Building Self-Esteem

Building Self-Esteem

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What is self-esteem?

  • Simply put, self-esteem is the degree to which we find value and worth in ourselves.

Our perceptions of ourselves are powerful influences. When we are not proud of our bodies or fail to find value in who we are, our self-esteem often suffers. Your feelings about yourself can change as the experiences in your life change over time. Though self-esteem is a personal feeling, it can be affected by the world around us including thoughts and opinions of other people, abilities and skills (or lack thereof) in certain areas, and the strength of our support system (just to name a few influences).

In the teen years, influences such as these can be especially important to levels of self-esteem. If you are feeling like your self-esteem could be lacking (if you are feeling down on yourself), here are some tips to help you work towards a more positive self-concept.

How can I build it?

Create a strong support group
When attempting to work on yourself as a person, it is important that you can identify people around you that will be willing to support you. This could be a parent, a best friend, or a counselor. It is always important to have someone to talk to as well as to have someone who can support your efforts to build your self-esteem.

Positive Self-Talk
Too often we find ourselves saying “I am so stupid” or “I am the fattest person I know.” These self-attacking phrases are often affected by and simultaneously have an affect on our levels of self-esteem. When we have the urge to think or say something insulting about ourselves, we need to stop and think about how that deepens our negative perceptions of ourselves.
When we talk poorly about ourselves we begin to believe that the messages we hear from others and the messages we internalize about ourselves are true. When you have the impulse to reprimand yourself with hurtful words, take the opposite approach. Instead of putting yourself down, stop yourself mid-thought and put a positive spin on things. This is known as positive self-talk. Here are some examples of positive self-talk.

 Negative Self-Talk Positive Self-Talk
 “I failed that math test. I am such an idiot and I will never be good at math.”  “ I did fail that test, but I know that I am capable of doing well in this course. I need to really study for that next test. If I try harder and get some extra help I bet I can even get an 80.”
 “I am so ugly. Why can’t I look different?”  “I may not be the most attractive person I have ever met, but I am proud of my big blue eyes and I am a nice person to be around. I should give myself more credit. Nobody is perfect.”
 “I just have to accept that I am a big nobody and I will never amount to anything.”  “I may not be good at everything, but there are things I am good at and if I work hard at the things I can do well, the other things won’t matter anymore.”

The key to positive self talk is:

  • Turn the negative into a positive immediately- this requires you to prepare your thoughts and say “STOP” inside your head before you even begin to think the negative thoughts.
  • Be realistic without being pessimistic- recognize your weaknesses, but don’t capitalize on them.
  • Counteract weaknesses by identifying strengths
  • Counteract failure by setting goals and making plans to change (only if that is what you really want). Have confidence that you can be an agent of change for yourself.

Identify your strengths
Everyone has skills that they can be proud of. In addition, everyone has personal attributes and personality traits that they can be proud of too. You may not be the captain of the football team, but you may be the master of Guitar Hero on your gaming console or perform a stellar monologue in your theatre club production. Similarly, you may not have won the Miss Teen USA pageant, but you might have a stellar sense of style. Before you can change your thinking to look at the positive side of life, you need to take a look deep down inside and think about what it is that makes you who you are. What are you most proud of? Attached is a short worksheet where you can jot down your ideas about your personal strengths. You might also think about making a bulleted list or take notes about what you like about yourself in your journal. If you become an expert on what you do like about yourself, the things that you aren’t so crazy about won’t seem as important.

Get Involved
Another great way to feel good about yourself is by joining a team or club where you can learn more about your abilities and strengths. Perhaps you are an artist and didn’t know it until you began designing sets for the school play. Perhaps you aren’t a great athlete but you have found that intramural football is really fun and exciting. Getting involved in clubs and activities allows you to meet more of your classmates and to develop more relationships. The potential for building self-esteem is endless. Becoming active will help you to learn more about yourself- you might find out that you are great at many things… and hey, you might be able to make some friends in the process! To learn more about the clubs and activities offered at PHS please see the “Getting Involved at PHS” link under Personal/Social Resources on the website.

