building self-esteem Children Individual Counseling Teenagers

Self-Confidence from Competence

I counsel a lot of teenagers and young adults who suffer from low self-confidence. These are both boys and girls, men and women. One thing that sometimes happens is they find themselves staying in relationships that aren’t working for them because they’ve been allowing their self-worth to be dictated by being in a relationship, or by being valued by their friends, rather than valuing themselves independently for their own worth.

This realization sometimes leads to a discussion of how to build self-worth that’s independent of relationships. In other words, how do you value yourself based on your own merits, rather than letting other people decide what your worth is. This can actually get a little tricky because we are social creatures so some of our worth will be based on our value to others. And, there is another problem.

Young children sometimes get the message they are somehow “special” without actually acquiring any speciality. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen those motivational posters in schools, gyms, and other places that say things like “When you enter here, you are amazing”. Unfortunately, you’re not amazing merely for breathing in and out. People do send this message to kids with good intentions, but it doesn’t help outside of the family. To our family, we’re a special part of our families and loved no matter what. Outside the family, it’s not that easy. To be seen as amazing by anyone outside your immediate family, you need to do amazing things. To be loved, it helps to work to be a lovable person. To have friends, you need to be friendly. You get the point.

One way to improve your self-worth and self-esteem is to learn to do something you’ve always wanted to learn to do. Or learn about something and know it well. Some people learn to be great cooks or bakers, or mechanics or artists. Some people decide to learn something useful like computer coding, or something perhaps less useful but very interesting like the history of World War II. This becomes their thing and it’s something they can take pride in. It’s something that other people find useful or interesting.

When people tell me about having low self-esteem or self-worth, I usually ask them what their evidence is that tells them they should not have high self-worth, sometimes they have legitimate things they feel shame about that cause them to feel low about themselves. Sometimes they also tend to minimize things they should legitimately take pride in. In these cases, sometimes my role is to help them see these things more clearly and amplify the skills they have.

In other cases, the person may truly have very little in the way of accomplishments, skills, traits, or knowledge to feel high self-esteem. For example, a young man who passed high school with moderate grades, played no sports and participated in no extracurricular activities, and spent most of his time playing video games, may have low self-esteem and may not be able to really identify traits, skills, etc that he can take pride in. In these cases, it may be a matter of helping him figure out things that he can start doing that will eventually bring him a sense of pride and self-worth. However, this doesn’t come easy either. Learning to do something that is worthwhile often takes time and hard work.

Quite often, we want the benefits without doing the actual work. We want the great beach body, but don’t want to put time in at the gym. We want to be a straight A student, but don’t want to sacrifice the time to study. We have to remember that high self-esteem that is dependent on our own merits requires work, but it is worth the effort.

Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan.  He provides counseling for couples, counseling for teenagers, and adults.  He provides counseling for anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, and relationship problems.  For more information, please visit the website at