Self Worth Fact # 1: The majority of people do not have an accurate view of their Self Worth when they look in the mirror.
Discussion: One reason for this inaccuracy is that the majority of us are more critical of ourselves deep down inside than our dearest and closest friends are of us. Those friends who see the “good, the bad and the ugly’ and believe the good is so good that for them, it outweighs the “ugly” or imperfect part of us. They are the ones with the more accurate view of us. And in turn, they are likely more critical of their self worth than how we see and experience them.
Self Worth Fact #2: The majority of people see themselves through the lens of how they believe adults perceived them in childhood. That perception colors our view of Self and affects how we expect to be viewed by our peers.
Discussion: Early childhood experiences begin to form a template or impression on us of how we are seen and valued. The tricky part to this is that children do not have the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex fully developed until approximately 25 years of age. One function of that part of the brain allows us to see the perspective of others, beyond our own perspective. If a child feels safe, loved and valued he or she is more likely to see their Self as worthy of being loved and as having value for just being him or herself.
Self Worth Fact #3: If one parent is more negative and the other is more positive, then the child will tend to be more affected by the negative parent than by the parent who is loving and positive with them as a child.
Discussion: If a child is overly criticized or belittled by the parent or main caregiver, he or she is more likely to believe they are not lovable and therefore not worthy of being loved by anyone. It is a common belief early on in our life that how we are seen by our parents is “supposed to” be more valued and loved than the rest of the world. When we feel unloved by our parent or caregiver that can set a “low ceiling” in our mind of what to expect from others in the future.
Sometimes our worth comes through a parent or caregiver seeming to value the child according to how well the child is able to please the parent. This is another face of how our self-esteem develops in early childhood. One example might be a football player in high school who does really well but has a bad game once in awhile. If the parent focuses on the bad games more than all of the games that went well, the child learns that he or she must always do well to please the parent and to be seen as being “good enough” by others as well.
All of these examples involve another common factor: That almost without exception, a parent’s negative comments are most often more about how the parent was brought up and and how this is easily projected onto the child. This is not meant to be said in blame by any means. It is a generational process: How we are treated in childhood teaches us how to parent later. If we had negative experiences in childhood often we see it as “well, that’s how I was brought up and I’m ok so I will continue to do what I was taught.” If we were to question our parents’ judgment early on we would more likely have felt less sure about things around us and less sure about how the world works.
As a personal example: I have an experience that colored my view of myself for many years. I remember when I was about 5 years old sitting with the adults at the dinner table for Christmas dinner. Since I was the youngest, my brother and our cousins sat at the other end of the table. I remember the noise level being quite high because everyone was talking…. everyone but me. I had no one to talk to. I remember speaking up over the noise level with the adults, wanting to join in conversation. My uncle was sitting across from me and to my left. If my memory serves me right, he bellowed across the table saying “shut up and eat your dinner!” I know he loved me in his heart without question, but I was not used to being yelled at, at least not at that early age. I was mortified! Especially because no other adult spoke up for me, or said “Susie, you can talk when you are finished eating” or “we are in the middle of a conversation, so wait until we are done”. Or even if my parents had taken me aside later and said “we want you to know that you did nothing wrong; that you wanted to be a part of the party too and had no one to talk to” I think I would have understood.
But the absence of all these possibilities left me with a very strong memory of how I interpreted what this event said about me and my worth: “I have something inside me that is not good. I don’t exactly know what it is, but I guess other people can see it. I will have to make sure it doesn’t come out and make me feel bad again.”
This belief was ingrained in my mind of what I had inside me and how I was going to deal with this in the world with others. This was my first memory of SHAME. We will talk again about how shame affects our view of Self another time. The main point about this story is how easily our view of Self can be incorrect, and especially negative.
So when you look in the mirror…… do you see a person of value? …..or someone who is deeply flawed, or somewhere in between? And is this view different from how others who value you see you?