Q&A: Questions and Answers


Answers are intended for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine.

I have very low self-esteem and will even go so far as to say I hate myself. How can I change this?

New Era Answer:

It may make you feel a little better to know that you are not alone. Many people, especially during their teen years, have trouble accepting themselves and feeling good about who they are.

For one thing, your teen years are a time when your body is going through tremendous changes. Growth spurts can affect your coordination. Changing hormones can influence your skin and your body shape. These physical changes can make you feel uncomfortable about your looks for a while. It is more important to work on having a healthy body than worry too much about the natural changes that are taking place. Keep your skin clean, get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, and exercise regularly. If you feel something is genuinely wrong, seek medical advice; otherwise, take good care of yourself and don’t worry too much. People who take care of themselves find that it helps improve their self-esteem.

One of the big problems in young people who lack self-esteem is that they tend to pay lots of attention to the negative feedback they get from other people and ignore the good things. Dr. Richard Ferre, chairman of the Department of Child Psychiatry at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, says, “Those who have a problem with self-esteem always seem to overreact to the negatives. For example, if someone says to you, ‘Gee, it’s good to see you,’ do you catch yourself thinking, ‘Well, sure, because I’m the only one here’? Everyone will have both negative and positive things happen to them. It is up to you to determine what you are going to focus on.”

Sometimes a change in attitude is easier said than done. To help focus more an the positive, start taking notes. Write down the things that are said or done to you that you think are negative and the things you think are positive. Just having someone say “Hi” is a positive thing. You’ll probably find a lot more positive things are happening than you think. However, if you do get a lot of negatives, check with someone you trust to tell you if you need to make some changes.

Writing things down is actually a very good idea. Make a list of your good qualities. If you can’t think of any, ask your parents, brothers and sisters, and church leaders for help. It may be time to get your patriarchal blessing and learn what the Lord has in mind for you. Whenever you are feeling particularly discouraged, get out your list and your patriarchal blessing and read them. They can help you keep from getting tangled in distorted patterns of thinking. For example, you may overgeneralize and think, “No one cares.” But is that really true? You have family members, church leaders, teachers at school, friends, and most importantly your Heavenly Father that truly care. Or you may get a bad grade on a test. Instead of saying things like, “I’m stupid,” or “I’m such a loser,” say “I need to study better or get someone to tutor me.” Again make a list of your thoughts. Look at them carefully. Is your thinking distorted?

Often a lack of self-esteem is a normal part of growing up, but sometimes it is a symptom of something more serious. Depressed teenagers often don’t feel any confidence in themselves. They feel totally abandoned by their friends. They don’t feel like doing any of the things they used to enjoy. They are sad, irritable, and moody. Their bodies react by not sleeping or by developing headaches or stomachaches. Some get so frustrated they start acting out in aggressive ways. Any of these symptoms can be normal for short periods of time, but worry if they are present most of the time and are affecting your ability to function. If this is the case, it is important to get professional help.

When you don’t feel like you have any self-esteem, how do you even start to develop it? We’ve already suggested a few things. Make your list of your good qualities and read it over often. Eat right. Get enough sleep. Exercise. If you enjoy playing sports or dancing, join a team or class. It’s a good way to get your exercise and make friends.

Learn to take control of your life, but start with small things. You can’t control your friends and what they do or say. The only one you can control is yourself. Do something that gives you a sense of feeling good. “I’m going to say hello to someone in the halls at school today.” Then try it. Gradually, little successes will build into bigger successes.

And it helps a lot to learn to laugh at embarrassing moments. If you drop your lunch tray in front of the whole cafeteria, instead of wishing to sink into the floor, try to see the humor in the situation. For example, take a big bow, smile, and say, “For my next number …” People enjoy being around someone who likes to laugh.

Remember, you always have two very important people who are thinking of you, your Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They know your true worth and want to help you know it too.

Youth Answers:

Feeling good about yourself is very hard, especially for teenagers, since we are at an age when almost everything makes us feel different and awkward.

I did some things to help myself. I started taking ballet and jazz classes. I also turned to people I knew would lift me up and never put me down. I asked my best friend, my parents, and church leaders to write down a list of things they saw that were good in me, and I started working at improving myself in those areas. I started feeling better about myself and people felt more comfortable around me, so I had more friends and that made me feel better too.

Remember no matter what you or anyone else thinks, Heavenly Father thinks you are great!

Astrid Sieger, 15 Dallas, Texas

We need to think highly of ourselves. Nephi had to have high self-esteem. His brothers Laman and Lemuel tried to cut him down.

