Young People Ask . . .
“Why Don’t I Like Myself?”
“I DON’T feel very special at all,” lamented Louise. Do you, too, occasionally feel bad about yourself? A recent study of American youths indicated that while the majority “say they feel happy most of the time,” some 20 percent feel “empty emotionally . . . and would rather die than go on living.”
But, really, everyone needs a certain amount of self-esteem. It has been called “the ingredient that gives dignity to human existence.” The Bible likewise acknowledges: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 19:19.
If you feel bad about yourself, you probably feel bad about others too. Furthermore, when you feel useless or inferior, you turn inward. It becomes hard to get along with others. Criticism or even some gentle teasing can send you into a tailspin.
Who Am I?
Why, then, do so many teens dislike themselves? To some extent it is a normal reaction to growing out of childhood. Just yesterday you were a smiling toddler whose whole world was toy trucks and teddy bears. But now the huggable little child is no more; he is a casualty of adolescence.
So, as Dr. Haim Ginott once put it: “Adolescence is a period . . . in which every teenager has to remake his personality. He has to . . . find his own identity.” You may therefore yearn for independence, yearn for experience.
But your limitations may frustrate you. You may look like an adult, but you really aren’t one—yet. There’s often a period of awkwardness in which dropping things or bumping into them is a daily embarrassment. And there are emotional limitations. You simply don’t have an adult’s experience in bouncing back from disappointments. Minor mishaps can seem like major disasters! And because your “perceptive powers” haven’t had enough time to be properly trained “through use” you may not always make the wisest decisions. (Hebrews 5:14) At times, you may feel that you cannot do anything right.
There is really no reason, however, to let your self-confidence hit rock bottom. Mistakes and blunders are a part of life. Gradually your self-identity solidifies, your self-esteem grows.
“Nothing I’ve Ever Done Has Ever Been Enough”
Jason’s above complaint reflects the thinking of many youths. “If I make an ‘A minus’ in school,” he says, “my folks want to know why it wasn’t an ‘A’ and tell me I’m a failure.”
It’s instinctive for parents to urge their children to do their very best. Your parents have invested a lot of time in you. And when you fall short of reasonable expectations, you can be sure you will hear about it. But should this get you down or crush your self-respect? The Bible’s counsel is: “Listen, my son [or, daughter], to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” (Proverbs 1:8, 9) True, it’s discouraging to be counseled. But view such discipline as coming from God himself. Says Proverbs 3:11, 12: “The discipline of Jehovah, . . . do not reject; . . . because the one whom Jehovah loves he reproves.” So take criticism in stride. Learn from it.
True, some complain that their parents are too demanding. And some parents indeed set very high—perhaps too high—expectations for their children. They may want their children to be everything they couldn’t be. And it can seem ego crunching if one’s folks make unfair comparisons. (“Why can’t you be like your older brother, Paul? He always was an honor student.”)
Nevertheless such comparisons, hurtful though they may seem at the time, often make a valid point. When you think about it, your folks are probably not supercritical. They just want the best for you. If you feel they’re being too hard on you, why not be brave enough to discuss matters with them calmly? At least they’ll know how you feel and might even meet you halfway.
“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”
But what of those who feel inferior because they just aren’t happy with their looks?
It’s easy to see why some might feel this way. For one thing, your appearance changes so rapidly that some youths, according to one psychologist, “feel like strangers in their own bodies.” Girls therefore fret about their hair, face and figure; boys about their developing physique. Each look in the mirror can reveal some new “horror.” Just one pimple is enough to convince a youth that he or she is an ‘ugly duckling’—hopelessly unattractive.
Don’t mistakenly conclude, however, that self-worth hangs on your looks. While attractive people are seemingly advantaged, beauty is no guarantee of happiness. In the long run it is what you are inside that wins the respect of people.—Proverbs 31:30.
Remember, too, that you won’t look like a teenager forever. (Look at your parents’ high school photographs to prove this!) Fluctuations in weight and acne are typical of the teen years. You’ll survive! And by being concerned about the person you are inside, you can have peace of mind even if your exterior undergoes a few alterations.
Can a youth bolster sagging self-esteem? Yes! Beware, though, of lethal dead ends.
For example, one writer said: “Sometimes the adolescent with a weak identity and low self-esteem tries to develop a false front or facade with which to face the world.” The ‘images’ some assume are familiar: The ‘tough guy,’ the promiscuous socialite, the outrageously clad ‘punk rockers.’
Have the insight to see through such ploys. The masks of the insecure are shallow, transparent and useless because beneath the facades they must still grapple with feeling inferior.—Proverbs 14:13.
Some take another deadly route: They begin dating when they’re scarcely teenagers. Though not ready for marriage they pour tender emotions into doomed relationships. They may even engage in premarital sex and risk pregnancy. Why? Says the author of Coping with Teenage Depression: “Promiscuity . . . is usually a desperate attempt to banish feelings of depression, to increase self-esteem (by feeling wanted), to achieve intimacy and, with pregnancy, to gain the love and unquestioning acceptance of another human being—a baby.”
The road of promiscuity leads nowhere, however. Wrote one disenchanted young woman: “Immorality masks the real problems for a while until reality surfaces and then you feel devastated. I tried to substitute sexual intimacy as a comfort, rather than trying to build a solid relationship with my Creator. All I built was emptiness, loneliness and more depression.”
The Bible appeals to your desire for self-respect when it commands: “Flee from fornication. Every other sin that a man may commit is outside his body, but he that practices fornication is sinning against his own body.”—1 Corinthians 6:18.
There are, however, legitimate, productive ways to build up self-respect. Our next issue will focus on some of these.
[Blurb on page 19]
“I tried to substitute sexual intimacy as a comfort, rather than trying to build a solid relationship with my Creator”
[Picture on page 17]
Some adolescents go through a period of awkwardness, dropping things or bumping into them
[Picture on page 18]
Your parents want you to do your best. But if you feel they are being unreasonable, calmly discuss matters with them