Here is an excerpt from a piece I submitted to a healthyplace.com.
“Mothers need to be deeply aware of what they convey to their daughters through the attitudes they model about their own relationship to their bodies, their self-talk about how they look or “ought to” look, and how secure they seem in their choices. When a mother is battling low self-esteem or not even battling because she’s unaware it’s a root cause of frustration within her life, her daughter is likely to carry this burden as well. If a woman has spent her lifetime locked in a cycle of dieting, hatred of her own body and carries a sense of inadequacy, her daughter will understand that that is an acceptable way to consider oneself, although it’s not. This will inhibit a girl from feeling positively about her own body and she may even come to believe that negative talk is a way to bond with her mother or that being positive about herself is a form of unacceptable bragging.”
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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.
My interview with a 16 year old cutter.
She is a 16 year old girl with the lowest self-reported self-esteem of any girl I interviewed for my book. She had tears in her eyes the entire interview and she nearly broke my heart. I found myself struggling between interviewing her and counseling her. She didn’t see herself as smart or pretty, good at sports or anything else really. She suffers from a very bad case of negative self-talk that’s alive and well living inside her. She told me that whatever she does, she hears an inner voice telling her she isn’t good enough and to quit, which she does every time. Because of this, she can’t stick to anything long enough to get good at it, experience success and then build confidence. This is a huge factor contributing to her very low self-esteem. It has a paralyzing effect on her and has perpetuated an unnatural fear in her for anything new. She says her friends are starting to get tired of her negative attitude and they think that she is constantly fishing for compliments. She is pushing her friends away, which makes her inner voice (or saboteur) very happy. We talked about how she was bullied in middle school for being over weight, having braces and wearing glasses… all at the same time. She has never fully recovered from the way she was treated back then, even though she has blossomed into a beauty swan. She acquired an eating disorder freshman year of high school and based on our conversation, it seems that she still struggles with anorexia. She still sees that girl from middle school when she looks in the mirror and still hears the kids calling her names. More upsetting is the cutting. She told me that she “used to cut” herself, as a way to deal with stress in her life and probably because of the self hate. In her words, it’s a way to release stress and anger. Not to mention, the inner saboteur tells her to do it. She doesn’t have a close relationship with her mother and feels it’s partially her mom’s fault for her being bullied in middle school. She feels her mom is the direct reason why she was overweight. In addition, they fight about school work. In her words, homework seems more important to Sarah than it does to her mother. The more mom pushes her to join the family, the more this teen pulls away. Sarah is looking for independence, but is being challenged with family pressure to be more like them. These pressures lead to more cutting. Getting good grades seems to be the only way she feels good about herself right now, although it’s generally fleeting. Her mom doesn’t understand the sadness and negative thoughts that circle her mind, so Sarah has stopped trying to tell her about them. This is a difficult relationship brewing between mother and daughter that is far from over.