Friday, November 11, 2011

Sexting her Way to Depression

We really didn’t need a new study to tell us this, but for those who did, sexting is bad for an adolescent’s mental health.  

Girls who sext are most apt to suffer from depression and to self-medicate with a panoply of self-destructive symptoms. 
Obviously enough, the girls who sext are at far greater risk for depression than are the boys who receive the images.
Some will say, not unreasonably, that girls who sext are more depression-prone in the first place. More likely to be outcasts they are more likely to be desperate for approval.
Yet, this can apply to nearly any high school student, even those who are the most popular. 
Unfortunately, when sexting starts looking like an adolescent rite of passage, a gesture that bespeaks true love, then peer group pressure to conform can induce otherwise popular and well-adjusted girls to try it out.
Even girls who are part of the in-crowd fear being ostracized. And they know that it can happen from one day to the next for no good reason at all.
Amazingly adolescent minds do not register that sexting leads to shame, not acceptance. After all, exposing your private parts in public is the universal basis for shame.
The traumatic shock is rendered more painful because these girls are simply not old enough to understand what shame is or how to deal with it. 
Before we blame the iPhone, lets note that the therapy culture has been laying the groundwork for sexting. 
Among its mindless mantras is the injunction to express yourself freely and openly. Add the notion that you should not care about what other people think of you and that these other people have no right to judge you, and you create a toxic conceptual mix that can make sexting feel like wholesome adolescent fun.
A girl with a burgeoning social identity can discover, to her horror, that her reputation has been seriously damaged by a silly mistake. And she will learn, to her chagrin, that she cannot get a do-over.
She will feel that no one respects her, that her school mates laugh when she walks by, that they avoid her company, disparage her character, ignore her opinions… all because everyone has seen an image of her private parts. The image is so powerful that it distracts everyone from everything that is good about her.
This tells us, yet again, that a sense of shame defines us as social beings.
Feelings of shame attend those who breach of the barrier between public and private. When your private parts are on public display people are less likely to see you as a social being and more likely to see you as a social outcast.
Adults have some knowledge about how to overcome shame. Children lack the necessary moral tools to do so.
So, they tend to follow the rule that has been laid down in what some psychiatrists call symptom selection theory. They try to make the bad feelings go away by adopting bad habits that are culturally recognized.
These habits include bulimia and anorexia, cutting, pulling out hair, promiscuity, abusing drugs and alcohol, or other forms of self-punishment.
Self-punishing behaviors are not socially acceptable, but they are recognized by the psychiatric profession. A girl who feels bereft and forlorn will know that she will be accepted and cared for when she adopts socially-recognized symptoms. 
All of those books and movies and talk shows warning about the dangers of these behaviors will be showing her the way to gain a new identity (as an interesting case) and a new social circle.
It’s sad, but it’s also true.
I would add that girls choose self-punishing behaviors because they are trying to treat their shame as though it were guilt. This too derives from a therapy culture that does not know how to deal with shame. Where the therapy culture prescribes self-criticism, adolescent girls find other, less spiritual, forms of self-punishment.
If you break a law or sin or otherwise transgress you know that you can reduce our guilt feelings by confessing and atoning. 
Doing penance, even penance that involves self-harm—I am thinking of self-flagellation-- is a tried and true way of diminishing guilt.
A sinner who pays the wages of sin can go forth to sin again. 
Unfortunately, sexting is not a crime. It is not a sin. The damage it does does not go away when you hurt yourself.  
Sexting and the attendant shame involve how people see you and how they talk about you. 
Even if you have managed, with self-punishment or some other therapeutic machination, to feel better about yourself momentarily, even if you keep telling yourself that you did not intend for the picture to be sent to all the boys in the high school, none of it really addresses the central issue: how to rebuild your reputation.
Obviously, it’s doable. Yet, rebuilding a reputation, causing that image to disappear from the minds of your friends, takes time and effort. It does not happen overnight. 

1 comment:

JP said...

"A sinner who pays the wages of sin can go forth to sin again.
Unfortunately, sexting is not a crime. It is not a sin. The damage it does does not go away when you hurt yourself."

From an off the cuff standpoint, sexting sounds like it's on the fornication spectrum somewhere, which would put it in the sin category.