Many of us go through a time where we think we are losers or can’t do anything. My father recently passed away and I thought, I don’t want to be seen. I’ll never make it without my own father. I cut myself down thinking I wasn’t worth anything. But now I am thinking of the future, planning for success.

I hope that you don’t let anything cut you down. I find that reading the scriptures and praying helps me out with almost anything.

Douglas Haycock, 15 Cedar City, Utah

One of the best things you can do is to find ways of doing service to others. When you do things to make other people feel good, then you feel a lot better about yourself. Also, make a list of your talents and accomplishments. Read your list every time you feel bad about yourself. Read the scriptures often and attend your church meetings. Pray to our Father in Heaven for the comfort and self-confidence you need. Usually he will comfort you through the scriptures and the talks and lessons in church.

Jay Woodin, 18 Wichita, Kansas

For years I’ve felt negative thoughts about myself. How I got over it was by telling a friend about my feelings. It has done a world of good for me. Please talk to someone. It helps to bring your feelings to the surface so you can feel better and get on with your life.

Learn to laugh at yourself. It’s fun! Don’t worry about what people think of you. Relax, loosen up, and have fun with life.

Emily Minchew, 16 Roy, Utah

Disliking yourself or not being sure of yourself is more than natural for a teenager. I know because I am a peer counselor at school and also because I’m a teenager. Self-esteem is being thankful for the talents you possess. One of the problems with teenagers is that we tend to overlook what we have and emphasize the things we don’t have. You know the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Well, look down and you might see some nice green stuff on your side.

James Timms, 16 Delta, British Columbia, Canada

You might want to try some of my ideas to help you like yourself better. First, think of all the good things about yourself and write them down. Be very generous. Next, find your best physical feature and emphasize it. For example, if you choose your hands as your best feature then give yourself a manicure and wear pretty rings. Practicing good hygiene and getting plenty of exercise will give you a lot of confidence also. Last, don’t give yourself a lot of time to think of what you consider to be bad characteristics. Be active in church and do other worthwhile things.

Melanie Salisbury, 12 Centerville, Utah

First of all you need to realize something. You are loved by parents, close friends, church teachers and advisers, and most of all, your Father in Heaven. Why do these people love you so? They see you as you really are.

They know and love your good traits and overlook the bad. As for Heavenly Father, he knows everything about us, plus he knows our potential to be like him. Don’t listen to Satan’s evil temptation to degrade yourself. Listen for the Spirit of God and know that you are loved because you are you.

Elder Bart Havens, 20 Wisconsin Milwaukee Mission

I know exactly what you’re going through. I used to hate myself, and I was always comparing my bad points with everyone else’s good points.

The first thing you have to realize is that self-esteem comes from inside you. Sure, some people may give you a compliment, but if you feel bad about yourself, most likely you won’t believe what they say.

Now comes the hardest part. Be outgoing. Don’t sit in a corner by yourself. Talk to people. Show an interest in them. At first it’s the hardest thing to do. Things run through your mind like, Why would they want to talk to me? Or, I can’t make a difference. I’m a nobody. These thoughts are deadly. What you have to do is, while you are walking up to someone, say a short prayer for comfort and guidance.

Margie Beckwith, 15 Sierra Vista, Arizona

I know how you feel. First, try writing down some of your positive qualities. Write down your talents or things that you like about yourself. Then work on bringing them out while you are working on your weaknesses. If you have a hard time doing that, then give someone a compliment. Usually if you give a compliment, you will get one back and it really helps.

Wendy Clyde, 15 Johnson, Kansas

I found it helps me to look in the mirror and say aloud, “I really like you!” You should be your own best friend.

Susie Haroldsen, 13 Idaho Falls, Idaho

I used to have low self-esteem until I realized that people do like you just the way you are. I tried to be somebody that I wasn’t. I wanted to please others so they would like me. It didn’t work. I didn’t make any more friends either. Then I decided that I would act like myself to see what would happen. I ended up being happier, and I also made many more friends. I learned to accept the person I am. People do not like fakes. Accept the person you are, and others will accept you also.

Tammi Taylor, 19 Salem, Oregon

Survival Tips

  • Make a list of things you like about yourself.

  • Consult your patriarchal blessing.

  • Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.

  • Learn to succeed by doing small things well.

  • Serve others and you’ll help yourself.

  • Read the scriptures.

  • Remember you’re a child of God.

[photo] Photography by Phil Shurtleff