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  1. 1. mindset BY ARUNDHATI SWAMYSHE IS A SWEET 16, and has it all – the HE IS A YOUNG ENGINEER, working his accepts others’ decisions, pleases others,looks to die for, a talent beyond her years, way up the executive ladder, technically and goes out of his way to help them. Heacademic achievement, even a couple very sound, and having excellent analytical is described as ‘a wonderful boy’ by adultsof coveted titles! But none of these make skills. Just announce a crucial meeting, and peers, because he never disagreesher feel fulfilled. She is unable to accept and he gets so stressed that he draws a or argues with them. Beware! Behind thatcompliments or enjoy her achievements. blank. It is all there in his head but dare he calm demeanour is an individual angryThere is an inexplicable vacuum deep speak? Words fail him; he stumbles and with himself, unable to express his ideas orinside. The world around her is in adulation stutters, desperately searching for a way stand up for himself, unable to say ‘no’ toand even envious of her, but she strangely out. He presents a confused self. others. He feels weak within, and projectsfeels that she is just average, sometimes a weak self-image – an ideal victim for theeven less than average! Peers are surprised. They know how good big bullies. he is at work, how clearly he thinks and HIS LIMITING BELIEF “I don’t like myself…”She does not know it, but she carries how capable he is. Unknown to them, he THE SYMPTOM low self-esteem.deep-rooted memories of being told is constantly haunted by fears of making THE OUTCOME passive/submissive inthat whatever she did was just not good a fool of himself. An early childhood childhood; aggressive/defiantenough, and that she always had to do experience taught him to feel ashamed in adolescence.better. Memories tucked away in the and embarrassed when he once made adeepest recesses of the unconscious mistake in class, in front of other students. THEN THERE ARE the unfortunate onesmind, triggered in the present, by anything HIS LIMITING BELIEF “What if I make who have ‘high achieving’ older siblings.even remotely related to ‘performance’. a mistake…” The situation is further compoundedHER LIMITING BELIEF “I must achieve THE SYMPTOM low self esteem. by well-meaning adults who expect themore, this is not good enough”. THE OUTCOME confusion and doubt. same, if not more, from the younger ones.THE SYMPTOM low self-esteem. They have unrealistic expectations andTHE OUTCOME dissatisfaction, pushing HE IS A QUIET, non-interfering, compare and deride the younger childtoo hard. conforming child. He goes with the crowd, for not emulating his sibling. They do not10 Parent Circle / November 2011
  2. 2. recognize the child’s abilities in other with their mother, parents, family, school,academic and non-academic areas, and teachers, friends, peers and community.close the door to his world.THE CHILD’S LIMITING BELIEF “they Thus, through a variety of positive lifeexpect too much…” experiences, a child learns to feel lovedTHE SYMPTOM low self-esteem. and valued during the total dependenceTHE OUTCOME under achievement. phase of infancy. In the early childhood phase the parents encourage theWHAT ABOUT THE TEENAGERS first steps in learning to do things, thewho crave for the latest gadgets, have enthusiasm to explore and understand,expensive tastes? Only to lose interest that helps build will-power and self-within hours or days after these are control. Middle childhood is when theacquired. They live lifestyles that do not family supports children in their search forsuit them, that create value conflicts about opportunities towards learning new skills.wealth and power. People see through Teachers, friends and community help to A checklist for self-esteemthese pretensions and reject them anyway! build the pre-adolescent’s efforts to learn,For teenagers, it is a desperate search for work well and progress towards feelingsomething that is meaningful and lasting. competent, responsible and capable, A positive self-imageTHEIR LIMITING BELIEF “Others are better reinforcing self-esteem. The adolescent Getting on well with peersthan me….” is growing up, developing an identity Comfortable with self, in spite ofTHE SYMPTOM low self-esteem. and self-image. This complex process is differences and imperfectionsTHE OUTCOME demanding, lying, individualistic, yet teens require the adults Happy with selfstealing etc. to cheer them on in their voyage of self Receiving compliments with joy discovery. Acceptance by peersLow self-esteem is a symptom of a deep- Perseverance when things get difficultrooted sense of inadequacy and poor Across the life span, the interplay of adult Appreciates own achievementsself-worth. Each of these individuals and and peer interactions makes significant Independence in many tasksgroups described above has learnt to contributions towards building a child’s Stands up for selffocus on the absence of something, not self-esteem. Takes initiative, expresses ideason the presence of what they are and Can adapt to new situationswhat they have. This is a debilitating Thus, from infancy to late childhood, Receives comfort when upset or sadcycle that got set in motion, when at children are working through trust and Comfortable with visitorssome crucial developmental stage, they