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Tag Archives: Self-esteem

Development Of Self-Worth And Its Relationship To Trauma

The journey of recovery from trauma is facilitated by our understanding of how our feelings of self-worth (or self-worthlessness) developed and how our experience of trauma affected this development.

Early Childhood :

Our incipient self-concept first begins to develop around about the age of 18 months (coinciding with the initial stages of our language development). Around about the age of 3 – 4 years, the newly formed self-concept is (assuming no maltreatment or abuse has occurred) essentially wholly positive.

Middle Childhood :

However, by middle-childhood the self-concept becomes more complicated and, due to various influences, starts to change; important reasons for this change include the following:

  • the child begins to compare him/herself to others (such as school-friends, siblings etc) both positively and negatively

  • the child develops the capacity to feel emotions such as pride, shame and inadequacy

  • the child is able to imagine/fantasize about an ‘ideal self’ and compare him/herself (unfavourably) to this

Adolescence :

During adolescence, the young person undertakes the difficult task of trying to integrate different aspects of him/herself into a cohesive sense of self (self-concept). This is made especially problematic as adolescence is frequently a period in which young people experiment with different personas, thus adding to their confusion about ‘who they really are.

The psychologist, Harter, proposes that a person’s ‘overall’ self-concept (which she termed ‘THE GLOBAL SELF-WORTH‘) is made up of two parts, these being :





Let’s look at each of these in turn :

  • ASSETS :

These include intelligence/academic ability, sports/athletic ability, physical appearance, popularity/likeability, one’s reflections upon one’s own behaviour/personal conduct


These significant others include parents, primary carers, teachers, sport coaches, peers, siblings, wider family members and authority figures. Self-concept is especially dependent upon the approval/disapproval of others during the period of adolescence.


One’s self-concept can therefore fluctuate according to which particular assets one is focused on and the nature of one’s relationships with significant others. However, by adulthood one’s sense of global self-worth tends to be relatively stable (assuming reasonable mental health) as compared to during adolescence.


Relevant to the fact that our sense of self-worth is variable is Harter’s proposal that our self-worth can also be divided up into baseline self-worth and  barometric self-worth.

Baseline self-worth is closely tied to global self-worth, Harter states, and this is relatively stable in comparison to barometric self-worth which fluctuates according to who we’re with (and what opinion we perceive them to have of us) and what we’re doing (eg we might feel competent at work, thus raising our barometric level of self-worth, but this level may dramatically plummet when we get home to spend the evening with our cold and rejecting spouse/partner); like the reading on a barometer, this level of self-worth changes according to the temporary and inconstant personal conditions within which we find ourselves.


Our self-worth derives from our self-concept and as a result of a traumatic childhood we often tend to focus upon global self-worth and view this as very low (indeed, sadly, many people who have suffered significant childhood trauma erroneously see themselves as essentially ‘worthless.’ In relation to this, you may wish to read my article : ‘How The Child’s View Their ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuatedor, alternatively, my article entitled : Childhood Trauma : Destroyer Of  Self-Esteem.

Resources :

Build Self-Esteem

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).



Borderline Personality Disorder And Low Self-Esteem.

We come to form our beliefs, including those about ourselves, through our life experiences. Of course, the beliefs we hold because of what has happened to us in life can be very inaccurate.

Experiences that we have early in life have a particularly strong impact on how we feel about ourselves, and, below, I list some that are likely to lead us to develop a feeling of low self-esteem, leading us to dislike ourselves, overly criticize ourselves, lack confidence, feel unlovable and believe we’re not interesting or important:

I elaborate on each of these below:


This can include parents always putting our mistakes and weaknesses in the spotlight whilst simultaneously ignoring our strengths and the positive aspects of ourselves. It can also involve being constantly ridiculed and teased in a hurtful way ( my own mother referred to me as ‘scabby’, because, as a child, I had the nervous habit of picking at scabs on my arms and legs; and also ‘poof’, because I was highly sensitive ). Over time, it is all too easy to become conditioned into believing that there is something FUNDAMENTALLY wrong with us and that we are of no value.


