Improving Your Self-Esteem

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As teens, many struggle with issues of self esteem - the degree to which we appreciate our own worth and importance. The way we regard ourselves is dependent on many factors, and recognizing them is the first step to overcoming obstacles.

Self-esteem involves how much a person values herself and appreciates her own worth and importance. For example, a teen with healthy self-esteem is able to feel good about her character and her qualities and take pride in her abilities, skills, and accomplishments. Self-esteem is the result of comparing how we'd like to be and what we'd like to accomplish with how we actually see ourselves.

Everyone experiences problems with self-esteem at certain times in their lives - especially teens who are still figuring out who they are and where they fit into the world. How a teen feels about herself can be related to many different factors, such as her environment, her body image, her expectations of herself, and her experiences. For example, if a person has had problems in her family, has had to deal with difficult relationships, or sets unrealistic standards for herself, this can lead to low self-esteem.

Recognizing that you can improve your self-esteem is a great first step in doing so. Learning what can hurt self-esteem and what can build it is also important. Then, with a little effort, a person can really improve the way she feels about herself.

Constant criticism can harm self-esteem - and it doesn't always come from others! Some teens have an "inner critic," a voice inside that seems to find fault with everything they do - and self-esteem obviously has a hard time growing in such an environment. Some people have modeled their inner critic's voice after a critical parent or teacher whose acceptance was important to them. The good news is that this inner critic can be retrained, and because it now belongs to you, you can be the one to decide that the inner critic will only give constructive feedback from now on.

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It may help to pinpoint any unrealistic expectations that may be affecting your self-esteem. Do you wish you were thinner? Smarter? More popular? A better athlete? Although it's easy for teens to feel a little inadequate physically, socially, or intellectually, it's also important to recognize what you can change and what you can't, and to aim for accomplishments rather than perfection. You may wish to be a star athlete, but it may be more realistic to set your sights on improving your game in specific ways this season. If you are thinking about your shortcomings, try to start thinking about other positive aspects of yourself that outweigh them. Maybe you're not the tallest person in your class and maybe you're not class valedictorian, but you're awesome at volleyball or painting or playing the guitar. Remember - each person excels at different things and your talents are constantly developing.

How to Improve Your Self-Esteem

If you want to improve your self-esteem, there are some steps you can take to start empowering yourself:

  • Remember that self-esteem involves much more than liking your appearance. Because of rapid changes in growth and appearance, teens often fall into the trap of believing their entire self-esteem hinges on how they look. Don't miss the inner beauty that's more than skin deep in yourself and in others.
  • Think about what you're good at and what you enjoy, and build on those abilities. Take pride in new skills you develop and talents you have. Share what you can do with others.
  • Exercise! You'll relieve stress, and be healthier and happier.
  • Try to stop thinking negative thoughts about yourself. When you catch yourself being too critical, counter it by saying something positive about yourself.
  • Take pride in your opinions and ideas - and don't be afraid to voice them.
  • Each day, write down three things about yourself that make you happy.
  • Set goals. Think about what you'd like to accomplish, then make a plan for how to do it. Stick with your plan and keep track of your progress. If you realize that you're unhappy with something about yourself that you can change, then start today. If it's something you can't change (like your height), then start to work toward loving yourself the way you are.
  • Beware the perfectionist! Are you expecting the impossible? It's good to aim high, but your goals for yourself should be within reach.
  • Make a contribution. Tutor a classmate who's having trouble, help clean up your neighborhood, participate in a walk-a-thon for a good cause, the list goes on. Feeling like you're making a difference can do wonders to improve self-esteem.
  • Have fun - enjoy spending time with the people you care about and doing the things you love.

It's never too late to build or improve self-esteem. In some cases, a teen may need the help of a mental health professional, like a therapist or psychologist, to help heal emotional hurt and build healthy, positive self-esteem. A therapist can help a teen to learn to love herself and realize that her differences make her unique.

So, what's the payoff? Self-esteem plays a role in almost everything you do - teens with high self-esteem do better in school and enjoy it more and find it easier to make friends. They tend to have better relationships with peers and adults, feel happier, find it easier to deal with mistakes, disappointments, and failures, and are more likely to stick with something until they succeed. Improving self-esteem takes work, but the payoff is feeling good about yourself and your accomplishments.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 7). Improving Your Self-Esteem, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: August 19, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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