Self esteem is something everybody intuitively understands, but can
rarely define. It is that inner sense of worth, of goodness, of presence
in the world that ultimately leaves us feeling confident in most
situations, and allows us to enter into relationships and accomplish
tasks with ease.
When our self-esteem is adequate, we are able to maintain a generally
positive attitude, having the ability to handle most of the ups and
downs of our lives. It does not mean that there are never times when we
feel shy, scared, angry, uncertain or hesitant. But on the whole, it is
what allows us to operate in life without always second-guessing
ourselves, or feeling inferior to others.
It is more of a background felt sense of value as a human being than
something we are constantly aware of. In fact, when self-esteem is
relatively good, it is not something that we usually notice. It’s more
like having a smooth-running invisible instrument that silently and
positively supports our thoughts, feelings, actions, beliefs and way of
being in the world.
When self-esteem is lacking, people tend to feel self-doubt, sometimes
being indecisive and not having confidence in themselves. They find it
hard to believe in their own merit, and often do not fulfill their own
potential. Sometimes there is self-sabotage or a fear of life (or its’
opposite—an aggressive attitude toward life). These attitudes are not
the causes of low self-esteem; they are the expression of it.
Self-esteem begins to form in childhood. When children are responded to
in nurturing ways, and in a manner that accurately reflects their needs
and feelings, a good basis is laid that promotes later self-assurance
and readiness to go into situations with confidence and self-respect.
Such children will have a faith in themselves that arises as a result of
others validating their basic communications. They incorporate the
belief that their needs will be met, and then proceed to act as though
they will be.
But when children are consistently responded to in a manner that leaves
them believing that their needs are either not understood or valued,
they may not incorporate that deeper sense of personal worth and
assurance that will translate into the unseen self-supportive quality.This is not to blame parents—there are times the most well-intentioned and
conscientious parents may miss a child’s signals. But usually, a child
can sense when people are trying to understand and respond, and that is
what they need.
Infants come into the world with no expectations (except to be fed and
sheltered) and so it is in those very early interactions that the first
feelings of self-worth can emerge. They arise through the interactions
and responses from others that seem to mirror their needs.
Self-esteem is probably always something that is initially shaped
through interactions with others. A child with a good basis of trust in
self and others will find it easier to withstand the slings and arrows
of life, but that does not mean that children who do not get that early
nurturing can never acquire it.Self-esteem can be improved and deepened at any stage of life. It
happens naturally when someone feels a valued part of any group (family,
school, work, friends, etc), where they are having basically positive
exchanges with others that promote the feeling of being understood and
But sometimes the deficits in self-esteem are so deep and enduring,
that it requires psychotherapy to be able to acquire that deeper feeling
of worth and value. If you feel that your self-esteem might be low, and
holding you back from getting your needs met in life, it would be a
good idea to schedule an appointment for an evaluation to discuss your
Kathi Whitten copyright 2009