Sunday, March 14, 2010

Self-Esteem and You-The Beginnings-Part II

Self-Esteem and You-The Beginnings-Part II
(In my twenty-four (+) years as an outpatient psychologist,
I have worked with all walks of people, of all ages and beliefs,
of all races and income levels. Every one of the people I work
with has a self-esteem. Every one of these people got that
self-esteem by living day-to-day, absorbing messages about
themselves in every context and activity. How does self-esteem
form? This is part II of a series of article, each starting
where the previous one ended...)
The formation of self-esteem really speeds up when we begin
to socialize. This starts with our interactions with siblings,
but really more formally begins when we venture out of the house.
I am thinking most kids' get plenty of good or bad messages about
self in day care, other kids' birthday parties, family reunions,
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter or other gatherings where there
are potentialy lots of people, especially when these include kids.
What do I mean by good or bad messages?
In every interaction with another human being, regardless of
the activity, there is tacit evaluation, of them by you and of
you by them. This is deep, automatic and genetically programmed.
This is because to survive in the wild, as our ancestors did,
it was very, very necessary to instantly size-up another individual.
Are they friend or foe? What do I need to do to deal with this person?
Beyond that and partly based upon that, it was also necessary to
assess how competitive this other person was, especially with
hunting and later, gathering food. Now fast-forward 30,000 years.
The civilized version of this is to compare ourselves to others,
but on less dire dimensions.
When two children meet, each immediately acts out his or her
territorial impulses. We see this with kids who suddenly do not
want to share toys, want all the attention, get angry when another
child finishes the race first, and so on. We instantly get messages
about ourselves relative to our peers, and the messages are either
good or bad or perhaps neutral if there is no pressing need.
Right away we "get" that this kid or that kid can run faster, is
taller, can say more words, has more brothers or sisters, is
skinnier or fatter, has blonde or dark hair--all of which "compute."
Not surprisingly, we begin to think of ourselves as slower or faster,
shorter or taller, etc., all with some attendant value; that is,
these aspects of our personhood are relatively good or bad.
In short, we are better or worse (read: "good" or "bad") with
respect to others who share more or less of these qualities.
And these determinations found our self-esteems.
This process begins with a bang (referring to birth) and slowly
picks up speed. During grade school, we are inculcating a hundred
or more messages about ourselves every day. They come in the form
of test scores, which of course we compare to what our student
neighbors got on the same test. They come in the form of grades in
each subject, which of course we compare to what our student
neighbors got in the same subject. Girls are pretty and boys are
athletic, but how much? These days, girls are athletic and boys are
pretty, but how much? At every corner, we compare ourselves to
others, assessing ourselves along some imagined or real continuum.
You get the idea.
By high school, the messages we take in number in the several
hundred per day. That is because the intensity, amount of and
frequency of communication have increased exponentially. This
article continues with the high school and college years.


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