Learn to be yourself

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 12:00am

Any teenager who has read the Adrian Mole books will sympathise with his turbulent adolescence.

Teenagers have to worry about having the right clothes, cool friends and good grades. Yet do these things really matter?

No, says Carolyn Neunuebel, a counsellor at Hong Kong Psychological Services. 'What makes you important are not grades, looks or friends, but who you are. Everyone is unique, so it's important to be different from your friends. Sometimes you may not feel strong enough to be different and have your own opinions, but it's important not to let other people's opinions affect you too much.'

The first step to being your own person is to understand what makes you attractive to other people. '[Looks and material objects] do not make you an attractive person. Instead, it's about what kind of energy you send out,' explains Ms Neunuebel.

'If you like yourself, you send out positive energy. But if you think bad things about yourself, people will pick up on the negative energy and think the same about you.'

To avoid being a conformist, you should learn to love yourself.

First, you have to pay attention to your self-talk - what you say to yourself in your head. 'If you say things to yourself that you wouldn't say to your friends, you need to change your self- talk,' Ms Neunuebel says.

She cites an example of someone who has made a mistake in a test: 'When you make a mistake don't be too hard on yourself. Instead, you need to say to yourself, 'I didn't do it well, I'll do better next time'.' There are also times when you may disagree with your friends and they may say mean things about you. Falsehoods do hurt, even if we know they are untrue. Ms Neunuebel offers two ways to protect ourselves from nasty comments.

'Think of a big glass that fits over you. Inside this glass you can control the emotional environment. Let good criticism come through the glass. Accept it and change for the better, but don't let the bad words in because you know they are not true. Only you can decide what's true and what's not,' she says.

Another way to deflect insults is to agree with them, says Ms Neunuebel. 'When you agree with the negative things said about you, you won't feel so bad. If it's true, then it gives the other person a chance to tell you what upset them and they will give up trying to hurt you.' For those who have to make decisions affecting their future careers, Ms Neunuebel says: 'In terms of career, it is important to follow what you want to do - even if it upsets your parents.'

Following this advice will not guarantee that you will work out exactly who you are and what you want in life - that will only happen through experience - but at least you will have a head start in getting there.