Can I Please have Another Helping of Self-Esteem? Understanding Self-Estseem and How it Develops

self-esteem mirroe

 

People tend to think of self-esteem almost as if it is a product you can buy. Perhaps it is because of all the advertising which shows people smiling and feeling good when they use the products. Or, they think of it as a condition, like needing more iron in their diet or getting more rest.

Self-esteem is the result or outcome of one’s relationship with one’s self.  It is a by-product of how a person treats him or herself.

 

How do people develop a relationship with self?

Children are not born having a relationship with self.  It starts with their relationship with others.  Parents do things to them and with them.  Babies and toddlers respond and react to the ways in which they are handled and cared for.  Over time they develop a relationship with self from how they are treated by others. The quality of those interactions is a major factor in determining the quality of relationship a child develops with himself.

Children are not born loving themselves.  They learn they are loveable (or not) by the experiences of being loved by those that look after them.  At first, love comes externally. If they feel loveable, over time children internalize the love they experience and in this way they learn to love themselves.

 How do children determine whether they are loved and valued or not?

Scenario:

Billy knew he was loved.  As a baby, his mother’s eyes lit-up when she saw him.  She talked to him a lot.  She was always affectionate with him and took very good care of him.

His father smiled at him frequently.  He spent time with him: playing roughhousing, sports and games.  He taught him many things about the world and the way it worked.  If Billy had any questions or problems, he knew he could always go to either parent. They stood up for him whenever they thought he needed support and gave him constant guidance. His parents did not have much money, yet they created a safe fun environment.

Billy felt loved, valued, understood, protected, and accepted.  He felt cherished, just because he existed. He felt he belonged in his family. He felt good about himself, confident in himself and his abilities.  To him, the world was an amazing place.

Scenario 2

Sammy was not sure if he was loved or not.  He had a sad mother. She took care of him, but she rarely smiled at him. She often did not look at him directly as she cared for him.  She was impatient, yelling a lot. She was seldom affectionate, and she seemed to resent the time she spent with him.  She read a lot.  Sometimes she was okay, even telling him she loved him. But Sammy did not feel loved.

Dad was away half the time, and when he was home he was tired and distracted.  He did not have time or energy for Sammy.  When he heard his parents arguing, it was always about him.  He felt like it was his fault, that he was bad, but he wasn’t sure how. The family had money, and it seemed to Sammy that money is what mattered, not him.

Sammy did not feel loved or valued. He felt he was a burden on his mother and father.  He tried to be as good as he could to please his parents, but it rarely worked.  He didn’t really feel he belonged to this family, more like he was visiting and it would soon end.  He did not feel good about himself.   He was unsure of how to be and how to act.  The world was a scary place that he had to figure out on his own.

Each child comes to conclusions about themselves from their experiences of interactions with parents and others in their childhood. These conclusions may be accurate or inaccurate. Children do not even realize they come to conclusions; they are just living their lives. Some adults report specific memories of decisions they deliberately made as a young child. But most of the time, these conclusions are made without realizing it, get buried in the subconscious and operate out of awareness.

When a child has felt loved, valued and connected to the significant people in his life, he is more likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have high self- esteem. Conversely, when a child experiences lack of love and belonging, he is less likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have low self-esteem.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

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