‘I’m more confident now’ is often proudly cited as one of the markers of the success of the SFC teenagers. But confidence in what? What have they achieved? What does ‘confidence’ look like?
17 year-old Sammy has Aspergers. She explained to me her bewilderment of social interactions. Sad and self-critical, she felt that she didn’t ‘fit in’. She asked me if I could help her to feel more confident. I encouraged her to define what she meant by that. Now, she has learned how to start a conversation: which words to use and good topics to talk about. Initially, she explained that she didn’t know what to say or do if someone was upset. These days, she can comfort a friend who is crying. She accepts that she will never be super-chatty, empathetic or loud – it just wouldn’t be ‘Sammy’. But she has gained knowledge of social skills that have helped to feel like she ‘fits’ and thus her confidence has grown.
What will the confident version of you look like?
So when a young person identifies ‘confidence’ as something they would like to improve or gain, it is important to be curious and ask:
‘What is confidence to you?
What will confidence look like when you have it?
What will the confident version of you be doing that is different?’
This also enables us to check that they are being realistic. It is okay if we, as their coach or key adult, help them to adjust aspirations or goals. The supportive and interactive S.F.C approach allows them to set clear goals.
The Return of Ned
Ned was referred to me, having been involved in fights with his peers and being abusive to staff. He simmered with anger, like electricity, symbolised by scarred, flattened knuckles and his hopeless ‘no one can help me’ air.
Why so angry?
To the untrained eye and to his peers, Ned embodied confidence. Physically strong, tall, loud, often the centre of attention.
But Ned’s concept of himself was:
‘I’m angry, that’s me, that’s all I am.’
He wasn’t proud of this attribute. Fearful of following in the steps of his older male family members – for whom violent behaviour had given them criminal records and time in prison – Ned confessed that he had ‘zero confidence’ in himself. Despite his loud, ‘cocky’ exterior, he despised himself and could think of no positive attributes at all. He sadly explained that he was desperate to learn how to control his anger and he committed to weekly 1-1 sessions with me.
Realistic Goals = More Chance of Success = Confidence
To Ned, success would be to break a devastating genetic chain, but we needed to set a specific goal. In discussing the impact of his anger, Ned was able to explain how many times per week he was involved in highly charged disputes or fights. Therefore, part of his success would be to reduce the frequency of fights. Ned was also keen to control the force and velocity of his reactions: could he learn how to reach ‘annoyed/angry’, rather than ‘boiling/exploding’ and to calm himself quicker? Could he learn how not to get involved in the first place? We needed to take it one step at a time.
So Ned set his target as: to try to gain an understanding of himself and his reactions and to develop the confidence to deal with social interactions in a non-violent way.
The target was reviewed regularly.
This was a tall order – and one that Ned feared was impossible. It was clear that he felt that the task was mountainous. His air of hopelessness and his scepticism were always hovering.
But, he kept coming to his appointments each week, on the dot. He believed that:
‘if you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re late’.
He also learnt about the root of anger in the brain – about the Amygdala and the Fight or Flight response and how to calm this. He lapped it all up: he enjoyed learning.
But why was Ned so frequently at the centre of the fights?
When Strengths and Values Can be Problematic!
The S.F.C skills of curiosity, empathy and openness came to the fore. Ned and I needed to understand what was behind Ned’s frequent violent transactions with his peers, in and out of school, and thus allow him to build the confidence to modify his behaviour.
The ‘Strengths-Focused’ part of SFC was key! When exploring his strengths and his values, Ned’s identified that he was ‘caring’: he was passionate about helping his friends out when they were in difficulties. It seemed that Ned was the linchpin of his social group.
As Ned continued to explain, a picture began to build of Ned’s role within his group. Were Ned a service, his advertisement would look something like this:
Call on Ned. He’ll sort it.
Need someone to fight your corner for you?
Ned’s fists are at the ready.
Got a problem you can’t be bothered to sort out for yourself?
Fancy being entertained by some pointless fighting?
Light Ned’s torch paper and watch him explode!
Ned: A Modern Knight in Shining Armour
It became clear that Ned, in trying to ‘care’ for his friends had adopted a role of ‘rescuer’, whilst also being a ‘perpetrator’ of violence. When his friends became involved in arguments or conflicts, they would call upon Ned to sort it out – often with his fists. His friendships meant much to him, yet a dangerous habitual pattern had emerged. In trying to fill the void of low self-esteem, Ned had filled it with a ‘confidence’ nourished by a dangerous role.
Initially, Ned felt important as a ‘Knight in shining armour’, but now he was hating it: it was getting out of control, but he lacked the confidence to change it. He felt trapped and helpless, scared that he was in a cycle that he was powerless to escape. A cycle that was putting him at risk of following in the footsteps of his male family members.
He also realised that certain ‘friends’ were simply enjoying the spectacle of triggering his anger and standing back to watch the game. As a result of both, Ned was angry with himself – pretty much all the time. Beneath the tough bravado and despite the appearance that he was succeeding in sorting out conflicts and arguments – in Ned’s opinion, he was failing, sinking. The only place he was revealing these feelings was in his S.F.C sessions.
Confidence and Identity: a Delicate Relationship
As an outsider looking in, we may think: ‘just stop wading in, Ned. Say ‘no’. Walk away. Let your friends sort it out themselves.’ But the developing teenage identity does not always allow such an easy transition. Peer groups and friendships matter, as does reputation. Behaviour habits are formed, strongly bound up in identity and self-esteem. If you pull down the wall and remove that identity, what is left? In Ned’s mind, if he didn’t help his friends, surely it would mean that he didn’t care, and boy was he passionate about caring!
Ned’s role was all-encompassing. Despite progress in understanding himself – his values, his strengths and the physiology of his anger, there was an almighty mental battle ensuing that was far more challenging than the battles taking place in and out of school.
It was pretty exhausting for both of us. Then, one day, I showed Ned a simple diagram. Find out in Post 9 what the diagram was and Ned’s reaction to it.
But we will finish Post 8 in a way that is fitting when we are finding it tough going. Appreciate what has been gained so far:
- Ned was turning up. Every week.
- Initially, Ned scowled a lot, his body language tight and closed, but now he was smiling more and relaxing in his chair, sharing his rather ‘dark’ sense of humour
- He brought his girlfriend along and showed her what he had been doing with me
- He took full part in the SFC activities
- He gave thoughtful responses to his SFC work
- One week, he had opted to talk to me about his family history. He said, ‘I’ve never talked to anyone about all this before’
And confidence? Young people such as Ned and Sammy are teaching me that it is about having an identity – ‘this is me: these are my strengths and values’. It is about feeling secure and content in this identity and remaining true to it. ‘To feel able to deal with life’.
Next time: Ned’s dramatic realisation – and a crisis. Read the rest of Ned’s story by clicking here :
- Post 10: Teenagers: The Power of Role
- Post 11: Dismantling the Stereotype?
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