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Influences that Determine Self Esteem

One of the most troublesome concepts we have to deal with today is that of Self Esteem. It is the source of many emotional responses and psychological malfunction. Anger, anxiety, depression, passivity and aggression can all be attributed to some extent to Self Esteem. Lack of motivation and drive, procrastination and the inability to succeed can also point a finger at Self Esteem.

Self Esteem relates to the way you see yourself. In itself it is not a problem, but as it is an evaluative word and you use it to appraise the level of regard you have for yourself, it can become a problem. How you live your life is very much influenced by your level of self esteem. A person with high self esteem will most likely see them self as a worthy individual deserving a good and successful life. A person with low self esteem will most likely judge them self as unworthy and inferior to others. They wouldn’t expect much joy from life and in fact would believe they deserve disappointment and misery. In this way your self esteem becomes a  judgmental statement qualifying the life you live.

So why is it that some people have High Self Esteem and others Low Self Esteem?

If you take the time to explore why some of you flow through life feeling positive about yourselves and confident in your abilities and potentials, and others walk through life enshrouded by a cloud of negativity, you will discover that there are four factors that contribute to your self perception and therefore your self esteem:

  • your nature
  • your nurture
  • your locus of evaluation
  • your self talk

Your Nature

Despite what many people may think you do not enter this world a blank slate. You are not neutral and from birth are influenced by your predispositions which colour your personality and determine whether you are prone to sensitivity, anxiety, aggression, confidence, risk taking or something else. How often do you question why siblings raised in the same family and experiencing similar environmental influences respond quite differently to the same stimuli. The reason lies in their individual nature.

Family traits such as eye and hair colour, bone structure and body shape are passed on through your genes; and personality tendencies are also inherited qualities. It is not uncommon to hear family members comment, “She’s shy just like her Aunt Becky.” or “He’s got his father’s temper.”

And so at the end of the day you need to give some deference to your personality gene pool and the choices you have here as to whether you will have a tendency to feel confident and self assured, or weak and unworthy.

Your Nurture

Your nature is not the only ingredient thrown into the mix from which you create your self image. How you are nurtured will have a great impact on the development of your sense of self. Nurture refers to the environmental influences that play a major role in shaping your personality. Significant considerations here are your family, your social and economic status, your education, the role of religion and spirituality, crises and celebrations and any unique people you have encountered.

If these environmental influences are supportive and respectful of your individual personality needs, then even though you have been dealt a nature fraught with anxiety and fear your nurturing experiences may help you overcome any negative affects, and the pendulum may sway towards a healthy self esteem.

If however your environment is not supportive and nurturing and is one in which your anxieties and fears are constantly reinforced, there is a good chance that your self esteem will be badly bruised and you may develop a poor self limiting view of your self.

Individuals who have inherited a more positive nature and are not burdened with anxieties, black moods and an array of fears will thrive in an environment that nurtures their unique qualities and encourages the development of a healthy self concept.

If these same individuals are placed in an environment that is contrary to their predispositions and is one of doom and gloom it is possible that their natural personality may be battered and they may lose some of the positive outlook they hold about life.

As it exists now there are so many variables and combinations of nature and nurture influences that there is no formula you can follow that with certainty will create a healthy functioning individual with good self esteem.

Our Locus of Evaluation

As you move through the various stages of childhood into your adult years having a healthy nature/nurture relationship can be advantageous in building a positive self image. But this may not be enough. Even if you have inherited a good set of personality genes and have been born into a nurturing environment, your self esteem can still be fragile dependent on your Locus of Evaluation.

What does this mean? What is a Locus of Evaluation? It is the reference point you use to evaluate your worth. It is the source from which you seek approval for your behaviours and your existence, and thereby validate your sense of being. It is a place of power which determines how much control you have in creating the self you want to be.

Your locus of evaluation tends to be either external, internal or a mixture of both.

As an external source it is found outside the self and is the voice of society with all its demands and judgments. It is all the things you believe you need to do in order to be accepted in this world, gain recognition and feel good about yourself-even if these things go against your beliefs.

Individual identity, recognition and self worth is determined by the approval of family, friends, teachers, employers and anybody you have contact with. If these sources approve and accept you and your behaviours, then you can evaluate your self esteem as high. If they don’t show you approval and reject aspects of your self, your self evaluation is low. These external sources are in control of the regard you have for yourself.

As an internal source your locus of evaluation allows you to determine your own self worth. This internal source is the voice of self approval and self acceptance. It does not rely on anyone else’s evaluation, although it will listen to what others have to say and take from this what it finds useful. It is not intimidated by criticism and stands firm and confident. It is not afraid of rejection as it respects itself and holds itself in high regard. This internal source tells you that you are ‘okay’ no matter how others feel about you, and you therefore are in control of your own self esteem.

Self Talk

To recap: so far there are three factors that define your self esteem and the outlook you have about yourself. They are your nature predisposition that has accompanied you from your birth, your nurture influences that refer to environmental determinants which are either supportive and nurturing or detrimental and destructive, and then your locus of evaluation which dictates how your self esteem is controlled.

These three factors amalgamate to create the fourth aspect central to your understanding of self, and significant to the creation of your self esteem: your Self Talk.

Your self talk is comprised of your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that have evolved as a result of the above three components. It is this internal chatter that defines your self esteem. If your beliefs and attitudes are positive and healthy then you will have favourable self esteem. If your thoughts and views are self limiting then you will have negative self esteem.

The negative beliefs you have about yourself will translate into destructive and dysfunctional self talk which in turn lowers your self esteem. It is not your self esteem that describes your self talk but your self talk that influences your self esteem.

Some negative beliefs you may hold include:

  • In order to be happy I need everyone’s approval and love
  • I never can do anything right
  • I have to be good at everything or no one will like me
  • I am not worthy of having friends
  • I am a loser
  • I don’t deserve to be happy
  • If I am alone I am bound to be miserable
  • My worth as a human being is proportional to what I’ve achieved

As long as you hold such self defeating beliefs your self talk will aid in the creation of low self esteem.

Fortunately by having an understanding of the components that influence your self esteem you can choose to make some positive changes that can alter your self evaluation to the point where you can comfortably hold yourself in high regard.

In this article you have explored some of the influences that determine self esteem and why some of us will have high, healthy self esteem and others will have low poor self esteem. In the next article I intend to investigate some things you can do to change your negative self concept and thereby build healthy self esteem.

To gain some insights into your own self talk and a better understanding of the regard you have for yourself, you might consider carrying a notebook on you for the next week or so, and as your negative self critical thoughts and beliefs pop into your head you can write them down. Once you have identified your negative assumptions you may take some steps – as outlined in the next article – to challenge your self limiting belief system and replace it with a personal philosophy that is self enhancing.

You need not be stuck in a spiral of low self esteem. You can take control of your life and create a healthy self image that encourages you to live a life of worth.



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