We all want to be accepted by our peer group when we are young and developing our fragile and vulnerable self-concept. It is a human instinct, particularly pronounced during adolesence, to want to be accepted by the group. We evolved, as a species, after all, as social animals because acceptance by the group added to our chances of survival. It is, therefore, a fundamental psychological drive, created by millions of years of evolution, difficult (putting it mildly), therefore, to overcome.

Indeed, it is so powerful that it can lead to problems such as feeling a need to conform to group expectations even if it makes us uncomfortable (eg feeling a pressure to be confident and jovial when we actually feel depressed and anxious).

If we don’t conform to the expectations of the group (unless one is an exceptionally strong personality, which normally does not materialize until later in life) we may be rejected, bullied and cruelly teased and this can have a very damaging and lasting effect on our self-esteem.


This is sometimes referred to as ‘being the black sheep of the family’. Perhaps there is something about us that does not fit in. An example might be the central character of the film, ‘BILLY ELLIOT’, who, at a very young age, decides he wants to be a ballet dancer much to the violent chagrin of his tough, alpha-male, former miner father (who would much rather see him incurring possible brain damage in the boxing ring). Or simply being the quiet one, or the introverted one. Obviously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being any of these things, but, if it makes us stand out in the family, we might be treated as odd, a misfit, strange, ‘not quite one of us’ and in some way deficient and of less value. Again, over time, this can significantly wear down our self-esteem and can lead to growing up feeling rather like a pariah.


There are many ways in which this can occur – I remember, when I was at school, a boy in my class who came from a very poor and not especially caring family; he was not properly cared for by his parents and used to turn up to school in very tatty and dirty clothes everyday. Cruelly, he was nicknamed ‘Tramp’ by the other boys. Another boy, perhaps slightly effeminate, was always being called ‘Poof’. A third came from the travelling community and was called ‘Dirty Gypo’ and more or less completely ostracized. Children, then, through no fault of their own whatsoever, can become the focus of hostility and contempt. They also, of course, tend to be the most vulnerable, already struggling with self-image.

Such treatment, particularly if the child has a lack of solid emotional support at home, can have long-lasting effects on self-esteem.


If we are often severely and unfairly punished as children, we may come to equate the fact with meaning we must be a bad person, that we have somehow brought it upon ourselves, and that we deserve it. This, especially, becomes true if the punishment is inconsistent and unpredictable (eg more to do with the parent’s mood and lack of self-control than what the child has actually done), extreme and the child does not understand what he/she is supposed to have done wrong.

Also, more ‘subtle’ punishments, such as being ‘given the silent treatment’ ( my mother had this down to a fine art) can be equally damaging.

Such treatment is another very high risk factor in relation to causing long-term and severe problems with the development of self-esteem.

BEING NEGLECTED WHEN WE WERE CHILDREN (e..g being deprived of love, security, interest, praise etc):

It is not just the presence of bad things in our childhoods which can affect self-esteem adversely, but, also, THE ABSENCE OF GOOD THINGS. These include praise, interest, affection, reassurance of being loved, reassurance of being wanted and reassurance of being valued. In other words, then, it is not just blatantly bad treatment which impacts adversely upon the child’s self-esteem, but, also, the missing fundamental good things.


Some parents are emotionally immature and, in a kind of role reversal, actually turn to their children for emotional support, as happened in my own case following my parents’divorce when I was eight. Indeed, by the time I was eleven, my mother sometimes referred to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist’ (encouraging me to continue in my rather bizarre role). This wa,s obviously, a great psychological burden and caused me great worry and concern.

Also, if there is friction in the parents’ marriage, or other pressures, parents can transfer their own distress onto their children and are more likely to become volatile, lose control, become prone to anger or withdrawal due to their own problems. Such deficient parenting, too, can affect the child’s self-esteem.

I hope this post has been of interest to you. My next post, to be published very soon, will look at how, if we have had some of these experiences, we can repair our damaged self-esteem.

Remember, if we have low self-esteem, we will imagine there are things wrong with us that are not, in reality, the case, however powerful the illusion is that they are.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).