Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Self Esteem

I have been mulling over the issue of self esteem ever since Jen introduced her idea of the carnival bringing together a bouquet of postings offering different perspectives on the topic. So late last night I cranked out some words, wanting to honor my commitment to participate.

But then this morning I read it again and cringed at the sound of much of what I had written. "Where do I get this crap?" I said to myself. I started slashing out paragraphs and reworking sentences. Twice I almost just deleted the whole darn thing. Why? What was it about what I written that made me so uncomfortable? I'm still not entirely sure. But clearly it was a reminder to me that I don't even begin to have this whole self confidence thing figured out for myself.

I think to some degree the quality we think of as self esteem is hard wired (or not) into us from our earliest beginnings... While I don't believe the bold/shy continuum is the very same thing as self esteem, it can be closely related. Some kids just seem to come into this world timid and self doubting, no matter how much reassurance and affirmation family and friend may offer. Others carry courage and confidence as their birthright - blazing through life with heads held high, ready to face anything. What makes the difference? I don't really know.

I believe that just as individuals are born with varying amounts of hair or predisposition to freckles, we are created with different degrees of built-in natural self esteem before the world adds or takes away a single thing. But no matter how much or how little of that magic potion of innate self confidence we get to start out with, once we enter the world our environment most definitely will compliment or corrode our native temperaments.

The values, resources, and social messages we are surrounded with growing up make a huge difference in how we view our personal worth and define our place in the world. Clearly, this is a critical issue for the upbringing of children. Nurturing kids well really matters. Still, there are no guarantees of a set formula that will ensure a strong sense of self. Just about everyone I know has been acquainted with someone from a "good" family who seemed to have loads of support and every imaginable advantage, yet turned out just awful. There are others we know who grew up in deplorable circumstances that could crush even the strongest spirit who nevertheless came through strong and whole.

So sometimes I do have to wonder, IS self esteem something that can be TAUGHT through the "right" kind of socializing process, whatever that is defined to be? Is it something that can be acquired later in life if missed out early on?

I sure hope so. If not, we are in deep trouble.

My job puts me in regular contact with sex offenders, drug addicts and your garden variety of hoodlums and gangsters. While some may present as arrogant, almost never do I find one of these clients to have what I would call a healthy self esteem. I see lots of broken lives that have done serious damage to themselves and those around them. As I work hard to design programs to serve this difficult population I often wish I could turn back the clock to be there for these men and women when they were six or nine or eleven BEFORE their lives were in shambles. But that is not possible. So all I can do is try my best to give them opportunities today to redefine who they are and reinforce new patterns of thinking and behaving that will allow them to find a more productive path in the world.

Will it do any good? Not always. I am pragmatic enough to recognize that not all of them are ready or willing to do the work it takes to make meaningful change. A few may be too broken, no longer capable of pro-social living (or so it seems.) But for some, they CAN learn, they CAN change, they CAN build a strong sense of themselves as worthy and worthwhile and let that lead them to live in a way that demonstrates it. When that occurs it is remarkable to see.

Whether talking about children whose futures still lie before them or the grown ups who have already established their path, I have to believe that positive influences will make a difference in developing a strong self image. Because the world we live in does not flow by gently. In dozens of ways we get told we are not enough, we don't measure up. Sometimes the world is just plain mean.

We get messages from media trying to sell products by making us dissatisfied with ourselves. We get messages from family members playing out their own less than healthy histories. We get messages from neighbors, co-workers and complete strangers as we move through the path of our lives. A lot of those messages would have us believe we are better than or not as good as the person standing next to us. Both ends of that spectrum lead us to a dark place.

In light of that, how do we inoculate our children from the harshness, help them to remain strong and confident when faced with judgment or ridicule? By the same token, how to we be sure our kids are not the ones dishing out the ridicule? How do we teach our kids to have a strong sense of self so they are less inclined to become either victims or bullies?

For that matter, how do we hold fast to solid faith in ourselves and corresponding compassion for others at ANY age?

I don't think piles of praise is the answer. It will take more than blue ribbons or applause or a stack of compliments to make anyone feel worthy. Affirmations from the world are nice but what matters most is how each of us feels in the dark quiet of night when no one is looking.

I wish I had some magic formula to spread more self respect and stronger self esteem throughout the world, because the world badly needs it. The signs of its lacking are appallingly apparent at every turn.

I just have to keep trying to do the best I can, spreading encouragement for others and grace for myself at every opportunity. I try to remember that even on a bad hair day or when I'm feeling fat and bloated, I AM ENOUGH. Even when other people may be disappointed or disdainful, I AM ENOUGH. Even when those I thought I could trust have let me down or disappointed me in a significant way...I AM ENOUGH. Even when I make mistakes that clearly ARE my fault and may have stinging consequences...I am still ENOUGH.

And then I do my best to extend that sort of acceptance to others, being someone who will motivate and empower others rather than bring them down.

For me, that's the best I can manage.

Enough of my meandering ramblings. Pop on over to Lords of the Manor to see what others have posted on the topic of Self Esteem.


Rozel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Belladonna said...


Thank you so much for your kind words. I deleted the comment because I changed my post, taking out the personal things you were referring to so it no longer seemed relavent here. But know your words touched my heart and I will keep the e-mail of it to look back on for a long time to come.

Rozel said...

Ha! Ha! (not about your new post but about you changing the post). I have had the same experience. Posting and then thinking O-MY-Goodness! What the heck was I thinking? How many people have read this? etc. etc.

All is well!

Jen said...

Great post! I am always so interested in what makes people the way they are, and what makes me the way I am. It's funny, looking back at my childhood, there certainly was a part of me that had an ingrained "sense of self" but there was also a part that wasn't quite sure and never felt completely comfortable in my own skin. On the one hand, I knew I was special, and was taken aback that the rest of the world didn't always realize it. On the other, I was bumbling around trying to get people to love me, the way I felt I deserved to be loved.

I am so glad you wrote for the Carnival, I always love reading your thoughts & hearing your perspectives.


Mr. H said...

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.
David Herbert Lawrence

Flirt said...

interesting post. lots of good ideas here

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