Self-Esteem and You-The Beginnings-Part IV
(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...)
Hormones cut in earlier in life than we realize. In girls,
hormones begin at about age eight and one-half years. In boys,
this occurs about one year later. Physical changes do not
usually show up in either gender until several years later
(with some occasional dramatic exceptions), but behavioral
changes start within a month or two. The most reported and
complained about behavior changes (from the parent's point of
view) is "testiness." Not surprisingly, androgen (testosterone,
which has the same root word as testiness)) is one of the most
powerful of the hormones flooding both genders at this age.
This hormone pushes behaviors to extremes, so right away kids
start to challenge their parents, asking why when they can't have
their way, resisting guidance, etc. This is all the behavioral
cursor to puberty.
In high school, this hormone torrent has reached a peak,
pushing behaviors to even greater limits, and paradoxically,
driving us to interact. After all, the purpose of hormones is
to propel the body into adulthood, when we will meet others, mate
and ultimately produce little ones but also conquer the world.
Hormones drive expansion. It is the biological imperative.
Not surprisingly, this is one of the big events that sets up the
next major phase in the development of our self-esteems.
How we relate to others shapes how we will fair in life,
whether it is in or out of relationship heaven (vs. that "other"
place), whether we successfully compete with others for jobs,
salaries, positions, etc. But for now, the relationships
emerging in high school become something of a blueprint for how
we will approach setting up life partners, or multiple life
relationships, with significant others, or even continuing with
In the high school environment, self-esteem and particularly,
relating to others is paramount. We all know the horrors of peer
pressure, especially if we fail to live up to norms.
Unfortunately, the norms change, as do the daily circumstances.
This is a period of intrapersonal acceleration; meaning,
concerning others, things start happening really fast. We run
into others more frequently and at the same time we have greater
freedoms, being older, and greater sensitivities, being more
driven to define ourselves, socially. These confluences create
confusion, because there are multiple conflicts inherent to the
instability of such dramatic changes. Relationships are good
one minute, then bad. We fall in love, and then hate that very
same person an hour later. Our self-esteems ride to the tops of
these waves, only to sink to the very bottom a short time later.
This is the influence of hormones with emerging independences and
increased abilities. Growth is good but during this phase
Most teens respond to such a whirlwind of sensations,
thoughts and feelings, by bonding with fellow sufferers.
We form cliques, commonly known in sociology parlance as
"in-groups" or "out-groups." Kids talk of this by referring to
the "popular" kids. That motivates the outsiders to form their
own cliques and has spawned a zillion social and cultural oddities
(think of any crazy behavioral teen trend and this will become
immediately obvious). It is all based upon defining self, either
with a group or against it. In both cases, the message to
self is, "this is how I fit in" or "this is how I don't want to
fit in," etc. The crux of this dynamic is forming self in
relation to others. The messages are more and more self-created,
but are largely hormonally driven in the beginning of high school.
In the next article, work and permanent relationships and
their influence on self-esteem....Part V.