In high school Rick always finished dead last in
his 1600-meter track event. After crossing the finish line,
he would check his time and run to tell family and friends,
"I knocked two hundredths of a second off my time!"
His joy at the accomplishment was contagious. Those who saw
his enthusiasm when he achieved his small goal knew Rick was
a winner even though he came in last.
Rick has a serious learning disability. He
accepted the fact that his learning disability made him require
more time to take the MCATs (medical school SATs),
and requested extended time for testing. By applying the winning
attitude that he practiced on the track to studies, Rick is
succeeding in medical school today. Rick will make one terrific
pediatrician because he sees good in himself and others. He
focuses on what he can do rather than his limitations. Rick
sets goals and works diligently to accomplish them because he
has high self-esteem.
In contrast Jennifer has experienced many successes in class
and in athletics but anguishes, "Nobody ever notices me.
I'm no good." Her negative attitude about herself sometimes
makes people think she is a loser even when she wins. Her self-esteem
rests not on her belief in herself but on what she imagines
others think of her.
Self-esteem: A Personality Skeleton
What is self-esteem? I like to think of self-esteem
as the skeleton on which our personalities hang. You know
how that bony skeleton hanging in the science lab looks. Imagine
it inside a body supporting a human person, enabling her togo
through life's activities. A healthy physical skeleton, composed
of strong bones nourished by good food and exercise, will
support a body that walks tall and confidently, one that can
do many things.
Self-esteem, like your physical skeleton, is hidden within
your being. You cannot see it with your eyes but you can observe
the effects of positive self-esteem (or the lack of it) in
your life. It supports you and makes you feel worthwhile and
lovable. It enables you to be pleased with your successes
without bragging or downplaying their value. Self-esteem provides
the inner strength that provides the power to try again when
Broken bones create pain in the physical skeleton, causing
the body to slump or not move at all, affecting the ability
to live effectively. Like a fractured bone, broken self-esteem
can cause pain. For the person with weak self-esteem, each
mistake creates the pain of feeling worthless. Feeble self-esteem
diminishes your self-confidence causing you to fear anything
new. A person lacking confidence feels unwanted, unlovable
and incapable much of the time. Such feelings disable people
for daily living.
This self-esteem evaluation can help you determine the strength of your self-esteem.
- Do I often compare my appearance, clothes, grades, talents
to my peers?
- Do I feel like a failure when I attempt something that
does not work out?
- Do I envy a classmate or friend who is chosen for a role
in a school play or voted into a class office?
- If I had enough money, clothes, high grades, popularity,
friends, would I be happy?
- Do I put others down for the sake of a laugh?
- Does being alone make me feel unwanted, worthless, unlovable?
- Am I always fearful of voicing my opinions in a group?
- Do I frequently make excuses for my actions?
- Does any criticism make me angry?
If you answer "yes" to any of the
questions, your self-esteem may need a little nourishing.
The more "yeses," the more selfesteem exercise you
Self-esteem reflects the way you really feel about yourselfyour
worth, your abilities, your talents. As you read this Youth
Update, you will understand better why a "yes" to
the questions may indicate a gap in your selfesteem structure.
Where It Starts
Self-esteem develops very early in life. Psychologists
believe that by the time a child is three years old, self-esteem-either
positive or negative-is fairly well established. Therefore,
it is vital that parents, brothers and sisters, teachers and
babysitters treat small children with love, kindness and respect.
To the extent that you have been treated this way, your self-esteem
Along the way, other factors altered your self-esteem. If
you did well in school, made friends easily, succeeded at sports,
music or art, self-esteem flourished. Success nourishes your
personality skeleton of selfesteem like good food nourishes
your physical skeleton. If you overcame difficulties (like
striking out each time you came to bat in T-ball) by practicing
harder, laughing at your mistakes, selecting other activities
in which you succeeded, then even failures made your selfesteem
stronger. You learned you are a good and valued person in
spite of setbacks. However, along the way if you or someone
else said that you were no good or stupid because you failed
or made a mistake--and, you believed this-your selfesteem
How can self-esteem bring you happiness? You
are free to set goals and know you are O.K. even if you fail.
You are free to seek friends because you are worth having
as a friend. You are free to attempt new challenges because
you have abundant abilities. Self-esteem frees you to
become your best self, and in doing so you find happiness.
Persons with strong self-esteem may be identified by several
- cooperative spirits
- talent for communicating feelings and opinions in reasonable ways because they believe their thoughts have value
- good decision making because they trust themselves
- withstanding peer pressure
- taking responsibility for their behavior
- accomplishing things at school, church or home
- exhibiting pride in achievements without bragging
- handing frustrating situations
- tackling challenges and taking reasonable risks
- complimenting others with sincerity
- accepting criticism and growing from it
- feeling free to be creative and original
Weak self-esteem also leaves its marks on individuals:
- being excessively loud in a group or not talking much at all
- school performance below their abilities
- experiencing difficulty saying "no" to drugs, alcohol or sex
- needing to be right at all times or always feeling wrong
- judging self and others by clothing labels and dollar signs
- refusing to learn from criticism
- making excuses for inappropriate actions
- refusal to take responsibility
- fearing to try something new or taking wild and reckless risks
- inability to accept praise for accomplishments
By now you may be getting a sense of your own
self-esteem. Does it enable you to stand up confidently for
yourself? Or is your self-esteem skeleton weak and slumping?
Most people experience moments when selfesteem is powerful. "Yes!"
you say to the next challenge. You set goals and put forth the
effort to achieve.
