Where Self-Esteem REALLY Comes From

So your daughter’s self-esteem is in the toilet and you haven’t the faintest idea why. From where you sit, she’s good looking, has friends, family, stable finances, access to education… Despite not entirely understanding her dilemma, you’re compassionate and want to fix it for her so you’ve tried a number of things to improve your daughter’s self-esteem: compliments, gifts, tough love… nothing seems to work.

Society has girls thinking that self-esteem comes from owning the right stuff (clothes, gadgets, make up, accessories), looking the right way (skinny, big chested, clear skin), having the right friends (popular, good looking, athletic), and overall just being perfect.

NEWSFLASH: this is all wrong and girls have NO idea.

The truth is that self-esteem comes from esteemable actions. There is no quicker way for girls, or anyone for that matter, to start feeling better about themselves than to be of service to others. Unfortunately, for most adolescents, community service has devolved into just another task required for high school graduation. But the truth is that being of service to others cultivates critical life skills and evokes emotions that inherently boost self-esteem.

For example, being of service provides perspective. Many of today’s girls are considered “spoiled” or “entitled”. In their defense, they are rarely exposed to the real world atrocities outside of their safe bubbles. Sure they they may flip on the news and passively watch a report on hunger and homelessness. But as soon as that TV shuts off, the connection is lost and girls are re-absorbed back into their bubbles and forget about reality. Getting girls involved, in a hands-on way, is critical to their development of perspective. You want your daughter to understand that she lives in a world of privilege? Immerse her in a world of lack. Let her experience what it feels like to be without by volunteering at a homeless shelter. You want your daughter to realize having a roof over her head is a gift? Let her build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Once girls have perspective on their lives, they are better equipped to move through the life without getting bogged down by society’s minutiae.

There are a multitude of benefits girls receive from being of service: empathy, compassion, gratitude, fulfillment, meaning, accomplishment, purpose… All of these benefits add up to a positive, confident self-concept. Of course this is not an overnight process; self-esteem doesn’t magically appear after one day’s worth of volunteering. Service needs to be an ongoing commitment in order to build self-esteem over time.

Being of service is not just about grand experiences like building a house or serving a meal. Small acts of service like supporting a friend in crisis or tutoring a struggling classmate can produce similar effects when put in context. Help your daughter to understand the value of service, and how it can drastically improve the quality of not just her life, but of those around her.


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