Understanding ‘Self-Defeatist Syndrome’
A person whose head is bowed and whose eyes are heavy cannot look at the light.
Christine de Pizan
What I will term ‘self-defeatist syndrome’ is the uninvited Gremlin that moves into young minds, metaphorically speaking. The Gremlin is STRESS that leads to DISTRESS, an unruly tenant that is powerful, deceitful and controlling. Its ultimate goal is to take control of a teenager’s life in a destructive manner causing him/her to feel alone, depressed, angry, afraid, hopeless and anxious. The Gremlin’s goal is to isolate the teenager from family and friends, thus making itself even more powerful. It wants to make the teenager feel lonely and powerless, surrendering to the darkness, diminishing his/her light and self-esteem, distorting his/her belief system and sense of self.
The sense of self
The ‘self’ relates to our uniqueness and individuality, our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sense of worth, and how we view ourselves. The self also relates to our sense of identity, our belief system and values.
A teenager with a healthy sense of self will:
- feel confident and competent
- feel a sense of belonging and acceptance
- feel secure, safe and valued
- have self-discipline and self-control
- learn from and move on from mistakes with new awareness
- value his/her strengths and accept his/her weaknesses
- have a healthy set of core values
These are all the traits that the gremlin of self-defeatist syndrome despises and wants to eliminate. The Gremlin does not want the teenager to have a healthy sense of self; a healthy sense of self is its enemy. Its wish and desire is for the teenager to have a defeatist view of him/herself. In achieving this, the Gremlin has accomplished its objective and is actively compromising the wellbeing of teenagers, who are not strong enough to evict the Gremlin on their own.
The defeatist attitude
The ‘defeatist attitude’ refers to an attitude or view of oneself which is negative, pessimistic and unforgiving. A teenager with a defeatist view of him/herself will present with low self-esteem and a noticeable and ongoing lack of motivation, generally deriving little pleasure from life, with a distinct lack of belief in his/her abilities. This is a clear sign that the Gremlin has moved in and taken the teenager hostage. Teenagers in this situation will often use phrases like:
- What’s the point?
- It won’t work for me
- They would all be better off without me
- It’s just one thing after another
- I couldn’t be bothered
- I can’t manage this anymore
- I am no good
- No one cares about me
- I can’t do it
A ‘syndrome’ refers to a combination of signs and symptoms that are indicative of a particular condition. A teenager in midst of self-defeatist syndrome will generally present with:
- Low energy
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal ideation (thinking)
A teenager can experience low energy for a number of reasons. Adolescence is a period marked by a rapid increase in physical and emotional development. Puberty, hormonal changes and the soaring growth of bones and muscles can have a temporary effect on energy levels, causing many teenagers to feel fatigued from time to time; this is totally normal and to be expected. However, if low energy persists and negatively effects the quality of life of a teenager, a detailed and comprehensive medical investigation is warranted and strongly advised. A full medical investigation should uncover any organic reasons for fatigue and low energy; then, the right treatment can get a teenager’s energy levels back on track and prevent the onset of self-defeatist syndrome.
Common organic reasons for low energy uncovered through a medical investigation in teenagers include:
- Iron-deficiency anaemia
- Low thyroid function
- Vitamin B and C deficiencies
If after a full medical investigation no organic causes for low energy and fatigue can be detected, then lifestyle needs to be further scrutinised and addressed as the Gremlin may be actively trying to move in.
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This blog has been adapted from Overcoming Self-harm and Suicidal Thoughts: A Practical Guide for the Adolescent Years by Liz Quish.