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How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

Experts offer tips that enable teenagers to boost their self-esteem.

Medically Reviewed by John M Goldenring, MD, JD, MPH on February 01, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Looking for ways to improve your self-esteem? You're not alone! It's normalto have doubts about yourself during adolescence.

Look what happened to "Lauren" (not her real name) when she dressedfor PE the first day of school. As she tied her tennis shoes, she noticed shehad on two different colored socks -- one pink and one white. She wasmortified! What would the other students think when they saw her?

Lauren quickly took the socks off and stuffed them in the left pocket of hergym shirt. She hated attention of any type and hoped no one would notice. Yetwhen she walked into the gym and sat down, a boy who was always obnoxious stoodup, pointed to Lauren, and said, "Hey, girl. Why is your gym shirt solopsided?"

Lauren looked down. The stuffed socks in her pocket made her look very busty-- on her left side only. With tears running down her face, she stared at thefloor until the teacher excused the class to run laps.

While Lauren normally had good self-esteem, the way she handled thisembarrassing situation is typical of many teens, who may feel insecure in alarge group or among people they don't know well.

What Is Self-Esteem?

According to Nathaniel Branden, PhD, noted author and expert on the subject,"self-esteem is the experience of being competent to cope with the basicchallenges of life and of being worthy of happiness."

Basically, having healthy self-esteem means thinking as highly of yourselfas you think of your friends and peers. Many people have become so used tonegative feedback that we are more aware of our weaknesses than our strengths.Often, we cannot enjoy our successes -- no matter how large or small they mightbe -- because we think of ourselves as "failures."

Why Is Self-Esteem Important?

Healthy self-esteem plays a role in almost everything you do. Teens withhigh self-esteem have better relationships with peers and adults, feel happierabout their accomplishments, and find it easier to deal with disappointmentsand failures. They are more likely to ask for help and support from family andfriends. They're also more likely to do well in school, setting reasonablegoals and accomplishing them.

As Branden notes, "Positive self-esteem is the immune system of thespirit, helping an individual face life problems and bounce back fromadversity." So we can conclude that having high self-esteem is vital duringthe turmoil of your teenage years.

We all have a mental image of who we are, what we're good at, and what ourstrengths and weaknesses might be. This self-image plays a role in developingour self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem is based on your abilityto assess yourself accurately, while still being able to accept and valueyourself unconditionally.

Your daily experiences can certainly affect your feelings about yourself.The grade you get on an exam, how your friends treat you, the ups and downs ina romantic relationship -- all can have a temporary impact on yourwell-being.

For teens with good self-esteem, these daily "ups and downs" maylead to temporary fluctuations in how they think about themselves, but only toa limited extent. But for teens with poor self-esteem, these ups and downs maymake all the difference in the world, leaving them feeling dejected and filledwith negative self-awareness.

The good news is that self-esteem is something you can work on -- andimprove.

How Can I Build My Self-Esteem?

Before you begin to improve your self-esteem, it's important to believe deepdown that you can change it. Change doesn't necessarily happen quicklyor easily, but it can happen. Consider the following tips:

  • Stop thinking bad thoughts about yourself. Instead, celebrate yourstrengths and achievements. Write down five things you do well, and tape it toyour bedroom mirror. Read the list repeatedly until you can say these fivethings without thinking. Remember this list when you start to feel low, and useit to bring yourself back to reality.
  • Beware of perfectionism. Aim for accomplishments, even simpleones, rather than perfection.
  • Overlook your mistakes. Forgive yourself for your mistakes and seethem as learning opportunities.
  • Stop putting yourself down. Don't beat yourself up for yourweaknesses. Everybody has them.
  • Try new things. Be proud of new things you learn todo.
  • Start doing something for others. Try tutoring, volunteerwork, or mentoring a younger student. When you feel like you can make adifference in the world, your self-esteem will soar.
  • Know what you can change, and accept the things you cannotchange. There are certain "givens" in life, such as eyecolor, body type, and race. These are things we all must accept. But if youneed to, say, lose weight or smile more, you can do something about it. Talk toyour doctor about a healthy diet and exercise plan. Practice smiling in amirror and challenge yourself to smile 25 times each day.
  • Stop the "stinking thinking." In other words, when you hearnegative thoughts in your head, stop them. One way is to put a rubber band onyour wrist. Each time you have a negative thought, snap the rubber band. Ouch!After awhile, you can "reprogram" yourself to avoid those negativethoughts.
  • Exercise daily. Exercise boosts endorphins, the body'snatural opiates, which make you feel good inside. When you exercise daily,you'll ease stress and feel better about yourself.
  • Remember, no one can "make you" feel bad. Only you canmake yourself feel bad!

In cases where emotional pain and self-criticizing habits are deep or longlasting, you might need the help of a counselor or therapist. Or, seek helpfrom your primary health care provider, who can give you a referral to atherapist if needed. Mental health professionals can help teenagers changenegative behaviors by teaching positive ones that help to boost self-image.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Cool Nurse.com web site: "Self Esteem." Teenshealth.com web site: "How Can I Improve My Self Esteem?" The University of Texas at Austin's Counseling & Mental Health Center web site: "Better Self-Esteem." National Association for Self Esteem web site: "Review of Self-Esteem Research."

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