Updated: Nov 3
The teenage me had a terrible personality. I had few friends at school and the teachers and other adults didn’t much like me, either. That’s not what I really wanted. I really wanted to be liked and accepted by everybody. I just didn’t know how to make that happen. My brain was so scrambled by all the bad things happening in my life. I saw myself as a bad person and acted badly toward others.
My attitude was my worst enemy. I was mad at the world and I wanted the world to know it.
That’s my definition of a bad attitude and a bad attitude does not attract people, it turns them off. That was me and I was too young to realize that the reflection of the ugly duckling in the mirror would have been much more attractive to the rest of the world with a smile and a serious attitude adjustment.
These are the attitude changes that helped me get my life together.
Attitude is what attracts people to you or pushes them away. Look at yourself in the mirror and pretend you’re someone else looking at you. Do you see a person that you would want to be friends with or someone you’d avoid? Do you give off good or bad vibes? Do you have a pleasing personality or are you a prickly porcupine? Who is the person in the mirror and what can they do to make their personality more attractive? Self-reflection allows you to examine your thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviors and identify ways to make your personality more pleasing.
Attitude is all about how you choose to see and relate to the world. Replace your bad behaviors with good behaviors. My bad behaviors were the mirror reflecting the pain and confusion inside my head. The longer the pain and confusion continued to influence my thoughts and behaviors, the deeper down the black hole I fell. Without mental health help, I doubt I would have changed my bad behaviors and the downward direction of my life on my own. With time and practice, I learned to stop treating everyone like an enemy and took on more acceptable behaviors, like watching my language, being polite, smiling, joking, laughing and saying please and thank you.
Your attitude is the gauge of your mental health. Quit blaming yourself and others for your situation. I blamed myself for not being a good son. I blamed my dad for leaving us. I blamed my mom for her crazy fear of germs. I blamed school for flunking me and suspending me and expelling me and making me hate every second of being there. I blamed the child welfare system for moving me around like a pawn and not letting me do as I wished. I was full of blame about why my life was headed down a black hole. I was in my late teens before I realized that I had to change my way of thinking and take responsibility for my own life. When I finally quit blaming myself and others for the problems that got me in the child welfare system, my descent down the black hole did a 180-degree turn and my thoughts and behaviors changed for the better.
Try to show grace to others for their limitations. Some parents are better than others. Some foster parents or cottage parents or staff members or teachers or other adults or other foster kids are better than others. Everybody has bad days and makes mistakes, just like you do. Not meeting your expectations does not mean they are against you. Being human means being less than perfect. Cut them a break and they may do the same for you. Forgiveness is a gift that magically changes pain into pleasure.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The “Golden Rule” means treat others like you want to be treated. I really wanted to be loved and happy and appreciated, but rather than being nice to others I mistakenly chose to drive them away with angry words and bad behaviors. I didn’t realize that other people were not the enemy. The enemy was my bad attitude and until I adjusted it, other people would continue to treat me like I had cooties. As the saying goes: “What goes around comes around.”
Learn to trust others. Trust is a precious commodity for youth in foster and residential care. “Once burned, twice shy” is a saying that certainly fits, especially if you’ve been burned over and over again by your family, foster parents, cottage parents, staff members or other adults in the system. After suffering too many burns, it is so much safer to turn into a prickly porcupine to keep them away. Trusting others is the hard part of changing your attitude and mental health, but it is also the most necessary part. Without trust, relationships cannot grow and you are soon left alone. Despite the fact that you are opening up to the possibility of being burned again, trust is the leap of faith that can pull you out of the deepest black hole. Learn to trust your own instincts when you think about trusting others. You are smart enough to figure out who really is or isn’t on your side. Most of the adults who work in the system are doing their best to help you, and most of the kids who live in the system are just as angry, scared and confused as you are. Take a chance and give them a chance. This is how you will grow as a person and find your way out of the black hole.
Manage your stress. Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to deal with mental or emotional pressure. A little stress now and then is not a bad thing, but too much stress over a long time is a VERY bad thing. Stress plays a huge role in the lives of youth in foster and residential care before, during and sometimes long after placement. Living in a constant state of stress harms the mind and the body.*
*Adapted from our book, Beating the Odds In and After Foster and Residential Care