Feel Worthless And Inadequate?
Everyone is born with the potential to develop a high sense of self-worth and value as a person. Clearly, however, we do not all manage to attain such a positive view of ourselves. Why should this be?
Mainly, we derive our sense of self-worth from how we are treated and responded to by others as we grow up; in particular, of course, by our parents/primary caregivers. In other words, the beliefs we form about our own particular value as an individual, which underlie our self-image, are, in the main, learned during our childhood from our environmental experiences, as opposed to being innate (inborn).
Three main ways in which we can be made, as children, to feel inadequate and worthless are through:
3) OBSERVATION AND MODELLING
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
Shame – As children we can be made to feel shame when we are criticised directly as a person, rather than corrected constructively for specific aspects of our behaviour. For instance, comments such as:
– you are a bad person
– you are a complete and utter moron
– you are not wanted in this family; we’d all be better off without you
– you are ugly – no wonder you’ve never had a boy/girlfriend; just looking at you turns my stomach
can be extremely destructive to the child’s delicate and fragile, incipient self-concept.
Indeed, there is a very significant difference, taking the first example, between being told one is a bad person and being told on this particular occasion one has behaved badly. The former is far more likely to lead to the idea of being bad becoming absorbed, as if by osmosis, into the child’s core self-belief system, especially if s/he is told this repeatedly and frequently.
The second, third and fourth examples are self-evidently egregious verbal attacks, but, as we are all aware, some parents do talk to their children in this way – and worse.
My own mother, for example, regularly threatened to throw me out of the house (she carried out this threat when I was thirteen, as I’ve written about elsewhere on this site). She would also berate and torment me about not having a girlfriend, sniggering that I must be gay, greatly encouraged by my older brother. Not pleasant.
If we do come to see ourselves as bad, intrinsically and deeply morally flawed individuals, this can, tragically, become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can, in a sense, become who we have been told we are, and, to put it colloquially, start to ‘live up to our reputation’.
It can become a case of : ‘Well, if that’s what you think of me, that’s what I’ll give you…’
Unfortunately, this inevitably leads to everybody losing.
Criticism – This is especially harmful if it is delivered in a contemptuous and sneering way, is continuous, inexorable and relentless and involves verbal abuse. The cumulative effect of this kind of insidious style of criticism is, in essence, to teach the child, at a subconscious level, that s/he is inadequate and ‘not up to the mark.’
Some children who have experienced this kind of upbringing become adults who are desperate to prove themselves (and, again, on a subconscious level, to prove themselves to their parents).
They may, therefore, become workaholics, obsessively trying to progress in their careers in order to obtain power, wealth and admiration. However, because they are unaware of their unconscious motivation, they are trying to satiate the wrong need and so the task is impossible and their lives are spent on a futile treadmill that leads nowhere.
Observation and Modelling – Children learn much of their behavioural traits by observing the behaviour of their parents/primary caregivers and modelling (largely subconsciously) their own behaviour on it. If, then, the parents/primary caregivers have low self-esteem and low confidence it is likely that these characteristics will be mirrored by how the child behaves and views him/herself.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).