Is it Self-doubt or Low Self-esteem?

Everyone has those moments.  Moments in which you’re not certain if you’re doing the right thing or making the right choice.  Moments in which you think back to that thing you said at the party and wish you could take it back, but you can’t.  There are times when you question whether or not you used good judgment or acted too impulsively due to anger or fear or something else.   All of this questioning is a sign of self-doubt.

Self-doubt is present in every person’s life and it can mean a moment’s hesitation before making a decision or it can be a paralyzing force that keeps you from taking action.  For teenage girls, who may feel particularly susceptible to what others are thinking about them, self-doubt can be a daily intruder into their thoughts or a shadow that whisks certainty away from almost every decision.  Sometimes girls express their self-doubt as a way of bonding with friends, either by not appearing to be too arrogant, i.e. masculine, and forthright with their decisions, or, by using self-doubt to consult with a BFF at all times.  But what might seem to be second-guessing can have deeper consequences in terms of a girl’s self-esteem.

Having low self-esteem can be a serious result of too much self-doubt.  If you don’t hold yourself in high regard, or keep a strong base of emotional resilience stored against how things might turn out, you’re likely to question your decision-making skills and if your instincts are right about things.  Fundamentally, self-doubt is a contributor to low self-esteem, rather than the same thing.  Doubting yourself constantly, whether by engaging in comparison with others, or holding yourself to an idealized and impossible goal, is a recipe for lowering your self-esteem, because you aren’t staying true to the conviction that you know what’s best for you.  Building up a stronger reservoir of self-esteem will help battle those self-doubt demons when they go on the attack.

But, how do you do this?  Or help a teenage daughter or friend to do this?  Encourage girls to be in touch with what they really want, not what they think they should want.  Do this by (as much as possible) shutting out the media’s messages to girls and going inward to think through what your inner voice most calls out for.  Meditate, create a vision board, or trace out the paths of other strong women and think through what decisions got them to the place you admire.  Imagine the stresses they endured, but overcame, and think about how it’s possible to do that as well.

Draw on supportive friends who will affirm your decisions, and back you up if you feel you’ve made a wrong one and need to make a change.  Practice telling yourself you know best for yourself and shutting out negative voices that tell you otherwise.  Learn to be confident that you’re acting with your own best intentions as your top priority and can be ready to face whatever consequences might come.  This will help bolster your self-esteem and work to erase the voices that can question every decision you make.

 

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Mom as Role Model. The Importance of Modeling Positive Self-Acceptance Around Your Daughters.

What girl hasn’t grown up noticing how she’s noticed?  If she is frequently praised for her looks a girl will quickly realize that’s how she is valued.  And if a girl grows up hearing her mother complain about her own body and her appearance, a daughter will also learn that that’s just what women do — be critical of themselves and never enjoy the strength and beauty of their bodies.  How mothers model body acceptance and body awareness can have a profound impact on a daughter’s self-esteem and future understanding of her own adult body.  Constantly hearing critical self-talk, especially around the subject of weight, bonding with other women through dieting and denial, along with automatic cringing in response to a glance in a mirror is a certain way for the cycle of body hatred to continue within a family.

About a year ago the article, “How to Talk to Little Girls” went viral on the Internet as the author mentions, “This week ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat.”  Author Lisa Bloom suggests concrete ways to connect with young girls besides commenting on their looks.  Interestingly, she also published parallel advice in an article entitled, “How to Talk to Little Boys” which steers (often well-meaning) adults away from stereotypical topics that don’t give boys room to express other interests.

There’s no doubt that most women in America have absorbed conventional definitions of beauty that are presented by the media – being model-thin, tall, with polished skin and long hair, and often a frank sexiness.  The fact that this type of woman represents a fraction of how average American women look is often left out the equation yet doesn’t diminish the aspirational influence created on the pages of national magazines.

Media messages about how girls are taught how they ought to look are ubiquitous, and hard to filter, hence the importance of teaching media literacy early on, as one model recently did, emphasizing that what is seen in magazines is different from what is seen in real life.  But what about the messages girls receive from one of the most important people in their lives — the one who can most influence her ideas about her appearance and convey, by example, what it means to love one’s body.

When a girl grows up hearing her mother commenting negatively on her appearance when she passes a mirror with “I look terrible!” or “I’m too fat,” or bonding with other female friends through dieting or negative body commentary girls learn that this is what she’s supposed to do as well.  In a recent media cycle, this honest writer insisted that her “mom body” stay in her childrens’ pictures and received a huge outpouring of support about changing the dynamic of what’s okay to have represented.  And other writers have recently spoken out, courageously, about demonstrating to their daughters that their “mom bodies” are strong and worthy of admiration.

What to do in face of so much pressure — for moms and daughters alike? It can be very hard to know how to change the conversation.  One simple way to start is to stop the critical self-talk.  Instead, model positive self-acceptance around girls. Eat balanced meals that include dessert; show your daughter that you aren’t “bad” or “good” for eating certain foods, but human.  Exercise together as a way to model what a strong, powerful body can do.  Show your daughter that you take pleasure in moving — dancing, running, lifting something heavy and resolving problems.  No one can be a greater influence on a daughter’s developing body — and mind.  It may not be “perfection” that they, or you, see — but it will be normalcy.

What do Teens Think About Self-Respect?

 Another term we could use instead of self-respect would be pride. So what does it mean to have self-respect or pride in oneself?

Teens sometimes have difficulty with the concept of self-respect because they tie it to closely to acceptance by their peers.  They truly believe that their friends have their best interest in mind, but sometimes we see that is not always the case.  True friends love us for who we are, help us through difficult times, and even talk us out of making mistakes.  They would never put us in harms way for the sake of popularity or make us the butt of a joke for a cheap laugh.  Sometimes teens confuse authentic friendships as well as intimate relationships with those that can actually be quite damaging.  If you ask a teen to define self-respect, most of them can. However, they have a difficult time turning those words into action.  They don’t understand what self-respect looks like in practice or action. In my book, Girl Talk, I  talk to teens about their views on self-respect, what it really is and where they think they themselves or other teens go wrong in relation to this concept. Also, I explore and provide teens as well as parents with concrete examples of authentic relationships, healthy self-respect in action and ways to improve it.