Self-esteem is the picture we have of ourselves and the value we place upon ourselves. It is dependent on
what others tell us about ourselves either directly or indirectly by the way they treat us.
For example if you have continually been told as a child that you are too clumsy, too fat, too tall, or hopeless
at school this could very well be the picture that you end up forming of yourself. If you are told you
are useless you may come to believe that you are useless.
Here’s an example.
Tim is seven years old. He has made a new friend at school and his teacher has praised him for some work
that he did. As a result he was awarded his first gold star. He is bursting with pride and full of enthusiasm.
He rushes out of the school gate to tell you but you’ve had a bad day, you’re late for an appointment, you
haven’t got time to listen to him. How do you think Tim will feel? Yes, like he’s been slapped in the face.
Then Tim has another chance to repeat his wonderful news when his father returns home from work. But
his father is too tired; he’s had a row with the boss. He’s worried about being made redundant and he tells
Tim to be quiet, or go to bed. Again how do you think Tim will feel? You’ve got it, bitterly disappointed. If
this pattern is repeated and continues what these parents are telling Tim is that he is not worth listening to.
His experiences are of no consequence to them so Tim begins to feel worthless. His self-esteem has suffered
a severe blow, which could then affect the rest of his schooling and indeed his life.
Research has shown that feelings of inadequacy start very young, from birth in fact and are clearly apparent
by the time a child reaches the age of ten.
Teachers, parents, guardians all signal to children that they value them as individuals. They do this by listening
to them, by setting realistic standards, by encouraging them not to be daunted by failure, by urging
them to have the confidence to try again and to act independently and responsibly.
Girls generally have lower self-esteem than boys even in the western world and this is largely due to the
cultural and general status of women in society. When girls are paired with boys to perform a task, girls can
artificially depress their performance so as not to outshine the boys.
This can also happen in the workplace. Women very often compensate for their lower feelings of self esteem
by over planning and they don’t always realize they are doing this. Women also tend to worry more
about the task and attend to it more thoroughly, in order to prove they are as good as the men.
In addition, many women set themselves lower goals in life. They are more inclined to undervalue their
abilities. If a woman is praised for a project, or a particular aspect of her work, she is much more likely than
a man to say ‘Oh it was nothing’, simply shrugging it off and getting embarrassed while a man is more comfortable
at accepting the praise even acknowledging and confirming it by saying, ‘Yeah, I did well there.’
Sometimes he will even bring it to the attention of the boss himself seeking out the praise.
In order to counterbalance this and boost self-esteem in girls and women they need to be encouraged to be
more adventurous, to take risks. Indeed everyone should be told that to fail is not the end of the world
but the road to improvement. We can learn a great deal more from our failures and grow from them than
we can from our successes and yet in many cultures failure is not to be countenanced.