There may be nothing more damaging to a girl’s self-esteem than their own thoughts. Middle school girls have a tough time controlling negative self-talk that courses through their brains, with the cost of them feeling discouraged, angry, depressed, anxious, and inadequate. This “stinking thinking” often takes on the form of what I like to call ‘ers: comparing yourself to others and wishing you were prettier, thinner, funnier, braver, etc.
The list shown is what a group of middle school girls came up with recently at one of my weekend camps. Notice how many of the ‘ers are about their appearance. They made a list of how they felt because of the discouraging thoughts, and the emotions included feeling small, degraded, sad, helpless, depressed, awkward, anxious, disappointed in themselves, inadequate, and exhausted. Another cost to them is how it affects their behavior: focus on the negative, compare themselves endlessly, unexplained emotional outbursts, hold themselves back and don’t take risks, give up parts of you and eventually lose the real you, and judge yourself and others.
Girls have been conditioned to look outside of themselves for their sense of themselves. When they ask themselves, “Am I okay?” too often the answer comes from looking outward and comparing themselves to others, so of course they end up discouraged because you can always find someone who is ‘er. It’s a vicious cycle of discouragement, leaving girls at the mercy of their stinking thinking.
Girls need to become aware of when they start into their cycle of negative self-talk, and have the tools to switch it. To be happy and content, girls need to embrace who they are, warts and all. They need to affirm the qualities they embody, and especially the non-physical ones. Self-esteem, self-love, and happiness will not be found outside of themselves, nor can it be given to them. Those states of being are earned and created by each person. It’s an inside job, and the sooner we can teach girls to become more inner-directed, the sooner they will find contentment.