What does it mean to have healthy self-esteem?
Healthy self-esteem is being consistently able to value yourself for who you are, having overall positive feelings about yourself, and realistic expectations of yourself. Healthy self-esteem is about acting in ways that demonstrate self-respect and faithfulness to your values. People with healthy self-esteem recognize the positive qualities they possess, but also accept that they are not perfect, that no one is, and that they will inevitably experience some disappointment and setbacks at various times throughout their life. The key is to keep things in perspective and not constantly berate themselves over their perceived flaws and imperfections.
People with healthy self-esteem trust their own judgement and can express how they feel and what they believe without fear of judgement. They are able to withstand the pitfalls of peer pressure and can avoid destructive behaviors and dangerous patterns. They understand that self-esteem comes from within and that external validation or approval does not have a bearing on their belief in themself. Easier said than done, right?
Why is healthy self-esteem valuable?
One of the most beneficial aspects of healthy self-esteem is about learning how to feel comfortable in your own skin. It is when you are able to rely on your ability to think, to reason, and to decide. And while you will still need advice and input, you will feel comfortable to reflect, mull, and ultimately decide for yourself. There is less second guessing and guilt over your decisions. You will become less paralyzed if you think that you made a mistake, as you accept that mistakes are inevitable and critical to your growth. Healthy self-esteem will give a positive balance between independence and dependance, will allow you to like yourself, and go through life with a healthier, happier sense of security in who you are. Healthy self-esteem is also protective against eating disorders.
Why is healthy self-esteem a particular challenge for adolescents?
During adolescence there is an exorbitant amount of pressure to fit in with friends and be accepted by them. Adolescents need to be well-liked, respected, and admired. There are challenges as they navigate their need for independence with their inability to be completely self-sufficient just yet. Adolescents are confused about what they are going through and often don’t have the words to describe how they feel. Sadly, low self-esteem often goes hand in hand with anxiety and/or depression and it makes it especially challenging for teens to cope. Low self-esteem has been empirically proven time and time again to lead to self-harm behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, and disordered eating behaviors.
So how can I promote my teens healthy self-esteem?
There are many, many books written on the subject and this can be a daunting topic to navigate, but there are some things you can implement immediately. First, start to notice any negative self-talk your child engages in, any distorted messages or irrational thoughts. This can include black and white thinking, minimization, assuming responsibility for anything that goes wrong, jumping to conclusions, or assigning themselves negative labels or names. If this is an issue, it is important that you help your child understand where these thoughts are coming from and how they can reframe them. Help them reframe their “I should” to “I could” or I’d like to” or “I choose to”.
Next try to notice if your child suffers from perfectionism, constantly striving to be perfect in the hopes that a lack of mistakes will give them validation and/or improve how they feel about themselves. This will always backfire at some point and will ultimately make your child feel bad about themselves. Speak with her, explore what might happen if things weren’t perfect, what that might look like, and discuss how each of us has our own unique talents and abilities. Explain that none of us are perfect, nor are we expected to be, and no amount of external validation will make us feel better about ourselves deep down. Instead, work to find some positive qualities that she can to focus on and perhaps, some positive affirmations she can practice.
I know these are some very high-level ideas and concepts, but they can be extremely helpful for anyone struggling with self-esteem issues, are beneficial for all of us, and are especially effective and valuable for heading off eating disorders of all kinds.
I am looking to put together a group of women with adolescent daughters who would like to meet to discuss strategies for supporting our daughters throughout their teenage years. Please pm me if interested.