The Foundations of Self Esteem, Part II
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 have 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 the second article in a series that summarizes some of
the more important points. It begins where the first
article ends. (The first article should be in this same
... By middle childhood, our self-esteems have crystallized.
We know how smart we are relative to our peers. The lucky ones
can spell better or get higher grades on math tests. Some
struggle with the basics of simple addition or basic grammar.
Some cannot even sufficiently pay attention. Others excel
in sports. They can run faster or jump higher than their peers.
We look at what clothing our classmates wear or what they did
over their summer vacations. All these data confirm or modify
how we "are" relative to others. It also defines our beginning
sense of our place in the universe. This is the beginning of
thinking of our purpose in being, our destiny or at least how our
lives likely will play out.
By high school, we know whether we have potential for
academia or not, whether we might work in white or blue-collar
environments, whether we come from a rich or poor family, etc.
Why? Because our contacts with others are much more extensive
and deep. The feedback we get from others coupled with the
amount of feedback from everywhere, which is now voluminous,
drive further congealing of our basic truths about ourselves.
We are maturing, becoming direction driven by default, and
beginning to think realistically about our careers as adults.
By now we have taken in well over five million bits of
information about ourselves. By my count, this is a very
conservative estimate, but still a huge number. We have
inculcated information from parents, siblings, grandparents,
teachers, friends, store clerks, salesman, repair people and
just about every other person we have ever encountered.
These messages have formed within us a constant, in this case
a stable representation of who we are in relation to our world.
Now we have to decide what to do with ourselves.
Our ambitions are shaped by our self-esteems, so in line with
our self-perceived abilities or lack thereof, we make beginning
choices about our careers. By this time, most of us already
know that we will be or not be doctors or lawyers. While this
is not always true (because we can still decide later if we have
potential), most of us are lining up one or another career path
that is in keeping with our basic assumptions about ourselves.
As we mature, this becomes less and less likely to change.
In addition, once chosen, our life's path is probably the largest
reinforcer of our previous impressions about subsequent choices
and ourselves. While this may be a path to employment, it also
can be raising a family, or goofing off as long as possible.
Some people defer the choice until they do something else, like
continue school for as long as possible. When there are ample
resources, some people just do nothing, travel, "hang out," or
relax until other realities force them to choose. College
students and trust-fund babies fall into the latter category.
For most of us, reality dawns and post-education, we take
our self-esteems and apply it to real life. By far, most of us
find partners and think about settling down, including starting a
family. Our self-esteems have invested in stable activities.
Hopefully, the activities will stay stable. When they do not
(divorce, changes in job), it is our self-esteems that provide
constancy; that is, a sense of sameness within that mediates
adaptation to change.