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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 29/01/2007 | 2 Comments

I was sitting next to someone at a dinner the other night who had been senior in health in Scotland. "The one thing I could never understand", he told me, "is why young women these days act in ways which are so contrary to their health and well-being." And he added ruefully, "I’m not talking here about wee girls from the schemes, with few opportunities in life. I’m talking about young women who have good life chances."

It is something I’ve been puzzling for a while – why are young women these days so hard-drinking? Why do they often deliberately drink not just to get tipsy but totally gutted? It’s a phenomenon I see not just when I go into Glasgow but also out here in a well-heeled area of Stirlingshire Presumably it has become so much of a health hazard that we are now seeing a huge number of health ads about girls throwing up from drink.

Now the one thing that drink is good for is taking you out of yourself. It frees up inhibitions. It allows you to say and do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. And misplaced though it may be, it helps people cope with stress. This is why so many white collar workers, after a long day in the office, feel the need to consume the best part of a bottle of wine.

These were the type of thoughts going through my mind when I read an extract from the new book written by clinical psychologist Oliver James in one of the Sunday papers yesterday. The book is called Affluenza and I had expected it to be fairly similar to a number of the volumes that have appeared recently on how we exaggerate the importance of money for happiness. But in this extract from the book, James was arguing that the particular casualties of our success-driven age are middle class girls. The intro to the piece reads:

The middle classes appear to be driving their teenage daughters potty by – however unwittingly – putting them under too much academic pressure. The sharp increase in emotional distress among this group is one of the most counter-intuitive trends in modern life. Given that comfortably off young women enjoy greater opportunities and freedoms than at any time in history, you really would have thought that boys and low-income girls would be far worse off.

James cites empirical evidence, some of it from Scotland, which shows that between 1987 and 1999 it was middle class girls who showed the most increase in anxiety – much greater than equivalent figures for working class girls or boys.

He explains this increase in distress in middle class girls as the result of a variety of factors including the pressure to achieve academically in schools and families where standards and expectations are so high that not getting straight As looks like failure. James also argues that often middle class girls have mothers who may say they want the best for their daughters but who are using them as ‘agents for satisfying their own ambitions, by making their love conditional on performance and by being excessively controlling.’

On top of this academic pressure, modern middle class girls are fed a constant diet of negative messages about themselves from our celebrity obsessed, media driven culture. It is perfectly understandable that so many of them become obsessed about their weight, appearance and how ‘hot’ they are.

So next time you see a young girl throwing up in the street pause for a minute and think about how much stress she might be under and whether she is simply another casualty of the Affluenza virus.

Comment By Comment
Joined: 19/10/2007

Comment Posted: 21/11/2007 21:36

Lately we were discussing the issue "what is the diffence between us" at the university with the students. When I was at their age, I was discussing who is valuable, who is superior, who is inferior.....I was in my twenties.....the professor I was discussing this topic with said to me that "when we pass away the worms under the soil are going to eat all of us....they are not going to say this individual is valuable or rich or this and that and I should not eat them." I have students from Africa, China, Europe.....What is the diffence between a black and a white or a chineese. When we are created, the Lord is creating us with love. We are so valuable for him. I think we are forgetting this fact and we are trying to categorize each other......titles....money, fame are means for us to forget the fact that we are all valuable, we are all lovable, we all deserve respect and happiness......we are here for an evolution.....for maturation.......for giving a hand.......for thinking, for producing, for constructing not destructing actually. But life is so full, we all need to rush......we have no time for our inner voice........inner voices are so human, so humble, so giving......I met some people, they were not comfortable with the softness in themselves......I have got various characteristics, I have got love, anger, pain, acceptance, rejection, humiliation, narrow-mindedness, broad-mindedness......all of them are me......and I should be proud of myself ........this acceptance will lead to maturation and development and change......I should ask myself: "when I do this or say this, do I feel comfortable?".......my uniqueness as we all are.......will add something to humanity....I am not perfect.....I need to learn many things from many events and many people........

As Virginia Satir says , "I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. I can love me and be friendly with all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know -- but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me. However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I am me, and I am Okay."

Leyla Fetihi
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