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. One thing that sometimes happens is they find themselves staying in relationships that aren’t working because they allow 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 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.

Being Realistic

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 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 send this message to kids with good intentions, but it doesn’t help much. To our families, we’re special and loved no matter what. Outside the family, it’s not that easy. To be seen as amazing by anyone outside your family, you need to do amazing things. To be loved, do the work to be a lovable person. And to have friends, you need to be friendly. You get the point.

How to Build Self Esteem

One way to improve your self-esteem is to learn to do something you’ve always wanted to learn. 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 interesting, like the history of World War II. This becomes their thing and it’s something they can take pride in. It’s something other people find useful or interesting.

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

In other cases, the person truly has very little in the way of accomplishments, skills, traits, or knowledge to feel high self-esteem. For example, a young man who passes high school with moderate grades, plays no sports and no extracurricular activities, and spends his time playing video games, may have low self-esteem. In this case, it’s a matter of helping him figure out things that he can start doing that will bring a sense of self-worth. However, this doesn’t come easy either. Learning to do something worthwhile takes time and hard work.

Be Willing to Do the 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. Or 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