Not good enough
Hi. I'm a high school student with years of being on the honor roll, having moderate motivation to exercise every day, and I have many friends who are unique, diverse individuals, not cliques. I am a socially active person. I am satisfied with my academic achievement and when I seem to go downward I always try to get myself back up, though sometimes it might take a couple of days to bring myself to be energetic, happy and enthusiastic enough to boost my grades back up. I am a very sensual person; I have an extremely strong sense of all 5 feelings. I have been told that I am attractive many times, I have had many experiences when I would go out and come back home with couple of phone numbers from opposite sex that approached to me, etc. I have a very loving and caring boyfriend whom I love. I am a very enthusiastic and extreme person when it comes to things that interest me, things that I find worthy, unique, or with distinctive style or intellect.
So, what problem do I have with self-esteem? I've just listed a whole bunch of good things about myself. I can list them out, but I cannot feel it most of the time unless I take time to sit down and chant them. I have no self-esteem, and I am just incredibly horrid at having confidence in self-image. No matter what other people tell me, even my boyfriend, I will not believe, accept or understand them. I hear them talking, I've had long conversations as to help myself by listening to my friend telling me what they think of my appearance and always, they ended up almost getting angry at my inability to see myself as a beautiful young woman. I won't be photographed because I think I look absolutely horrid and nasty in pictures and I could pick out millions of flaws on my appearance. I have thrown all of my pictures, torn them up all the time. I truly think that I am ugly. I cannot swim during the summer because I'm afraid I'll look bad. I cannot do certain things or wear what I want because I think I'm not good looking enough for it. Sometimes I cannot even speak up enough because of my low confidence. It is a huge problem for me because it's interfering with my life and it is a huge obstacle in improving myself and also in my social life. I have never been complimented positively about my appearance from my parents. I think that's partly why. I look at myself in pictures or in the mirror and I wish I looked better so I could live my life better.
Having no confidence about self-image gives me variety of other depressive feelings that I dread to have. I have other things to do than sit and be sad. I am a busy person with desires to do as many things I want to do and experience. It is so harsh and tremendously big inside that I sometimes cannot stand it, and I want to fix it. I can't think of any other problems that I have as big as this. Please give me a word of advice that would help me think for myself to better my life.
Thanks for writing,
In your letter, you present a good understanding of the dynamics of self-esteem and the consequences that poor self-esteem has had on your life. Though you are conscious of your good qualities, that you are attractive, have good friends and a lovely boy friend, it still is not enough to give you a healthy self-esteem. People often mistake high self-esteem as a form of positive thinking but they are not the same thing. Positive thinking can be a helpful tool to improve one's self esteem. Healthy self-esteem combines a sense of self-confidence and a sense of self-respect. Healthy self-esteem can be seen as a capacity to look at oneself accurately and to be able to accept and value oneself in acknowledging both one's limitations and one's good qualities and still see oneself as worthwhile. I would like to comment on some of the statements in your letter that may help you understand what is sustaining your low self-esteem.
First in your title - "No one is perfect, but I could always improve..." - this desire or belief that one needs to be perfect in order to be liked or loved is frequently one of the causes of low self-esteem. Though your mind knows that no one is perfect, the 'but' contradicts it - indicating that on an emotional level perhaps you do believe that you need to be perfect. If you judge yourself on a scale where perfection is the goal, you will easily fall short, creating low self-esteem. Your mind can list your good qualities but as you state "I cannot feel it most of the time."
Your self-esteem appears to be based on your body image. This is not unusual for young women considering all the emphasis placed in the media (video, TV, film) on being attractive, thin, and young. These images create false and unrealistic expectations for women causing them to believe that they can only be attractive if they look like one of the models. The media not only creates an unrealistic standard for beauty but makes it appear that good looks are all important for a young girl in order be liked and to like herself. How much influence does the media, rock videos have on you? This may be one of the reasons that your self-esteem is based disproportionally on your appearance.
In your last statement you wrote "I wish I looked better so I could live my life better." This deduction may actually increase your anxiety and low self-esteem. Will looking better (or different) actually change your life? Believing in your own attractiveness and worthwhileness (even on a bad hair day) will more likely improve your life. There are basic beliefs expressed in this sentence that probably add to your low self esteem. One is that you need to look "better" to be happy though in your letter there is no indication that your looks negatively affect you. The second belief probably resembles something like "only good looking women are happy and loved."
You mention that your parents do not compliment you. Can you discuss this with them? One's self-esteem is created during childhood - there are many circumstances in youth which can add to low self-esteem, such as being harshly criticized, ignored, yelled at, ridiculed, teased, having too high expectations, failure in school, sibling rivalry, etc.
Queendom has various tests that you could take - try the ones on self-esteem and perfectionism. There are also sites listed at the end of the test where you could find books on self-esteem, and obtain information on practical exercises on self-esteem that may help you. You mention chanting your good qualities to yourself - that is an excellent initiative. Keep talking to your friends to help you out.
You are on the right track - good luck!
This question was answered by Gloria Rivkah Horowitz M.S.W. She is a Clinical Social Worker with a private practice in Ottawa, Canada. She uses a combination of Cognitive-behavioral Therapy and relaxation techniques in her therapeutic approach. Issues that are dealt with vary from emotional problems stemming from childhood traumas to crises stemming from recent events (ex. divorce). Telephone and face-to-face counseling are provided.For more information visit: http://www.caringtelecounseling.com