Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
My niece Lara is 15 and I’m concerned. My sister, Lara’s mom, is proud of her and just shakes her head when Lara gets upset because she got an A- on her report card instead of an A. But I can’t help but notice that Lara, at 15, has the same expectations of herself that most kids have when they are in their last year of high school. She worries about getting into the best college, having the best grades, doing volunteer work to pad her resume…her mom sees it as all wonderful, but I think Lara’s so concentrated on her own achievements that she has no awareness of or compassion for other people at all. She also doesn’t seem to have any close ties to friends her own age. Her mom says it’s because Lara is so far ahead of others in her class, but to me, this doesn’t seem healthy. What do you think?
You’ve described Lara as a narcissist but another way of looking at her is to see her as the archetypical hero type. Heroes don’t fraternize with normal people. Heroes don’t get to live normal lives. Heroes don’t get to have relationships. Heroes achieve, sacrifice, then die. Many people like Lara, when they ultimately fail, kill themselves. They feel they redeem themselves and make the world a better place world through their sacrifice. It is what they have been taught.
Heroes lead lonely lives no matter how good or generous they are. Lara needs to learn skills to counter her black-and-white, win-or-fail, thinking. She needs to learn that people and life are imperfect. She needs to get comfortable with ambiguity and not knowing. She needs to cut herself and everyone else a break. She needs to learn that the meaning of life is balance. Maybe she and her mom should join a t’ai chi class together. It might help them to slow down and breathe.
Adolescence is a phase also called Narcissism vs Shame. This means is that it is the time for adolescents to learn how to balance self and others. Many people see others as extensions of themselves, or themselves as an extension of others. Either way of thinking is untrue and unbalanced. There is no one final answer, the best we can do is to find balance. It takes questioning. It requires role models and mentors. And it takes time.
Good luck with your journey.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: when you describe Lara, I see a girl who is different from those around her and is in for a tough time of it if she can’t get comfortable in her own skin. Right now, she is very uncomfortable. She has a fire in her gut and she’s racing to get there, which is a very good thing in one respect. It means that she is an achiever and your sister doesn’t have to worry that ten years from now Lara will be camped out in the basement, smoking pot all day and still without a job. But every personality type has it’s own set of problems and if Lara doesn’t gain a little perspective she’s going to self destruct before she gets where she’s trying to go.
That old adage “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” is very true. Except in this case, rather than simply making her dull, all that work could make Lara a basket case who develops ulcers and nervous tics and never develops a social support system of her own. Whether she is different or not, it just isn’t healthy to be isolated. Statistically speaking, it’s dangerous for your physical well-being…loneliness has twice the impact on early death as obesity does. And as far as mental health goes, people who are isolated suffer a much higher rate of depression and anxiety related disorders, which could be one of the reasons that Lara is so edgy about her grades.
I think that the best thing you can do for Lara is to try to connect her with people that she has more in common with so that she can develop friends. I understand why she can’t relate to the boy crazy, giggling girls in her current classes, but she’s not the only intelligent, driven girl in the world. There’s a lot of them, especially in better schools. Public schools tend to be geared to the average student who is far less focused on success and more interested in mindless fun and exploring sex.
A note about t’ai chi- I think any form of meditation or martial arts is great and could help Lara’s nerves, but it is probably not a solution to her problem of isolation. T’ai Chi classes are not going to socialize her. People are there to concentrate on their own performance, not to have fun. It could, unfortunately, become just another self-centered activity she is trying to perfect as the lonely archetype hero.