Be realistic- no one is perfect
Honestly, if you are under the impression that there are people in this world that are perfect… you may have been misinformed. EVERYONE has flaws, everyone has weaknesses, and everyone has personal strengths and abilities. It is important to think realistically and know that you will not likely be the best at everything, but it is likely that you will have skills and abilities in a couple things (maybe even many things). Those skills and abilities are what make you who you are and that is something to be proud of. Instead of focusing on being perfect, focus on being you- that is a much better accomplishment!!

Celebrate your accomplishments
Maybe you are the captain of the football team, got a role in the school play, or even got your first A on a Science exam. These are all accomplishments to be proud of!! It is often a good idea to remind yourself of the good things that you are doing, instead of focusing on events you would not consider to be accomplishments. Take out a sheet of paper. Write down all of the accomplishments you have made thus far in life. This list could be long, or the list could be short- but remember that there is a list. Anytime you feel good about something you have accomplished (passing a math test, or running the mile without stopping, even passing the next level of a really challenging video game) write it on your list to remind yourself of all the things you can be proud of. Keep the list in a safe place and refer to it when you are feeling down.

Goal Setting
Now that you have identified your strengths and celebrated your accomplishments, why not convert that positive outlook into a plan for the future? It makes us feel great knowing that we have a plan of our future mapped out on paper and we know the steps to achieving the goals we have set for ourselves. Setting goals for yourself can be a positive and rewarding experience! Why not give goal setting a try? Here are some helpful worksheets to get you started.

Find an outlet for the negative
Sometimes when we really want to think positively instead of feeling down about ourselves, it is impossible to forget about the negative feelings. If those feelings just won’t go away, then it seems important to find a healthy way to channel those feelings. Here are some suggestions of ways that you can rid yourself of the negative feelings:

  • Distract yourself- turn on your favorite TV show or read a book to relax- in the end just do something you enjoy that gets your mind off of those negative thoughts and feelings about yourself.
  • Exercise- It is a proven fact that when people exercise it raises levels of endorphins (happy hormones) that boost your positive feelings. Not only is there a biological reason to exercise, but also sometimes it is just nice to run that negative mindset right out the door so that you can come back in with a better outlook.
  • Write it out- For some of us… writing can be an outlet. Keeping a journal of negative feelings is another way to expend those thoughts from your mind. Putting your frustrations with yourself down on paper can help you clear your thoughts. At some point, maybe even the same day, you can go back to your journal entry and turn the negative thoughts into positive thoughts so that you can change those negative beliefs about yourself into a vehicle for positive change.

Examine the causes and address them
Before we can begin building self-esteem it is sometimes important to examine what the foundation of our self-esteem looks like. If you have a history of feeling down on yourself take a moment to ask yourself where that history comes from. Ask yourself “why am I always so down on myself? Sometimes the answer is simply “I don’t know.” But others may find deeper reasons why they feel they way they do about themselves. Perhaps you have a friend who is always putting you down, or a sibling who always seems to outshine you- these types of reasons contribute to the question of “why?” There are many reasons why the foundation of your self-esteem might be made of mud instead of concrete. Being honest with yourself about the “why” question could be the beginning of change. If you want to talk more about the “why” question- please contact your school counselor or a trusted adult. Once you begin answering that question and building up a great support system, you can help yourself turn that muddy foundation into concrete so that you can begin building your self-esteem.

Helping other people can be a very rewarding experience. Knowing that you have done something for someone else for no other reason than “just because I can” is a very rewarding feeling. Get out there and volunteer your time at the local SPCA, Nursing Home, Food Shelter, or even Habitat for Humanity. Find a volunteer experience that you might enjoy and have fun with it!

Online resources/articles about self-esteem building


Please feel free to contact your counselor if you would like to talk about building your self-esteem, of if you would like help finding more resources.


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