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Lying to Feel Safe

Feeling Safer Outside of Home

You Get Cross If We Tell You The Truth

Dangerous To Tell The Truth


Feeling Safer Outside of Home

In other articles (For example, Teens, Internet, Emotional Neglect) we have written about how parents often make it hard or impossible for depressed, self-harming teens to help and support each other. Here is some writing from around 2006.

Mar 2012 Note -

When I wrote this I was afraid to use any names, even screen names, but now I have edited the file to use one of the teens' screen names. We called her "Jen." Now I can also say this took place in England between two 16 year olds.


The other day two teens met for the first time in real life. They had talked online for over a year. I feel good to know I introduced them to each other. One of the teens, Jen, had to lie to her parents to see him. But after they met, she told me she felt the safest she has felt in a long time.

Why doesn't this girl feel safe at home? Or in her school? Why does she have to sneak around, take risks, live in fear and under stress just to be with a person she feels emotionally safe with?

My answer is that it is because she doesn't live in a culture which values her feelings. She doesn't live in a family which values her feelings. She doesn't go to a school which values her feelings.

Her culture has different values. They are confusing her natural instincts. She is a beautiful person on the inside. I have known her for over two years. She is a person who always tries to help, who doesn't like to hurt anyone. The world leaders could learn a lot from her. But instead, it is more likely they will keep trying to convert her into one of their own.

Regardless of the country an intelligent, sensitive teen lives in, that country will try, through its dominant institutions such as the educational system or a religious or patriotic, political or economic belief system, to convert that person to their way of thinking, feeling and behaving.

In my experience with suicidal teens this is exactly the opposite of what the world actually needs in order for our species to survive. What we need is to listen to the expressions of pain from the suicidal and self-harming teens and then adjust society to meet their needs. This will make the world a safe place for them, because it is safety they seek. Not only physically safe, which it isn't now, but also a psychologically safe place. The problem is the adults in power do not listen to the children or teenagers.

There is something wrong with a family and culture when a teenager has to lie to spend time with someone she feels safe with. And when she sees no hope of seeing this person again for another year. And when she is afraid to tell her parents she met him or would like to see him again.

Something is very wrong. Yet this 16 year old thinks she is the one who is wrong. Last night she sounded more suicidal than I have ever heard her sound before. Her family doesn't understand. If she kills herself, they won't understand why. They keep telling her she has a good life and has no reason to complain. They have confused her. I tell her she is damaged and abused, she denies it. She says "My parents tell me what a good life I have. They say I go to a good school and have a good family and have everything I need." They tell her to stop complaining and get on with things. They have failed to really listen to her. She is getting more and more frustrated because she literally cannot live in that environment.

She needs an emotionally safe and validating environment. She has found this online and now with one real-life friend. But for each hour she spends online she spends five or 10 being subjected to people telling her nearly the exact opposite of the things her online support group tells her. They tell her they love her. They tell her how much she helps everyone. They tell her she is important and has a lot to offer the world.

Yet her family gives her the message that she is unlovable, unworthy of love. They give her the message she is a burden and they would be better off without her. She thinks she causes family problems. Her parents have made her feel responsible for their unhappiness. When she was 14 she used to tell me it was her job to keep the peace in the family. But this is a mission impossible for a 14 year old. That is not nature's design for her. Her parents are supposed to provide a peaceful environment. But they create a stressful environment. One filled with fear. So much fear she is afraid to tell them she wants to see a male friend of hers who she feels safe with and loved by. This is almost a modern Romeo and Juliet story. Let's hope it doesn't have the same conclusion.

S. Hein
Originally written in 2006

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You Get Cross If We Tell You The Truth

While traveling in New Zealand I happened to meet a mother with her children. We had some time to talk and during our discussion we started talking about children lying or being honest with their parents. She said she tells them to tell the truth and they reply, "But you will get cross at us if we tell the truth." Then she says "Lying will get you into more trouble."

She really believes this will encourage them to be honest. She seems to be sincerely trying to create a safe environment for them where it is ok to make mistakes and tell the truth, but she is going about it the wrong way. She is making them afraid of both lying and of telling the truth. I suspect they are smart enough to still lie when they think they can get away with it. Or they will "omit" certain things when the talk to her since they are afraid of her.

Dangerous To Tell The Truth

In several places on this site I have written about how one common characteristic of depressed, self harming and suicidal teens is that it is dangerous for them to tell the truth in their families.

This checklist shows this and other characteristics we have observed in our over 15 years of work with teenagers.