[dropcap]We[/dropcap] come into this world with more genetically loaded material than we might be comfortable knowing. My son imparted this information to me many years ago whilst he was studying medicine. I asked him few questions. I, after all, took college biology and remembered that certain physical characteristics were preordained — little chemical messengers that determined things like height, what color hair and eyes we’d have, and even how long our feet might be.
What wasn’t already decided, as far as I can tell, is how we might feel about the genetically pre-loaded traits with which we had been gifted. Generally, most babies in our culture are treasured and get enough tender loving care to feel absolutely marvelous about themselves for many years. Certainly a baby cannot conceive of anything conceptual, so whether he has a good or bad self-image is not relevant. Pretty much all babies are narcissistic and think the whole world revolves around them. And, indeed, the moon and sun are at the disposal of most.
Self-esteem or self-image emerges through the baby-then-child’s interaction with the environment. Primary caretakers, usually Mommy and Daddy, are the initial contributors to a growing self-awareness, but the larger world will intervene as the child interacts outside the home more. While a kindergartener may be angry when others take toys away, there is no sense that he is at fault or is in some way defective. But there is awareness that there are others and the world may not be his alone.
Generally “tweens” and teens begin to notice others of their ilk and make comparisons: who has prettier hair, who is taller, who is better in math, who wears the cutest clothes and so forth. At this time in development, a kid’s self-image can be swayed both by what seems to be the most commonly admired traits and whether or not he possesses them. Junior high seems a particularly vulnerable time for kids who don’t exactly meet the “popular norm” and, therefore, begin to feel less swell about themselves.
Self-image and self-esteem are both about how we see ourselves in the context of our social milieu. We might have had positive feedback at home, but the first time someone at school uses an unflattering word about our physical appearance, our good feelings about ourselves will take a hit and self-esteem can erode. Girls want to have good physiques and do not want to be too plump or too thin. Boys want to be tall and have some athletic skills.
As an adult, you realize you must be able to accept some of the things you cannot change. Develop a positive attitude; don’t be self-critical. Instead, focus on your strengths and improve in areas that you can. Be generally respectful of yourself. Another useful reminder: Stop comparing yourself to others in a negative tone and appreciate yourself for your own uniqueness. You are not a cookie in a box. Everyone, including you, has a set of unique qualities … just like your fingerprints. You are, indeed, truly in charge of your own self-esteem!
Take the quiz below. If you have low self-esteem or a poor self-image, focus on the areas you are not happy with and take action to become the best, most authentic person you can be.
How positive is your self-image/self-esteem?
Answer true or false
1. My glass is always half-empty.
2. I’m always apologizing for things.
3. I’m always telling myself I “should” be doing this or that.
4. I constantly criticize myself.
5. What other people think about me dictates how I feel about myself.
6. I am critical of my mistakes and relive them over and over.
7. I always let down the people who care about me.
8. I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.
9. A partial failure is as bad as a complete failure.
10. I bend over backwards to please others.
11. I am not sure I have done a good job unless someone tells me I have.
12. It’s hard for me to forgive and forget.
13. I have to work harder than others for relationships and fear they will fail.
14. If I don’t do as well as others, it means I’m not as good as they are.
15. If I can’t do something well, there is no point in doing it at all.
Give yourself 1 point for each true answer.
0-4: You have a generally positive way of thinking and feel good about yourself.
5-8: You may be struggling with some negative feelings. Review your good traits.
9 or more: You can be very critical of yourself. Work on your way of thinking.
Courtesy of Mountain State Centers for Independent Living, mtstcil.org. Log on to mtstcil.org/skills/image-3.html for tips to improve your self esteem.