Self-Esteem and You-The Beginnings-Part V
(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...)
At the end of high school, we meet a more pressing fate.
We must decide what to do, increasingly separate from our
caretakers. Normally, the choices are to set up a family,
which means meeting the right person and forming a more permanent
relationship, OR, get a job, regardless, OR continue going to
school to prepare for a presumably better career.
Self-esteem is forged in the experiences of everything that
has previously occurred, and works its magic in not very subtle
ways to shape the decisions in each of these three areas.
Most of us look for work or more school experiences. Some of
us think the relationship we have at this moment is the be all
and end all, so we get married. Our choices have been shaped
by how valuable we think we are, how intelligent we think we are,
how skilled at any particular ability we perceive we are, and
so on. The hundreds of messages drilled into our heads during
the previous eighteen years, now play out in life choices.
To the extent that our view of ourselves is accurate, we
make appropriate choices. For example, if I know I am smart and
did well in school, then choosing college probably makes more
sense, given that there is money to pay for it and openings at
my chosen school. But if I have mechanical aptitude and didn't
like school, choosing college may create problems with my sense
of self simply because I'm not likely to do well in more academic
classes, this time more difficult ones. This seems like common
sense until we consider that not all of our messages that make
up our self-esteems are consonant; that is, agree with each other.
Our parents may have told us to go to college, regardless of
whether we liked it or not, regardless of whether we had school
sense or not, and so on.
Part of our self-esteem messages is valuing ourselves and
respecting the truth of some messages and not others. Part of
our self-esteem is valuing our own ability to discriminate the
quality of the messages that have lodged in our awareness.
This dynamic is behind the functioning of our truth compass.
If our self-esteems have developed through all the difficulties
of childhood, "tween" and teen stages, we have a pretty good idea
of what is the truth about who we are and what may be fluff.
If we have some training to actually listen to ourselves, we pay
more attention to the truth, and thus are more able to make
appropriate decisions about relationships, further education and
Both relationships and employment reinforce our choices and
the very foundation of our self-esteem. Think of these two
dimensions as the ultimate grade we give ourselves. They are
like twin final exams, delivering the verdict of life, in real
time, measuring our success in traversing the previous stages and
obstacles. One of my professors in graduate school once said
to me, "There are two things that make or break people...one is
relationships and the other is jobs." Now I know what he meant.
In reality, self-esteem never stops evolving, even into old
age. Getting through the beginning phases, which I have
covered up through post high school is difficult enough.
If done correctly, self-esteem stabilizes and gives us a base
from which to work for the rest of lives. However, as one might
guess, self-esteem continues to evolve, just slower and in
different directions. It is never replete.