Escaping the Dark Spiral of Unhealthy Self-Esteem

In today’s society there is something that every teenager wrestles with. It’s something that must be confronted constantly - in front of the mirror, when watching TV, by the shop window, and around every corner of social media. 

I’m talking about self-esteem.

Self-esteem is a huge issue that young people face today. No one is safe from the modern disease of constantly striving to reach what appears to be perfection and through this struggle many young people are losing out…massively. 

Let me break it down.

Our self-esteem reflects how we feel about ourselves and how satisfied we are about certain aspects of our life. For example, our appearance, our personality, our skills, and our relationship with others.

Self-esteem makes us evaluate ourselves constantly.

In 2013, a Girlguiding report found that the number of people who were not happy with their looks rose to 33% up from 29% the previous year and 26% two years prior. This increase included a higher proportion of young females than young males where the struggle lay with body image.

Who is responsible for this problem?

I blame adults. 

I blame journalists, icons, models, and fashion-setters in that they all create a ‘false’ sense of beauty that young girls aspire to have. 

The reality is that there is no real-life ‘airbrush’ that can take away every blemish.

We are who we are and we have to embrace that. Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with fashion and beauty but there is with the unattainable high standards that are set. The failure to reach these standards is slowly destroying self-esteem and young people’s lives. 

I’m not naïve to think that just young girls suffer. Boys do too, but it's maybe not as obvious to others. Both girls and boys struggle with a constant craving to be needed, to be liked, and to be accepted.

OK, so I get that this is all part of growing up - finding your place in society, in social groups?

But it's getting worse.

Unfortunately, if a young person doesn’t fit in today, it doesn’t end when they leave school every day. In the age of smartphones and social media, the suffering can continue 24/7.   

Before, bullying happened to me in my school and that was it. Now it has gone viral. It is mass torture, global humiliation. Being called a nasty nickname is one thing, having it plastered over your wall for hundreds of friends to see is another. Or having all your friends slowly “unfriend” you must be one of the most isolating cyber experiences.
— Elizabeth Kesses - author of The Ugly Little Girl trilogy

Every look in a mirror, every status update to Facebook, every ‘like’ that our picture can get - these are the dooming shadows that our society has cast, turning even the brightest young person into a self-evaluating judge.

Sadly the verdict these days is more and more - ‘I’m not good enough’.

The dark spiral of unhealthy self-esteem

Unhealthy or low self-esteem can lead to dark spiral of anxiety, stress, loneliness and depression. It can cause problems with friendships and romantic relationships. It can seriously hinder academic and job performance. It can lead to increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse… and we wonder why so many young lives are taken?

Now, self-esteem isn’t a bad thing. The issue is having a healthy self-esteem! 

Who can tackle this devastating problem? 

You can! 

You can actively decide to encourage someone.

Go on - put your phone down, get off Facebook and have a genuine chat with those around you! Reach out to young people near you and let them know that they are valued, and if you are still a teenager, then be the friend that appreciates others! 

The challenge is to let others know that they are valued not for academic grades, not for how much money they earn, but because they are wonderful, precious individuals full of God-given value, worth and potential!

Go on, let them know!

Let's help young people begin to look in the mirror again with no fear.

Let’s improve the image of self-esteem.



Jonny Luke - Senior Youth Worker @ Dreamscheme NI