Self-esteem refers to the way an individual perceives themselves. When a person speaks of themselves in a positive manner, it is often a sign of good self-esteem. On the other hand, if a person talks about themselves in a reductive manner or is always critical, they probably struggle with their self-esteem. Self-esteem among youth is particularly fragile around adolescence. It is a moment in their lives where social media and social performance start gaining a lot of importance. Thankfully, low self-esteem is not a fatality. It is possible to change the ways we see ourselves, and learn to recognize our value and our potential!
What is self-esteem
Self-esteem is the value we attribute to ourselves. A young person with good self-esteem knows their strengths. They are proud of their success while also being conscious of areas of improvement. A person with a good self-esteem also handles challenges with better ease. They possess the confidence needed to persevere and take decisions based off what they know is best and fair for them.
It is not because a person sees themselves positively that they are perfect or perfectionists. They simply appreciate the person they are alongside their qualities.
Someone with low self-esteem will instead see themselves negatively. In a general manner, they are more dissatisfied with what they have achieved in life. They attribute lower value to themselves than to people surrounding them.
A young person with low self-esteem struggles to share their opinions, and deems them as less important. It can also be difficult for them to make decisions because they fear others’ judgement. New experiences and encounters are seen as obstacles, which further decreases their self-esteem.
Why do some youth struggle with low self-esteem?
Self-esteem is built throughout our lives and fluctuates. During childhood, children receive information from their surroundings regarding their competence, values, and looks. These words and behaviours act like mirrors for children, who use these to build up an image of themselves.
After their youth, the context in which children grow into teenagers also influences their self-esteem. Events that they face, or values that society instills in them all have a role in building their self-esteem.
Low self-esteem caused by the familial circle
Negative effects on one’s self-esteem can be caused by family circles:
- Excessive parental control of the child;
- Too much complacence (a lack of limits or attention, too much freedom);
- Negligence (an absence of appropriate gestures to properly protect the child’s safety and livelihood);
- Physical or psychological abuse;
- Separation of the parents, which the child can see as rejection.
Low self-esteem caused by upsetting events
Self-esteem is sometimes shaken after difficult, or even traumatizing events. Some youth struggle to build back their self-esteem later on:
- Problems in friendships;
- A romantic breakup;
- Failures in school or extracurriculars;
- An illness or an accident;
- Death of a loved one;
Low self-esteem caused by society
The dominant values of materialism and individualism make teens’ integration into society a bit more difficult. Social media, which are omnipresent in youth and young adults’ lives, help to affect their self-esteem. The overexposure of their own image brings a greater vulnerability to others’ judgement. This happens in a moment in their lives where they need the most validation and sense of belonging.
Discrimination based on disability, mental health, skin color, weight, gender, or sexual orientation also heavily affects self-esteem.
Low self-esteem affects young people’s lives
Low self-esteem among youth manifests itself through a sense of shame and deception, as well as a fear of failure. Everyone will experience these feelings, as they are totally natural. The problem arises when they become chronic and paralyzing to the point where they stop you from moving forward.
Other signs can also reveal one’s low self-esteem:
- Being excessively preoccupied with looks;
- Insecurity and tensions in social relations;
- A feeling of exclusion;
- A feeling of being different than others (feeling less competent, more vulnerable);
- Receiving criticism very badly;
- A feeling of impostor syndrome (questioning if you deserve things or if it is just luck);
- A constant fear of being rejected;
- Constantly taking a defensive stance.
Do you think you suffer from low self-esteem? Do you know someone or a youth with low self-esteem? It is possible to get better. The first step consists of understanding what caused this negative sense of self. For this, it is important to speak to someone that you trust, with whom you can talk openly. It is also possible to turn to organizations that know how to listen, like Tel-Jeunes.
As much as it is important to understand the causes, it is also important to know how to take an active stance. Improving your self-esteem takes time and positive experiences and practice:
- Have a positive image of yourself: making a list of your strengths, qualities, successes, etc.
- Accepting compliments: do not minimize them and ask your entourage what they think your strengths are;
- Practice activities that will make you feel better: pleasant activities will allow you to spend quality time with yourself and to recharge;
- Spending time with positive people: make quality memories with people with recognize your value.
Remember that no one possesses an infallible self-esteem either. It can vary from one activity to another, and between one social circle to another. Some people are more confident in familial situations than in educational situations. Each person is different and self-esteem continues to evolve all throughout their lives.
LOVE supports youth to thrive through programs and healthy relationships that build emotional intelligence and help overcome the challenges they face. Our participants emerge from LOVE’s programs with greater resilience, heightened skills, and the confidence to be inspirational leaders.