain way and brainwashed them so they just grew up having certain feelings about things. Maybe they learned biased facts or had experiences that made them think a certain way without considering the other arguments. Maybe they only take some things into consideration (like social issues and not economic, or vice versa). Or, maybe some people are actually racist and ignorant. But to generalize to a whole entire political group isn’t right. And like I said, this goes for republicans talking about democrats as well, of course.

I’ve also seen or heard some people say that “a vote for Trump is a vote for discrimination.” I don’t think every single person voting for Trump sees it that way. Some people might argue, “Well, knowing some of the things Trump has said and done, they should know exactly the values they’re supporting by voting for him.” WRONG! Not everyone thinks like that! I’m not going to defend Trump (like I wouldn’t defend any political candidate) but I will defend those accused of having malicious intent when not everyone does. Maybe some people don’t think about how their vote is supporting the negative things Trump has said. Maybe they’re thinking about some of Trump’s platform that they support, or maybe they’re just more anti-Hillary than they are anti-Trump.  Just like republicans have claimed “a vote for Hillary is a vote for a criminal,” maybe some democrats don’t see it that way, or they’re focusing on other things, like defeating Trump. Maybe they actually like some of Hillary’s stances and choose to overlook her controversies. Analyze why you’re voting for who you’re voting for, and if you catch yourself making these blanket statements about people voting for the opposing candidate, acknowledge that they could say the same thing about you.

Another thing I’ve learned is that many people aren’t hearing both sides of things and they’re just formulating their opinions based off of what people are saying on social media, what their parents say, or what biased news sources say. The reality is that there are valid arguments either side can make about all issues. Just because you happen to agree with one side more, doesn’t make the other sides’ arguments invalid. The side you agree with, the feelings you have towards those facts and opinions you align with – supporters of the other side feel those things about their beliefs too. No one is completely right here (as much as you may think you are.) I’m currently in the library reading my sociology textbook about gun control and it’s interesting because this is a relatively unbiased source of information, and they’re reporting some facts that support an argument for gun control and some facts that support an argument against gun control. Education, people. Learn both sides first and understand that not everyone is going to agree and some people just choose to look at things differently.

This is just what I’ve seen from my personal experience and like I said, these points apply to both political sides. It isn’t right for either side to make assumptions about the other or to generalize. I’m just very sick of people assuming that people who think differently are bad or wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their generalizations and hatred towards those who you have no idea what’s in their hearts. Think before you post, judge, and hate.

Advice to girls going through sorority recruitment from a girl who failed at it

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Okay, so I’m going to start off by reiterating what the title of this post says. I went through sorority recruitment and totally, completely failed at it. If there was ever a wrong way to rush, I did it.

I want to explain how and I want to give girls real, honest advice about the process that I wish I knew beforehand. Actually, I probably did hear this advice beforehand, but I definitely didn’t process it, so all I ask you is to try to take in my points.

Very, very brief background on myself: I rushed at a southern school and I come from northeast Ohio, so I was not in any way, shape, or form prepared for sorority recruitment, let alone southern sorority recruitment. I wasn’t the coolest girl in school and while I did have a nice group of friends in high school, I struggled to fit in. Before, I thought sororities only consisted of the popular, pretty girls, but upon learning that there are many sororities with a variety of different girls in them, I was really excited and the thought of making so many close friends who share my values and who I would partake in so many fun activities with sounded amazing to me. I wanted to be the first woman in my family to ever join a sorority.

That didn’t happen, and it really sucks. But it was also a HUGE learning experience about myself and about life.  I don’t want your recruitment process to end in disappointment like mine did, so here are the brutally honest mistakes that I made that ultimately let to one of the biggest regrets of my life.

1. I was influenced by what people around me were saying. I know, you’re probably thinking, “Why do you care so much about what other people think? I can easily blow that off.” And maybe you can, but you need to be prepared to hear things that may not make you view some houses in the greatest of lights, or you may hear things that can even change your stance on them. I’ll admit this right now. I was easily impressionable, which is a flaw of mine that I’ve worked on a lot. It was really hard to stand in line for a house I liked and had good experiences with and hear girls around me roll their eyes and say, “Not this one again. I just, like, don’t want to be here.” It made me think, wow, do I want to join a sorority that girls have this reaction to? My advice to you: develop a thicker skin when it comes to this stuff. It doesn’t matter what other girls think about that house; all that matters is what you think and how well you can see yourself being friends with the girls. Also, so many girls’ opinions change throughout the process. Those very same girls rolling their eyes may very well end up joining it and loving it. Take it with a grain of salt is what I’m trying to say. Do this for you, not for the people around you.

