From a teen in Peru: I have dealt with self-esteem issues regarding my appearance, personality, self-worth and have always struggled with comparing my family’s earnings and “wealth” with other families I know. Keeping in mind that I attend one of the best schools in my country, that I have excellent living conditions and that everybody who lives in my house has everything they need, I should not have a reason to feel this way… but still, my friends and other family members all have a great amount of wealth that makes me feel self-conscious of my where I live, what I do, how I dress and the things I own. I am constantly pretending to be someone I’m not so that others can assume that I have this same wealth that everybody seems to have. All of this has accumulated and affected with my self-esteem, which has always been pretty bad, but recently I have not been able to control it or to ignore it, making me feel worthless and ashamed.

Another major factor for my self-esteem has to do with how much I care when it comes to other people’s opinion, and how every comment or critique destroys self-esteem. I try to always loo my best, but it is very hard considering that I have to change a lot in order to do this. The things I do are still not enough, and I have come to notice that everyone thinks this as I have been critiqued for my appearance a lot. For example, one of my closest friend’s told me that my boyfriend asked her to tell me to do something with my hair (as it is very ugly) and when she told him that what I wanted to do ti it was too expensive he rudely laughed and told her that he was disposed to pay for it so that  I looked better.

I know that this may sound stupid and materialistic but it is something that has now come to mess up my happiness and lifestyle. I am ashamed of going to a psychologist so that is why I am writing through this page. I would be very thankful if could get opinions and help surrounding this issue.

Thank you for writing. Your letter tells me that you are an especially sensitive and caring person. I don’ t think this is a self-esteem issue. I think it is a reflection of your sensitivity. You are not alone in your struggles with being privileged. Many teens and young adults who are so fortunate to be wealthy feel conflicted about it. They know they haven’t done anything themselves to earn it. Often they wonder if they could have gained the same comfort if they had had to do it on their own. Doubt about their own abilities and the awareness that others haven’t been as lucky results in what looks very much like a self-esteem problem.

Having as much as you do when so many other people in the world don’t have enough is a burden as well as a gift. It calls on you to figure out what you can do to feel that you are using your wealth to be helpful to others.

Yes, there are wealthy people who never seem to have enough to feel good. They try to fill a hole in their self-regard by having multiple homes, big cars and fancy clothes and fancier parties. But it’s not a strategy that works. They only continue to feel empty. So they continue to accumulate more money and more material things. It never seems to be enough.

People with wealth who feel good about themselves are those who put a substantial part of it into doing good in the world. Often it starts out modestly with volunteering at someplace that serves others less fortunate. As people find a cause that touches their heart, they put more of their time and money into it. Doing good is what makes people feel good. It’s that simple.

I don’t think you need a psychologist — though a therapist might give you some needed encouragement.

I do think you need to find a  more supportive boyfriend. Your guy is too concerned with appearances. A quality guy would be much more interested in your values and your empathy. Take a step back from this relationship and make yourself available so you can find someone with better values. You deserve it.

I also think you need to take some steps to make yourself feel like you are doing something worthwhile with your good fortune. Choose something that really touches your heart. I’m betting you will soon feel better.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie