An excerpt from David Murray’s Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression
Dr. David Murray is a professor at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and also a counselor. He has authored a set of books for parents to use along with their struggling son or daughter. The first, Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression is for teens to read on their own. It has 18 chapters, each one detailing a particular struggle with anxiety. All but one of these accounts is fictional – the author’s despairing doubt is the exception – but all are relatable. “Circular Sarah” in chapter 1 is overwhelmed by her schoolwork and extra-curriculars, and starts having sleep problems, which leaves her even more exhausted, and even more overwhelmed. Chapter 4’s “Imaginative Imogen” has a vivid imagination that might be a blessing in many circumstances, but has Imogen putting herself in the shoes of every victim she reads about in her social media feed. Whether it’s a school shooting, or some other tragedy, she feels it, and it’s leaving her fearful and depressed. In chapter 9 we meet “Negative Nicole” who can’t help but see the bad side of everything. Even when she’s having fun with her friends, she feels guilty about not working harder on her school work. These are personalities we’ve all met, and to some extent been, and Dr. Murray doesn’t simply capture what’s going wrong, but gives solid steps for how teens can redirect their thinking, learn to know God better, and otherwise start really addressing and contending with their anxiety.
The parallel text for parents, Why is my Teenager Feeling like This? A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety & Depression, covers the same personalities chapter by chapter, but offers more depth, and is written to equip parents to talk to and help their anxious teens. There’s some repeat from one book to the next, but not that much, so parents may even want to read both.
It is an amazing set, with counseling that takes the best secular insights and filters them through the lens of Scripture to keep what is true and dispose of the bunk – this is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. It is also immediately applicable, and I can imagine parents being so very encouraged. Battling anxiety might be a battle indeed, but in crafting this set, Dr. David Murray has given parents and teens an amazing tool they can both use together as a team.
To give you a taste of what’s inside, the publisher has given us permission to share Chapter 11, about “Beautiful Brianna” from the teen book. – Jon Dykstra
I spend a lot of time on my appearance. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. I have a part-time job, but I’m struggling to save up for a car because I spend all my money on new clothes and makeup.
I’m always fighting with my mom because she says my jeans are too tight, my tops are too low, my shorts are too short, and so on. It’s so stressful.
My friends say I’m gorgeous, and I get a lot of attention from the boys, but I’m not happy with myself. I can put on a smile when I’m with people and act confidently, but deep down I don’t think I’ll ever be pretty enough.
The Key of Identity
What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about yourself? What do you answer when you ask yourself, “Who am I?” This can be difficult to answer in our teen years because these are often times of great change and confusion as we transition from childhood to adulthood. Like Brianna, we can end up adopting a false and harmful identity. Here are some common examples:
I am my body. Do you define yourself by your body, like Brianna did? Nine out of ten girls are unhappy with their body. “I’m fat… skinny… tall… small… ugly… beautiful…”
I am my grades. Do you get your sense of worth from your performance at school? If you get good grades, you feel good about yourself and look down on others. If you get bad grades, you are a failure, and are jealous of others.
I am my friends. Do you build your identity around having friends – online or real life? The more friends you have, the better you feel. Or is your life worthless unless you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
I am my sin. Is there a sin in your life that dominates your thinking? You cannot think about yourself without thinking of that sin, that habit, that incident.
I am my sport. If you win, or your team wins, you feel great. If not, life’s not worth living. Your mood depends on medals and trophies.
I am my anxiety/depression. Have you let your anxiety or depression define you? When you look at yourself, all you see is depression or anxiety.
I am my past. Maybe you’ve been the victim of abuse. I’m so sorry. It was not your fault. It should not have happened to you. It was wrong. But are you allowing that abuse to ruin the rest of your life by letting it dominate your thoughts and define who you are?
I am my sexual desires. God created us so that sexual desire, intimacy, and enjoyment would be part of human experience. Sin, however, has distorted this good gift, with the result that what God designed to be a part of us can become the whole of us. We’re especially vulnerable to this in our teen years when we experience the awakening of sexual desire. This can become so powerful that we allow it to define us at times. However, it’s a big mistake to let extreme, confusing, and temporary emotions define us for the rest of our lives.