At other times your selfesteem is so shaky that you even doubt
your ability to brush your teeth correctly. Past failures
or embarrassing moments poison your mind to the possibility
of tackling something new. "Not me!" you reply when
asked if you are going to apply to be peer counselor for the
sixth graders. Why? Because self-esteem has been damaged and
needs to be healed.
Healing and Growing
Ultimately you are responsible for your own
self-esteem. Your head start is the abilities with which you
were born, and your family's nurture. Your job is to build
What is special about you? List your own gifts,
talents and good qualities. Include obvious ones like playing
the violin since you were eight or running the fastest 100
meters in your class, but don't miss the less obvious qualities
like tossing your neighbor's newspaper on the porch or smiling
at people who look as though they need a friend.
Each positive thought about yourself that surfs
on your brain waves will enable you to see that the world
would not be the same without you. You are special. That realization
is at the heart of healing self-esteem.
Another step toward healing is to ask yourself,
"Who am I?" Write your response or record your thoughts.
Continue questioning "Who am I?" To my parents?
To my friends? To other relatives? Teachers? Coaches? You
might share your thoughts with a trusted friend. If you are
feeling courageous, you might want to ask parents, grandparents,
friends, etc., who you are to them. You may find some fascinating
and affirming answers.
You may discover that some people tend to put
you down because they lack strong selfesteem themselves. The
same can be true of a parent, coach or teacher who lacks self-esteem.
You may not be able to change them but you can remind yourself
that when another person puts you down, that reveals a flaw
in them not you.
It may be necessary to spend less time with
people who do not build your positive sense of self. Enter
worthwhile activities that enable you to spend time away from
those who make you doubt yourself. Search for the people who
help you appreciate yourself in genuine ways. At the same
time deal honestly with the selfimprovements you discover
Tristan Jones is a sailor. Although he lost his legs in an
accident, he teaches disabled young people how to sail. Grappling
with his own loss, he noticed that many teenagers with physical
disabilities were angry, unhappy and often in trouble. They
did not view themselves as lovable, capable or valuable. Jones
dedicates his life to instructing them in sailing difficult
waters around Thailand. As they challenge these treacherous seas,
they discover that they possess many gifts and abilities. They learn
to like themselves.
Challenging yourself to accomplish something
worthwhile that you really want to achieve is a positive way
to build self- esteem. Chris, who has cerebral palsy, met
that challenge when he amazed his youth group by teaching
them Indian dancing. Though Chris has difficulty walking,
the rhythm of dance fits his movements. Only a person with
positive self-esteem could have risked giving his dance lesson.
You can increase this power within yourself. Spend a few minutes
thinking about a person who really makes you feel good about
yourself. Ponder words that have boosted your feelings about
yourself. "Great job!" "I can always count
on you." "I'm glad you're my friend." Think
about actions that gave your self-esteem a shove in the right
direction-a slap on the back in the locker room or a look
of understanding when you were having difficulties. Your special
self-esteem builder is able to give you a boost because he
feels good about himself. When he is able to affirm the good
he sees in you, he feels even better about you and about himself.
Self-esteem is contagious.
Learning to discern between genuine compliments
and insincere flattery is tricky. Practice shapes this skill.
Does the person spread compliments as thick as peanut butter
on bread or does she choose what is worthy of a compliment?
Do you believe in your heart that the action or words are
Practice building self-esteem in others. Tell
them when they do a great job. Thank them when they make life
a bit brighter. Smile at people! Avoid criticizing another
unless you believe you can actually help that person. Give
sincere compliments while remembering that something too plentiful
can lose its value. Building self-esteem is a mutual activity.
As you enable others to discover their own best selves, you
uncover your own.
We have said a lot about building self-esteem
through accomplishments and through words. In reality the
good you do and the good you speak result from who you are.
The question rises again, "Who am I?" The ultimate
question to strengthen selfesteem is, "Who am I to God?"
No one knows you as God does. No one loves you as God does.God
created you. You are made in the image of your Creator. That
is an awesome image. It means that you are much more wonderful
that you can imagine.
God created you so special that the Holy Spirit lives in you.
The Holy Spirit is the life-giving marrow of the skeleton
of selfesteem that is being built within you. Take time for
a sit-down conversation with God. Ask "Who am I to you,
God?" No voice will boom from heaven, but expect to receive
a response in the quiet place of your heart. Strong self-esteem
grows from seeing yourself as God sees you.
In the movie Home Alone Kevin enters a church in the midst
of his difficulties. He wisely says, "This is the place
to be if you're not feeling good about yourself." Kevin
reminds us that church is a place where we are valued, where
we are loved, a place where God builds self-esteem. Church
is not just a building. Church is people who love and worship
God and help one another to become what God has created them
to be. Sunday Mass and youth group activities can help you
feel good about yourself.
God also speaks to you through the Bible. When your self-esteem
feels undernourished, think about what the Bible says about
you: I am God's child! "The Spirit itself bears witness
with our spirit that we are children of God..." (Romans
8:16). I am a brand-new person. "...whoever is in Christ
is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold,
new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). I give my problems
to God. "Cast all your worries upon [God] because he
cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).
Now you are ready to celebrate being yourself. Make yourself
a poster that says, "Congratulations on being me!"
Hang it in your room as a reminder to thank God for making
you just as you are! Rejoice in being yourself!
Joseph E. Beck, 17; Andy Beimesche,
18; Melissa Bratta, 16; Chris DeBrunner, 14; Amy Russell,
17; and Mara Tomaszewski, 15, all from St. Gertrude Parish
in Madeira, Ohio, met one cold and snowy day with both the
author and the editor of this Youth Update. They took a critical
look at its message and their ideas have become an important
part of this Update.