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Youth Wellness and Empowerment

Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: Filling Up Your Own Cup First

Diverse teens laughing in a park
Diverse teens laughing in a park
Michael Eisen

Michael Eisen

Founder, Youth Wellness Network

Youth today struggle to understand how their self-esteem isn’t dependent on external forces but instead comes from within and can be cultivated, by them and for them, to create a lasting feeling of belonging and empowerment.

During the process of identity formation, youth — and especially teens — look to those around them in order to feel validated. This can include feelings of safeness, happiness, appreciation, support, respect, and belonging. There’s a misconception that in order to feel these things they must seek and receive them from others, and for this reason the external feedback they get from their peers, teachers, and parents can be heavily weighted against other potential sources of self-worth.

As most of us have experienced first-hand, when we seek validation from external sources we’re often left with a feeling of lack that perpetuates a negative emotional cycle. This cycle looks something like this:

  • We tell a joke (seeking validation through providing the value of humour)
  • Our friends laugh at the joke (validating our value as a friend)
  • We feel good about ourselves and our place as that person’s friend
  • The validation quickly wears off
  • We’re then looking for external validation again, perpetuating the cycle.

Youth do this in various ways, such as social media likes and follows to show approval from others, high grades to feel smart, and complimenting others in hopes of being validated in return. These inevitably lead to anxiety, doubt, insecurity, and distress in their lives, as no matter what they do, those positive feelings quickly dissipate and the cycle continues.

The truth of the matter is that we have the ability to fill ourselves up and create positive and sustainable self-esteem. True self-esteem comes from within instead of relying on others. We’re all born with the natural ability to love, honour, and respect ourselves, but we’ve forgotten how. True and sustainable self-esteem and self-worth are generated from within so that we always have an infinite supply with which to replenish ourselves instead of constantly looking to others to fill us up.

But what does filling up your own cup look like? It consists of feeling more positive about ourselves and realizing that our self-worth isn’t reliant on others (parents, teachers, or peers included). It’s celebrating who we are in the moment and appreciating our wins, losses, and lessons learned along the way. 

In order to remember that self-esteem comes from within, we need to remind youth to practise daily so that relying on themselves becomes second nature. Practices such as writing down 10 things they like about themselves, setting positive reminders in their phones, doing something that puts them outside of their comfort zone, or having a solo dance party in their room can all lead to increased self-esteem, confidence, and resilience. 

The important thing to remember is that these practices have to be chosen by them and for them. The first step to generating our self-esteem from within is making the commitment to ourselves that we will try our best and practise often. This can only be done on an individual basis. Through this process of filling up our own cup and creating self-esteem from within, youth can learn sustainable practices — leaving them happier and healthier while ultimately cultivating a more empowered generation as a whole. 

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