What’s so bad about all these identities? Some are simply false; they just aren’t true. Others are based on factors that are constantly changing. Some of them give power to other people to define us. Others are given first place when they don’t deserve even tenth place. And all of this creates a lot of mental and emotional distress.
So we’re going to replace these false and shaky identities with a true and strong identity, one given to us by the God who made us and knows us best. We do this in four steps.
STEP ONE: I AM AN IMAGE BEARER OF GOD
God made you to bear his image (Gen. 1:27), to show who he is to the rest of the world. That’s your fundamental identity and purpose. Therefore, before you even answer “Who am I?,” you need to find out who God is. Often we go wrong on the “Who am I?” question because we’ve got the wrong answer to the “Who is God?” question.
STEP TWO: I AM A SINNER
Although God originally made us to carry and show his image to the world, we are now sinners and our sin has distorted that image. That’s why we need the Bible. It shows us who God is and who we are.
STEP THREE: I AM A CHRISTIAN
To fully recover your God-given identity and replace all false identities, you need to become a Christian through faith in Christ. Faith in Christ gives you a new identity in Christ. Think of all that becomes true of you when you can truly say, “I am a Christian.”
I am loved by God. God has loved me from eternity past and will love me forever (Jeremiah 31:3). Therefore, whoever else loves me or doesn’t love me matters much less.
I am a child of God. It doesn’t matter who my natural family is if I am a child of God. As part of God’s family, I need never be lonely because I have brothers and sisters all over the world (Romans 8:14–17).
I am accepted by God. Others may be cast out and reject me, but God accepts me 100 percent (Romans 15:7).
I am forgiven by God. Yes, I am a sinner, and I have committed terrible sins, but Christ’s blood washes and cleanses me from all sin and makes me clean in his sight. I am white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
I am the body of Christ. If my body is a member of Christ’s body, what more can I ask for? It may not be the most attractive or desirable body to others, but Christ has shed his blood to make my body part of his body (1 Corinthians 6:15).
I am a joy to God. God doesn’t just tolerate me; he enjoys me and sings songs over me and about me (Zephaniah 3:17).
None of these things ever change if you are a Christian. They don’t depend on your feelings or on other people. You are not defined by your body, your grades, your friends, your enemies, your sin, your sports, your successes, your failures, or your sexuality. You are defined by God, and with this God-given identity in hand you can defy every other attempt to define or identify you. Let God’s voice silence all the other voices.
If you are not a Christian yet, I hope you will read about this incredible identity and say, “I want that for myself.”
STEP FOUR: I AM UNIQUE
Steps one through three are equally true of all God’s children. However, that doesn’t mean that God just turns out Christian clones, look-alikes in every respect. No, God has made each of us different with unique personalities, characters, gifts, graces, and callings.
We make a big mistake if we make our uniqueness the most important thing about us. However, we also err if we ignore or downplay our God-given uniqueness. That’s why we come to God and ask him—not our parents, our culture, or our friends— “Who do you want me to be?” If we answer this right, so much else will be right.
Update from Brianna
I was definitely defining myself by my looks. My identity was tied up with my body. Through counseling, I came to see that this was causing me to be depressed. I could never be beautiful enough. There were always going to be lots of girls prettier than me.
Once my counselor introduced me to the four steps, I had a plan to recover my stolen identity and replace my false identity. I thought this would work quicker than it did, but it’s taking time because I had embraced a false identity for so long. I do have more good days than bad days though, especially when I consciously work through the four steps.
The key thing has been to get my identity from God, not from my body, not from my looks, and not from other people. I don’t think so much about how I look now, and I’m happier. I spend a lot less money on clothes and makeup. I might even save up enough money for a car by next summer.
Content taken from “Why Am I Feeling Like This?” by David Murray, ©2020. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.