Sunday, September 19, 2010

Self-Esteem 101 - Part II: Causes

So I did my Google search. There is a lot of information out there about what self-esteem is and how to increase or build it, though even that isn’t always understandable in practice, but what about how we get in that hole to begin with? Why we are the way we are? Previously when I would experience problems with my self-esteem level, I would focus on how to get out of the hole. This time I want to figure out why I was in the hole and why I so frequently end up in that place. I hope it will give me some clues to prevent future episodes.

Keep in mind, there are many resources out there on this topic, self-help books, tapes, counselors, etc. I just found some quick sources from Google, found a few that seemed like they could be helpful, then the pondering began.

An important note, low self-esteem can be a symptom of depression or other illness. It is recommended that those experiencing this symptom should first consult their physician to determine if there is any need for treatment.

The best resource I found on the web is a pdf developed by the Maryland Community College’s S.O.A.R. Program. This document was developed to assist students transitioning from high school to college.


Although it is not yet known all the factors that contribute to low self-esteem, it is believed that negative emotional responses do play a significant role. For example, failures, criticism, teasing, punishments, abuse and poverty affect feelings of self-worth. Additionally other influences such as the media, our culture, race, gender and religion can all play a role. Essentially, what happens is that negative thinking becomes a habit.

The brain is believed to be flexible and the more we think in a certain manner, positively or negatively, the more that type of thinking becomes our reality. Hence if we allow these negative emotional responses to build up or if they occur repetitively, it is very easy to develop a habit of negative thoughts about ourselves. Soon it becomes all we know and we forget what it feels like to feel good about ourselves. This corresponds with research into how brain pathways develop. This can happen as a child or as an adult. For more information on how the brain creates neuropathways and how our thinking influences this creation, I recommend the following movies.

What the Bleep Do We Know!?

You Can Heal Your Life

I remember how in my junior year of college I had a realization that not all families behaved and treated each other the way my family did. It was an eye opener about how insulated we can be in our formative years. I knew people were different, but I didn’t know that relationships could be so markedly different than what I thought was a very normal childhood and upbringing. Interesting how “normal” means very little these days and “common” may or may not be relevant. What appears to be important now is “healthy” versus “unhealthy” or “nurturing” versus “abusive and/or neglectful”.

Ok, so why exactly has my self-esteem been making frequent visits to the toilet for 3 decades? How does this apply to me? I'm going to ponder this profound problem. In the meantime, does any of this apply to you? More to come.

Permission to Feel Good About Yourself

I am a fan of Jennifer Lee and her blog Life Unfolds. Jennifer is a life coach and has developed products and support for those of us who choose to live from a less analytical place. She has a fabulous post about giving oneself permission to do all of the things that we so frequently disallow. I thought it a lovely piece and apropos given my exploration into self-esteem.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Self-Esteem 101 - part I

I don’t really understand it. I just know that I should have it. And that I should have LOTS of it and it should be HIGH rather than low. Over the past few years I’ve felt my supply of esteem dwindle to near depletion. Feeling good about myself has been a struggle since my early teens. The first obvious signs of this problem was when I became anorexic at age 13 followed by years of sporadic bulimia and chronic disordered eating. The bottom line is that self-esteem is something that I was able to cultivate now and again, but not for long and not on an ongoing basis.

Recently events occurred that led to disappointment. Although disappointed, I was taken aback by how quickly my sense of being and worth plummeted. Suddenly I went from mere disappointment to utter despair. My mind began its assault. Attacking me with comments like, “I’m a loser”, “I don’t deserve success”, “I’m fat and ugly”, “everybody’s life is better than mine”, “I don’t deserve to be happy”, “I’m a horrible parent”, “I suck”, etc. Mean things. The sort of things that I wouldn’t stand by and allow my friends or my child say about themselves, or anyone else for that matter. I know I’m not the only one in this situation. I have too many friends who also feel like this.

The incident got me thinking about how long it had been since I felt good about myself. How long it had been since I felt worthwhile and deserving of wonderful things. I decided that perhaps my true problem lay in a lack of self-esteem and did what any other smart, capable person who wanted to solve a problem would do. I did a Google search.

What I discovered is that there is a lot of information out there, but not a lot of information that is helpful. And before anyone decides to point out the obvious, yes, I have had counseling and read a substantial number of self-help books. I know I’m not alone in this. So I’m going to make my journey through this a series. I know my blog appears to be more about economy than psychology, but really, isn’t the most truly luxurious thing in our lives how we feel about ourselves. How we feel about ourselves cost nothing monetarily, but can be so costly to us when we don’t feel good about ourselves. I think it may well be the most economically luxurious thing anyone can have.