Do We Ever Leave High School?

I sometimes feel like my life coping skills haven't changed much from what they were in my junior year of high school.  So it's comforting to learn that this is pretty normal, if not what I want for myself.  Why? Studies suggest "that  memories from the ages of 15 to 25 are most vividly retained" - it's called the "reminiscence bump." In fact, a lot of who we are is developed in adolescence.  According to developmental psychologist, Laurence Steinberg: "if you’re interested in how people become who they are, so much is going on in the adolescent years.”

It's a period of great fear. Research shows that adolescents are in far less control of their fear response than children or adults. Which could mean that, lacking a way to deal with fear in adolescence, many carry that fear into adulthood.

It's a period of shame. Brené Brown says shame “is all about unwanted identities and labels. And I would say that for 90 percent of the men and women I’ve interviewed, their unwanted identities and labels started during their tweens and teens.”

According to Brown we use one of three methods to cope with shame. We avoid it, “by secret-keeping, by hiding”; we engage it, “by people-pleasing”; or we use "shame and aggression to fight shame and aggression.”

No matter the method, she says that we're likely to use that method for the rest of our lives.

So do we ever leave high school? Maybe not.

For Shame

Shame, it seems, does nothing to deter certain human behavior. A new study out of USC states that "the more we anticipate wagging fingers, public pillory and guilt, the worse we're likely to do when it comes to self-control. If we focus on the pride that comes from good behavior, we make better choices." How did the researchers come by their results? With cake, of course. (My kind of scientific study!). Researchers offer study participants chocolate cake. The participants who focused on the pride they would feel in resisting the cake, fared better - they ate less of the cake. Said more scientifically: "when it comes to self-regulation, anticipated pride outperformed anticipated shame as well as unconsidered, heedless consumption."

Why should this be so? "Simply put, anticipating pride makes us feel good, and anticipating shame makes us feel bad."

Focusing on the positive effects of our actions can help us to act in the ways we want to.

Hmmm. I'm going to think of how proud I'll be of my abs when I skip a cupcake. I'll let you know if it works!