Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Foundations of Self Esteem, Part I

The Foundations of Self Esteem, Part I

In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I see
the same conditions every day. One that is central to
the rest is low self-esteem. Over twenty years, I have
looked at self-esteem from every which way and concluded
that there are four main components. I call them the
Four Powers of Self Esteem, and have written an ebook that
explores each power and how self esteem has formed.
Here's an article that summarizes some of the more important
Self-esteem begins in the womb. It begins with a
mother that provides a healthy intrauterine environment.
Without the proper "hard wiring," children start off life
on their left foot, so to speak. Given that mothers grow
healthy children, the next major impact to that sense of self
is at birth. When the child arrives, what are the instant
messages s/he gets? There better be lots of love,
especially when it comes to overcoming birth trauma.
But as a psychologist, I look more at the psychological
environment given to the child. I also look at the number
and quality of messages the child receives over the course of
a lifetime, especially during the first five years.
It turns out we receive zillions of messages about ourselves
over our lives, and the ones we receive in the first five
years are crucial to self-esteem success.
Think for a moment what a child experiences lying in
the crib, looking up expectantly at Mom or Dad? What message
is communicated when we are hungry and not yet fed? What do
we feel when we need to be changed? What do we feel when our
older brother or sister pokes us? These are minor examples
of what children daily experience. With each experience,
there comes a feeling. The feelings are good, bad or
somewhere in between. Any particular feeling may or may not
be too important, but after not too long, there amasses a
pattern of feelings. There is established some collection of
experiences that start to form a core. This is the beginning
of psychological self-esteem.
The rapidity and depth and range of these early
experiences would stagger most people's minds, if one really
looked at them in depth. These early experiences come in very
fast, at all sensory levels and are connected with every
interaction. They associated to basic events such as being
fed and stimulated, but also to the texture of the blanket in
the bed. They form a composite from which the individual self
emerges, associated with good or bad messages about self.
When pleasant experiences predominate, good self-experiences
predominate. The opposite occurs with bad self associations
(remaining hungry or not being changed). Over the early years,
millions of messages about us are lodged in our brains, thus
forming the foundation of self-esteem.
Sooner or later we all come into contact with other kids,
if not initially with siblings. This introduces another potent
source of messages about ourselves. Instantly we compare
ourselves to others. Do we run as fast as our neighbor?
Do we get as much food? Do we have pretty clothes? Am I as
tall as another kid? These perceptions crash into our
awareness upon first contact with another and are repeatedly
driven home with continued contact. Right away we start
positioning ourselves in relation to others. We start thinking
I'm better at this, or not so good at that. We form natural
groupings with others of the same qualities, traits or abilities.
We define ourselves by distancing ourselves from others who are
not quite the same, for good or bad. By offsetting ourselves,
we fortify our self-image relative to the traits from which we
separate. Thus, aspects of our self-esteem are strengthened.
To be continued in Part II.

-Dr. Griggs

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