The “Three Faces” of Low Self-Esteem

According to an article from The University of Texas at Austin’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, low self-esteem is not always easy to recognize. Often times low self-esteem takes three forms:

  • The Imposter: acts happy and successful, but is really terrified of failure. Lives with the constant fear that she or he will be found out. Needs continuous successes to maintain the mask of positive self-esteem, which may lead to problems with perfectionism, procrastination, competition, and burn-out.  This person, afraid of failure or shame, may end up engaging in bully-like behavior.

“Imposters” can be found both in pop culture and in young adult novels.

speak-movie-speak-7390845-960-540Heather from Speak was very much an “Imposter.” Heather had to appear put-together and perfect in the eyes of The Marthas. She had to have the right clothes, make the right decisions, craft the perfect decorations, etc. She constantly lived in fear that The Marthas would see her as a ninth grade scrub who was not good enough to gain access to their group. This was apparent by her constant pleas to Melinda for help making fall decorations for the faculty room, making posters for dances, and decorating for prom.

Cristina Yang from ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy is another example of an “Imposter.” Cristina is Type-A, constantly searching for perfection and fears failure and weakness. Cristina often bullies those around her, especially her interns.

  • The Rebel: acts like the opinions or good will of others, —especially people who are important or powerful,— don’t matter. Lives with constant anger about not feeling good enough. Continuously needs to prove that others’ judgments and criticisms don’t hurt, which may lead to problems like blaming others excessively, breaking rules or laws, or opposing authority.

“Rebels,” too, can be found in YA literature and pop culture.

Marji from Persepolis embodies the rebel. She is skeptical of authority and is angry about the state of the world around her. To combat her anger and fear, Marji spends time reading and learning, trying to outrun the rules and laws of the regime and sometimes, even, from her parents.


Gia, from the TV show Full House is another example of “The Rebel.” Gia is insecure about her academic performance and her home life. She spends her time at odds with authority, like her single mother, her teachers, and Danny Tanner. Gia also partakes in law-breaking behavior and other risky behaviors like smoking and drug use.

  • The Victim: acts helpless and unable to cope with the world and waits for someone to come to the rescue. Uses self-pity or indifference as a shield against fear of taking responsibility for changing his or her life. Looks repeatedly to others for guidance, which can lead to such problems as unassertiveness, underachievement, and excessive reliance on others in relationships.

Just like “Imposters” and “Rebels,” “Victims” appear in YA literature and in pop culture.

tumblr_lp89n0lrtg1qh5bnno1_500For most of the novel, Melinda in Speak is a victim. She tries to bury her abuse and is indifferent to the people and situations around her. She blames the other students at school for the crappy time she is having in ninth grade. While Melinda does not look to others for guidance, she does have a passive air about her, until she finally speaks up and faces Andy Evans head-on.

snow_white_and_the_seven_dwarfs_stillSnow White from the Disney adaptation of the fairy tale is another example of a victim. Snow White is very helpless and quite literally waits around from someone to save her. Snow White does not know how to take responsibility of her own life and is both unassertive and underachieving, and must take directions from the dwarfs and the evil old hag.


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