A child's view of herself begins to form as soon as the child is born. Based on the things she is told, the specific situations she experiences, and how she is treated, a picture of her "self" evolves. If she is praised and encouraged, she likely begins to develop healthy self-esteem: if, however, she is consistently criticized, ridiculed, or told she can't do things right, she begins to question her competency and adequacy If her feelings are ignored she begins to feel unimportant; if she is shamed, she starts to feel unworthy.
Jane was raised in an environment that caused her to doubt her adequacy and her competence when she was just a child. Discouraging remarks, ridicule, and criticism set the stage for the movie of her life in which the stinging bite of her parents' disapproval remained a key influence.
Desperately needing their support and affirmation, Jane struggled to prove her self-worth by excelling in music, sports, and scholastics, but experienced countless situations that told her she was not good enough. The scars remain and now, still confused and filled with doubt, she continues to evaluate herself on the basis of these numerous past incidents, especially when she again receives criticism.
Family Environments Influence Self-Esteem
As we go through life, we record our memories and our interpretations, though not necessarily the facts surrounding those memories. From these countless recollections, we have the makings of a movie of our life. Jane thinks in much the same way a VCR works -- it rewinds and replays past events. This analogy can help explain how she has formed her views of herself, and how that view is the basis for her behavior.
People with low self-esteem have believed the worst about themselves so strongly and for so long that they readily discard any feedback that contradicts their belief. They are unable to trust compliments and praise and often unknowingly twist such comments to mean the opposite. Overly self-conscious, they are easily embarrassed when they are the center of attention.
When those with low self-esteem are told that their process of self-evaluation is unrealistically negative and inaccurate, they do not believe it. When they are reminded of other information that contradicts their negative view, they find a way to discount that information; the suggestion that the way they judge themselves might be incorrect is difficult for them to digest. How can they contemplate that the view they have of themselves might not be true, a view upon which they have based their lives?
To consider that he has been incorrect all these years is equivalent to asking a religious person to question the tenets that are the foundation for his life, or proposing to a staunch, politically active Democrat that she become a Republican: This recommendation is beyond consideration. Suggesting to the person with LSE that she has based her life decisions on distorted interpretations is equally incomprehensible. This is the enduring and unyielding nature of the dysfunction of low self-esteem.
Who Suffers From Low Self-Esteem?
We may think that those who have LSE are the down-and-out, unsuccessful in their careers and their relationships. This is not necessarily true since people with low self-esteem are present in all walks of life.
They are executives, professionals, entrepreneurs, laborers, skilled workers, teachers, clerks, hair dressers, in fact, people from all occupations. They are highly educated and minimally educated. They are male and female, old and young, wealthy and poor; single, coupled, and divorced; they are of all nationalities. They include the religious, the atheist, and the agnostic. They reside in cities, in suburbs, and in rural areas.
Some seek therapy; some do not. Some are aware they have low self-esteem; many are not.
Recovery from Low Self-Esteem
While our situations in life vary, we each have the capacity to alter the course of our lives. We have the ability to become the captain of our own ship, the person who controls the transitions in our lives.
We can take steps that will result in restored hope, stimulated motivation, and renewed confidence: steps that will guarantee a fresh outlook for the future and a new outcome for our lives. We can attain skills not yet mastered; we can learn to face our fears; we can set fresh, fulfilling goals and acquire the means to reach those goals. We do not have to continue being held captive by the chain of low self-esteem.
What is required is a desire to change, a longing and willingness to put focused energy into recovering from the devastating effects of LSE. Some will see this need to change as a challenge, a roadblock that impedes their movement but one they can dislodge; for others, this need to change will represent an insurmountable blockade.
In truth, we all have the capacity to change if we want it badly enough. It is a choice. Those who do not opt to work toward change will once again be choosing self-defeating behaviors over those that can enhance and better their lives; they will be choosing to remain stifled, enslaved, and miserable. Those who choose to work at improving their lives, who actively work at improving their self-esteem, will reap the rewards; each step towards recovery will break one link in the chain of low self-esteem.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Wolf Publishing Co. ©1998, 2006.
About The Author
Dr. Marilyn Sorensen is a clinical psychologist in Portland where she has specialized in relationship and self-esteem issues for over 24 years. She is an experienced national speaker, life coach and consultant, and the author of Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem and Low Self-Esteem Misunderstood & Misdiagnosed, published by Wolf Publishing. She can be reached by visiting http://www.getesteem.com/