How to Say No
Where Did It Go & How Can We Get It Back?
A feature article bySusan Peabody, Nov 07, 2003
It is hard to know whether we are born with self-esteem, and then sometimes lose it, or whether we are born without it and never get a chance to develop it. Either way, the lack of self-esteem (what we call low self-esteem) is a painful disorder. It can be seen as both a mental and spiritual wound.
I have studied this problem for many years, and it is clear to me that young children cannot love themselves. Instead, they must be validated by the people around them if they are to build a sense of self-worth. Love and attention are the most important forms of validation. Unfortunately, some children do not receive the nurturing they need to thrive.
As well as finding themselves unloved, many children are also neglected, abandoned, and sometimes abused. This causes children to unconsciously assume that something is wrong with them. They donít want to believe that the grownups around them are bad (this would be too frightening), so they conclude that they themselves are bad or flawed. If they are flawed, then they assume that they are worthless. If they are worthless, then they feel unworthy of love. The end result of this unconscious chain of logic is low self-esteem.
Parents are also like mirrors, and should reflect an image of loveliness to their children. When parents are shame-based, or have low self-esteem, they reflect a negative image to their children who then conclude (unconsciously) that they are flawed as well. This is how parents pass on shame and low self-esteem even when they are trying to be good parents.
Once a child has low self-esteem, it begins to feed on itself. Due to their poor self-image, children are incapable of compensating for neglect and abuse by loving themselves. They are also unable to accept the small of doses of love their parents do provide, or the love of other people they may meet as they are growing up. This triggers more shame and low self-esteem.
There are numerous ways that these painful feelings might impact a personís life. Some people will become painfully shy, while others will have illusions of grandeur to compensate for a poor self-image. Some people will lack ambition, while others will be over-achievers. Many people will become people pleasers, while others go to the other extreme and become anti-social. (Anti-social people sometimes become criminals.) One of the most serious consequences of low self-esteem is the self-loathing that results in self-mutilation.
I want to start out by saying that while many of the following suggestions will help you build up your self esteem by validating yourself, other recommendations will encourage you to utilize the validation of others to enhance your self-esteem. This may seem contradictory. Many people feel that we can love ourselves unconditionally from within and have no need for the love of others. However, I feel that we do need some outer validation. We are only human, and no matter how strongly we believe in ourselves we need a little support. What is important to remember, is that our own validation of ourselves should come first and it is more important that what others think of us. In other words, you should build a strong foundation before you build a house.
If you work very hard on this task of building up your self-esteem, you will
have taken a great step forward. Your life will change and you will know peace.
You will also be genuinely happy-perhaps for the first time in your life. And it
gets better. There is no end to the happiness you will know when you love and
cherish yourself as well as others.
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