Self-esteem can simply be defined as how we feel about ourselves. These feelings may be positive or negative and are influenced by personality, appearance, morality, belief systems, habits, mannerisms, physical and emotional health, self-worth, abilities and capabilities. Self-esteem is how much we value ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Levels of self-esteem vary in different situations of our lives. Fulfilment and confidence plays a big role in self-esteem. Self-esteem is learnt and this learning begins in childhood when parents teach their children of their worth. If the child is raised in a loving, nurturing environment, he or she is likely to have high self-esteem. If raised in an unhealthy environment filled with abuse, discouragement and criticism, the child will not understand it’s worth and is likely to have low self-esteem.
Children who grow up in dysfunctional homes grow up without nurturing and crave for attention and are called adult children. Alcoholism, drug addictions, eating disorders, workaholic homes, gambling, sexual or physical abuse, mental illness, divorce and separation, improper guardianship by family members or foster homes are the things the causes for dysfunctional homes and have a negative influence on the child. In such homes, the attention is focussed on the dysfunctional adult or parent and the child’s needs are ignored. This child grows up to have low self-esteem and doubts everything and has feelings of not being important, unattractive, too loud or quiet, stupid, not being loved, wanted or needed and will end up not accomplishing anything in life.
There are various components that are involved in determining levels of self-esteem such as
Self-acceptance: A child who grows up in a dysfunctional home grows up feeling unaccepted and neglected. These feelings are carried into adulthood and results in lack of confidence socially, insecurity in relationships avoidance of challenges. These feelings indicate that we have low levels of self-acceptance. Average levels of self-acceptance include feelings of being comfortable with ourselves, willing to take risks, the will to achieve success and happiness in life. High levels of self-acceptance are when we feel good about ourselves, see ourselves as attractive and have high levels of confidence. The goal is to feel good about ourselves.
Self-worth: Growing up in a dysfunctional home, a child feels unimportant and strives for approval. This feeling when carried into adulthood becomes a feeling of unworthiness. Life becomes meaningless and “I don’t care” attitude is developed. Feeling worthless, not investing much time or energy into relationships, careers and personal growth are signs of low levels of self-worth. Average levels of self-worth include feelings of some value and meaning of and for life. High levels include a sense of feeling worth to oneself and others. The goal is to feel valuable and important.
Self-feeling: Acknowledging personal feelings are almost always discouraged in a dysfunctional home. Negative feelings such as sadness and anger maybe the only emotions exhibited and that too towards the dysfunctional parent. As the child grows up the range of emotions are limited to two, usually the negative emotions. The adult is now out of touch and cannot express himself. This is when he has low levels of self-feeling. A person with average levels of self-feeling will be able to experience more than two emotions but won’t be able to express them well. High levels of self-feeling are acceptance of one’s positive and negative emotions as well as others’ and the ability to express them appropriately. The goal is to accept and express feelings.
Self-focus: In a dysfunctional home, the focus is usually on the dysfunctional parent and the child is neglected and is not treated as an individual with personal desires or needs. Thus the child grows up feeling that others are more important than him. This is carried into adulthood and the child begins to focus on others’ needs rather than his own. There is no balance between give and take and they become victims and are easily taken advantage of and are unable to take a stand. Giving importance to others before oneself is an indication of low levels of self-focus. Average levels include recognitions of needs and desires and the ability to communicate them to others. High levels are when the person can stand up for himself and make decisions based on what’s right or wrong. The goal is to be the master of our lives.
Self-growth: Maturation and growth processes are generally ignored in a dysfunctional home. Risks to make changes are hardly encouraged and thus the child has stunted growth. This feeling of stunted growth is a result of low levels of self-growth. An average level of self-growth shows that there are few chances of taking risks and making changes even though they are simple. High levels show that the person sees each day as a chance for self-growth, easily ask others for help and helps others as well. The goal is to be healthier, happier and satisfied.
Self-nurturing: The 3 components of nurturing are encouragement, love and support However, in a dysfunctional home these 3 components are replaced by being ignored, abused, and mistreated and given mixed signals. Lacking nurturing leads to having a difficult time understanding oneself which is low levels of self-nurturing. Average levels include the ability to make right choices even we do not know how we feel most of the time and thus we are not consistent. A person with high levels of self-nurturing is encouraging, supportive and love themselves consistently. The goal is to be giving to oneself.
Self-guidance: Growing up in dysfunctional homes there is no one to guide the child because the focus is on the dysfunctional parent and thus the child grows up with no steering mechanism and has no idea on how to care for himself. A low level of self-guidance is when the person cannot depend on himself for inner strength. Average levels show that the person has the ability to grow and mature which lies deep within. Some days they are strong and other days, directionless and insecure. A high level of self-guidance is seen in a person who has faith and belief in his inner strengths and uses it to set realistic goals. The goal is to trust the ability to guide oneself.
Self-determination: There is no balance in a dysfunctional home and you can hardly stick to your goals. Growing up without understanding the importance of setting and reaching goals causes us to give up easily. Drifting aimlessly is a sign of low level of self-determination. Average levels is setting goals and reaching them if they’re realistic or working hard for things of importance. High levels of self-determination include setting new goals, taking risks and achieving our dreams. The goal is to feel important.
Self-healing: Growing up in a dysfunctional home can be unhealthy – physically, emotionally and spiritually. This empty feeling is carried into adulthood and the person feels unprotected. Disliking the way we feel, being lethargic, not knowing how to help oneself shows low levels of self-healing. Average levels are when we try to improve appearance and physical strength and feeling pleased with changes we make. Working to improve all 3 areas are high levels of self-healing. The goal is to feel good inside-out.
Self-love: A child in a dysfunctional home does not know what love is and carry unloving feelings into adulthood. They do not know how to give or receive love. This unloving feeling is a sign of low self-love. Average levels of self-love include feelings of liking oneself rather than loving oneself, being happy and forming meaningful relationships. High levels are being satisfied, happy to be alive and excited. The goal is to be able to love oneself.
The most important factor in building self-esteem is “change”. To enhance positive change in the building of our self-esteem we need to remember GROWTH which is an acronym for
Goal setting:To set realistic and appropriate goals in all areas of our life and work towards them and hence learn about our capabilities, wants, needs and desires.
Risk taking: To take risks more suited to our personalities, open out to others and overcome limitations and fears. Be honest with oneself and others.
Opening up: Opening up to others helps boost confidence and in turn increases levels of self-esteem.
Wise choice making: Decisions play a major role. Knowing who to trust and when, right from wrong. We need to listen to ourselves and make the right choice.
Time-sharing: We need time and patience, allow ourselves the space to grow. Make changes at our own pace.
Healing: This includes physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Better grooming, paying more attention to all our habits, meditation help in the process of healing.