This is the first in a three part series on self-esteem. Often an issue for teenagers in particular, this will help you to learn what it is, and in future posts, I will talk about what you can do about it.
Sarah’s mind wanders as she studies for the test she has in English the next day. “I’m going to fail this test tomorrow,” she thinks. “My mum is right, I don’t have the brains — I’ll never be a writer like I want too.” Upset, she looks down and thinks how fat hers legs are. “Ugh,” she says to herself. “I bet the cheer leading captain won’t even let me try out when she sees how fat I am.”
Tom is studying for the same test as Sarah, and he’s also doesn’t like English. But that’s where the similarity ends. Tom has a different outlook. He’s thinking, “OK, English again, this is going to be tough. Thank goodness I’m doing great in the subject that I really like — math.” And when Tom thinks about the way he looks, it’s also more positive. Although he is short and skinny, Tom is less likely to blame or criticize his body and more likely to think, “I may be skinny, but I can run fast. I’d be a good addition to the school football team.”
Having self-esteem means you really like yourself, both inside and out. It refers both to how you look and what you believe in. This is also called “positive” or “high” self-esteem.
We all have a mental picture of who we are, how we look, what we’re good at, and what our strengths and weaknesses might be. We build up this picture over time, starting when we’re little kids. The term self-image is used to refer to a person’s mental picture of himself or herself. As teens in particular, a lot of our self-image is based on interactions we have with other people and our life experiences. This mental picture (our self-image) contributes to our self-esteem. Sometimes it’s easy to like who you are. You feel great when you pass a test, score a winning goal, or tell a funny story that all your friends laugh at. But how do you feel about yourself when you just said something stupid or fumbled the ball? You sometimes feel dumb or like you let everyone down. You start wishing you were someone else or that you could change how you look. You think you aren’t good in school, on the team or part of the cool crowd. This is “low” or “negative” self-esteem. We often let others tell us how to feel about ourself. From the day you were born, your parents, and later your teachers and friends, have been influencing your decisions. At this point in your life you might find that your friends, TV shows and music videos tell you what to wear and how to look. Music and magazines tell you how to feel and how to act. The good news is you can learn to like yourself or have positive self-esteem. You are the one in control; you can make the difference.
If you follow this series about self-esteem, we will talk about the different problems that can occur that lower our self-esteem, then look at ways of building up a positive self image and improving our self esteem.