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What is Self-Esteem?

Our self-esteem develops and evolves throughout our lives as we build an image of ourselves through our experiences with different people and activities. Experiences during our childhood play a particularly large role in the shaping of our basic self-esteem. When we were growing up, our successes (and failures) and how we were treated by the members of our immediate family, by our teachers, coaches, religious authorities, and by our peers, all contributed to the creation of our basic self-esteem.

Self-esteem is largely developed during childhood.

Healthy Self-Esteem

Childhood experiences that lead to healthy self-esteem include-

  • being praised
  • being listened to
  • being spoken to respectfully
  • getting attention and hugs
  • experiencing success in sports or school
  • having trustworthy friends

Low Self-Esteem

Childhood experiences that lead to low self-esteem include-

  • being harshly criticized
  • being yelled at, or beaten
  • being ignored, ridiculed or teased
  • being expected to be "perfect" all the time
  • experiencing failures in sports or school

People with low self-esteem were often given messages that failed experiences (losing a game, getting a poor grade, etc.) were failures of their whole self.

Our past experiences, even the things we don't usually think about, are all alive and active in our daily life in the form of an Inner Voice. Although most people do not "hear" this voice in the same way they would a spoken one, in many ways it acts in a similar way, constantly repeating those original messages to us.

For people with healthy self-esteem the messages of the inner voice are positive and reassuring. For people with low self-esteem, the inner voice becomes a harsh inner critic, constantly criticizing, punishing, and belittling their accomplishments.

Consequences of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can have devastating consequences.

  • It can create anxiety, stress, loneliness and increased likelihood for depression.

  • It can cause problems with friendships and relationships.

  • It can seriously impair academic and job performance.

  • It can lead to underachievement and increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse.

Worst of all, these negative consequences themselves reinforce the negative self-image and can take a person into a downward spiral of lower and lower self-esteem and increasingly non-productive or even actively self-destructive behavior.



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