hope, in exploring, and understanding theirhad experienced a crisis; or when their environment. This is the foundation on belief and self-worth.fundamental needs were not adequately which they build their capacities, become THE OUTCOME self-satisfaction andand appropriately met. industrious and confident. Upon this confidence in oneself, becoming foundation lies the future of growing up into industrious and assertive.SELF-ESTEEM NEEDS TO young adults.BE NURTURED WHAT LEADS TO POORA sense of worth must stem from deep When children receive positive, SELF-ESTEEMinside one’s being, where it should have encouraging messages through their When parents are insensitivebeen nurtured through all the stages critical stages of development, they Do adults choose to bring up children withof growth. are more likely to become caring and low self-esteem? Not deliberately. Often productive in their relationships and work, ignorance about the developmental needsThe influential theories of psychoanalyst as young adults. The stage is now set for a of children is the cause. Many adultsErik Erikson have contributed to our fulfilling adult life! believe that very young children do notunderstanding of personality development understand most of what is happeningthrough one’s lifespan. He identified the THE POSITIVE BELIEF “I like myself. I am around them, and therefore take thebasic virtues and strengths that develop capable and valuable…” liberty to make callous, insensitive andwhen children enjoy fulfilling relationships THE ‘SYMPTOM’ positive self-esteem, self- judgmental remarks about them. 8 11
  3. 3. mindsetYoung children’s minds are not mature worked for me, should work for my child”. or ‘arrogance’. Denial of one’s abilities isenough to discern between untruth An oft repeated justification is that “I appreciated as modesty, a precious valueand reality, and so they accept almost turned out fine, in spite of all the negative strongly upheld in our culture. However, iteverything as being true, including all comments I received from my parents and is truly a misunderstood concept, one thatthe negative comments hurled their way, teachers”. This is not up for dispute, but do needs correction.either in good humour or intentionally. The look deep into yourself and you may justembarrassment and humiliation are stored find some remnants of low self-esteem still Acknowledging one’s abilities is a sign ofin the unconscious as painful emotional lurking there, asserting their influence in self-worth. To blow one’s trumpet whileexperiences, which can get triggered by a subtle ways. putting down someone else israndom event. (Conversely, they will also ‘showing off’.accept the pleasant and complimentary Cultural influencecomments as being true, storing the Perhaps cultural influences play a Health problemsmemory of happiness and satisfaction significant role in this programming of the Physical, emotional or neurologicalassociated with the appreciation.) Poor mind. Ask a group of children to tell you disorders are traumatic experiences forself-esteem has its roots in the stored one thing that they are good at or like parents and children, leading to low self-negative beliefs. They then perceive and about themselves and the chances are esteem. Early intervention is crucial tointerpret a situation from these beliefs. The that a majority will squirm in discomfort, help empower the child to overcome thenegative perceptions produce negative hesitate, look around at others and speak challenge. A direct outcome is improvedbehaviour and outcome at a later date. with formidable reluctance. A minority self-esteem. will tell you about themselves without‘I am OK, so you should be OK’ inhibition, and will most likely draw HOW POSITIVEMore likely, it is their life experiences that unfavourable looks from the rest. They SELF-ESTEEM HELPSadults draw upon. Typically it is, “what have been judged for ‘showing off’ and/ Very often, helpless parents meekly yield to their child’s irrational demands. In reality, such demands are an outcome of negative perceptions – of self and others. The child believes that material possessions are the only means to e uild a positiv compensate for the self-worth that he lacks To b deep within. Such behaviour in children is self-esteem often squarely blamed on peer pressure, ‘bad friends’ and ‘wrong company’. Do’s Why is it that all children do not succumb Don’t’sents to these? What makes them resistant to nsequences Use logical co temptations and inappropriate behaviours Harsh punishm Give honest fe ed back (at least the more risky ones)? tive comments child’s abilities Repeated nega Focus on the learning The answer is evident – positive self- Comparisons Turn them into istakes esteem. It is natural for self-esteem to Condemning m experiences rt, offer fluctuate according to circumstances. It Appreciate effo ize small Waiting for resu lts encourag ement, recogn is the inner resources (positive memories successes and emotions) that help the self-esteem bility d give responsi to stay within safe boundaries, to perceive Teach skills an feelings and interpret situations in the present Overprotection Express your preciation context, or to even bounce back from With-holding ap some of life’s most difficult times. ARUNDHATI SWAMY IS A FAMILY AND STUDENT COUNSELLOR FROM CHENNAI.12 Parent Circle / November 2011