2. I got caught up in the flash. What I mean by this is “tiers,” in a nutshell. Real or perceived, tiers are something in the back of a lot of girls’ minds going through recruitment. Before rush started, I told myself I didn’t care about getting into a “top tier” sorority. And I genuinely didn’t. Like I mentioned before, I’ve always known I was just a normal girl who didn’t fit in too well in high school, so I wasn’t expecting to join a “top tier” sorority. But as the process started, seeing how girls’ eyes would widen and they would scream with happiness when they got asked back to the top tier sororities, it started to rub off on me. I got asked back to a top tier sorority the second round (as do most girls) and I got caught up into thinking about the status I would obtain being in that sorority. I imagined people’s faces as I told them I was in that sorority. I would finally fit in and have more status than I ever had before.

I cannot stress this enough: PLEASE do not do this. I originally put “try not to do this,” but you can’t afford “trying.” You can only afford “doing” when it comes to this. Pound this into your brain right now.

Looking back, while each sorority has girls anyone can be friends with, that “top tier” sorority I got asked back to probably wouldn’t have been the best fit for me. My values didn’t fit into that sorority’s core values. It is so, so easy to get caught up in rankings and status and tiers. In hindsight, every sorority had its pretty girls, talented girls, smart girls; no one sorority is “better” than the other. They are simply different. Find one that fits you and your values. Caring about perception of status and tiers is so pointless. Once you have the bonds and friendships you acquire through a sorority you actually fit into, I doubt you’ll have a care in the world about tiers and whatnot. Also, how many years will you have to be in your sorority? 4? 3? When it’s all said and done, WHO CARES. I can’t stress this one enough, although it’s so, so easy to get caught up in, like I said. It’s easier said than done.

3. I tried to manipulate the process. “Trust the process!” Is something you’ll hear throughout the week more times than you can count. And for good reason. I had no trust in the process. I thought, I can control this “process” and end up in the exact house I want. How did I do this? I tried too hard in the houses I wanted and I put no effort into my conversations at the houses I didn’t want. Looking back, this was honestly selfish and horrible of me. Imagine how the girl felt on the other side of it…probably uncomfortable and disrespected. This is by far my biggest single regret in the whole process and seeing this ugly side of myself made me take a step back and re-evaluate the person I want to be.

Not only was that pretty shitty of me, it didn’t work at all.

The girls on the other side are probably better judges of how well you would fit into the sorority: don’t assume from one so-so or even bad conversation that you won’t fit in. Looking back, I judged one mediocre conversation and decided that house wasn’t for me, when really, it was probably my perfect fit. Don’t try to manipulate the process. Go to each house and just be. Don’t think too hard, just be yourself and be kind and respectful at the very least. Keep your mind an open book. That’s another cliche that leads me into my next point…

4. Be open-minded. Okay, so maybe the girl you talked to was a little shy, or maybe the girl you talked to rambled, or maybe you didn’t like someone’s hair or makeup. Try to look past those things. View them as a potential friend no matter what. Don’t throw an entire chapter out the window, not until you and the sorority are 100% sure you wouldn’t fit. Like I said before, you just never know which one you’ll end up fitting into, and judging one and tossing it aside could equate to tossing away one of the best things that ever happened to you.

5. Really. Figure out your values…starting now. In the beginning of recruitment, they’ll probably ask you to identify your core values; what makes you you. I didn’t really think too hard about mine although I thought I did, so the values I put down are not quite the values I would put down today now that I’ve had time to think about it with a clear mind. Figure out what makes you tick and what you value in yourself and in a friend. I mean it, don’t put this off until the last minute. It’s important. Had I identified my values better, had I known more about myself at that point, I would have been able to be myself more and the whole thing would have gone a lot smoother. Don’t lose grip on who you are throughout the week like I did. Stay strong and don’t let anything compromise you. Your individuality is what makes you unique and beautiful and when you have that intact, things fall into place.

In conclusion, recruitment definitely brought out some ugly sides of myself, but I can definitely say that I learned from it. I learned judging people and caring about stupid things like status isn’t really who I am and it never was, but the recruitment process can bring out those parts of you if you let it. If I could do it all over again, I would do it so, so different. Let your own light shine in each and every house no matter which house it is and it’ll attract who it’s meant to attract. Keep these things in mind the whole week because they’re easy to forget and also remember that the vast majority of girls going through rush didn’t fail at it like me, but I don’t want to see anyone do what I did and live with the regret.

Best of luck to everyone rushing and I truly hope things work out!