Self-Transformation Series:
Issue No. 17

Developing Self-Esteem or Self-Worth

Table of Contents

  1. Why Important
  2. What is Self-Esteem or Self-Worth
  3. Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem
  4. Developing Proper Self-Esteem or Self-Worth
  5. How to Nurture Self-Esteem in Children

    I. Why Important

    Proper self-worth or self-esteem is important for growth and maturity. Low self-esteem is often rooted in fear and negative conditioning during childhood, and affects the development of one's potential as a person. One loses self-confidence in dealing with the challenges of life, is easily discouraged by difficulties, and feels unhappy with oneself.

    Lack of self-worth is one of the causes why young people become bullies and delinquents and get into crime, drugs, and gangs.

    It's so easy to pick out the children who lack the gift of self-esteem. They're the bullies on the playground, the underachievers in school, the kids who get taken advantage of. They are our high-school dropouts, the kids who can't say no to deadly drugs or inappropriate sex or a ride with a drunken driver or an invitation to join a gang."
    -- Steven Vannoy, The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children

    "Self-esteem is the best gift any parent can give their child."
    -- E. Hartley-Brewer, "Positive Parenting"

    II. What is Self-Esteem or Self-Worth

    Proper self-esteem is not vanity or boastfulness, but mature acceptance of one's capacities and limitations.

    "Positive self-esteem is not the intellectual acceptance of one's talents or accomplishment. It is personal self-acceptance. Developing positive self-esteem is not an ego trip. You are not in love without yourself in an egotistical sense. You simply realize that you are a truly unique and worthy individual; one who does not need to impress others with achievements or material possessions. In fact, the person who constantly brags and boasts has one of the classic symptoms of negative self-esteem."
    -- Dr. Robert Anthony, Total Self-Confidence

    III. Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem

    1. Lacks self-reliance and self-confidence -- Tends to be insecure and dependent on other people; does not believe that he/she can do something, hence does not dare; afraid to be humiliated.
    2. Aggressive -- paradoxically, a person with low self-esteem can be aggressive in trying to win because they need to prove themselves to others.
    3. Feels guilt -- Because he/she has often been blamed for something, there is a feeling of constriction and withdrawal.
    4. Feels depressive, and feels that one is a failure --The extreme form is tendency for suicide. Says Dr. Robert Anthony: "People who commit suicide are not trying to escape from the world, they are escaping from themselves; the self they have rejected and learned to despise... . Their problem is low esteem."
    5. Feels that other people don't like him or her -- Because of previous experiences of being put down by parents or elders, he/she generalizes such experiences and suspects that most people do not like him/her. Hence they tend not to have close friends, or be loners.

    IV. Developing Proper Self-Esteem or Self-Worth

    1. Realize that every individual is unique -- Persons with low self-esteem often compare themselves with others and feel that they are unworthy. They are too self-conscious about the judgment of other people. It is vital to realize that each one of us is unique and we grow at our own pace. Each soul has unlimited potential and our task is the realization of this potential.
    2. Develop inner awareness -- Be aware of the programming done upon you by your parents, teachers, elders, etc. and choose to discriminate which ones are harmful and should be transformed. Be aware of your fears and objectively look at their roots. Go into periods of silence or meditation to develop this awareness.
    3. Choose a small goal and achieve it -- Large achievements are really composed of small achievements. Choose a small one, and after you have achieved it, you will develop a better opinion of your own capability.
    4. Do your best and accept the fruits of your effort -- To expect that you can or should do what others can do is to be unfair to yourself.
    5. Be aware of your Divine Potential -- Within you is the Divine Potential that is present in everyone else. It is unlimited, and awaits your discovery.

    V. How to Nurture Self-Esteem in Children

    1. Learn to really appreciate their positive qualities -- Every child has some good and strong points. Start by making a list of admirable qualities of the child. You may be surprised.
    2. Express your appreciation of their positive qualities -- Give sincere praise. Even saying that you like their ideas is already a boost. Laughing at their jokes is another one.
    3. Love them unconditionally and spend time with them -- Giving them your time tells them that they are loved and valued. When possible, spend time alone with each one, and do with them what they like to do. This can work wonders.
    4. Really listen to them -- It shows how important they are. It reaffirms their self-worth.
    5. Trust and respect them -- Give them responsibilities, and give allowance for mistakes. Allow them to do things by themselves and avoid doing it for them whenever possible. This develops their own confidence in their own capabilities.
    6. Avoid deprecating remarks (put-downs) -- Such remarks can injure self-image deeply and can damage the future of the child. Examples: "You are really dull and slow." "You're very clumsy." "I can't trust you." When correcting the child's faults, point to the behavior and do not belittle the child himself or herself.
    7. Develop your own self-esteem -- Low parental self-esteem has been found to be one of the major causes of low self-esteem in children.
  6. Some exercises for children to develop Self-Esteem From Linda and Richard Eyre, Teaching your Children Joy

    1. Ask a group of children to sit around, with one of them in the middle. Ask each one to say something that he or she likes about a child sitting in the middle of a circle, such as "One thing I like about Anita is that she is always very neat."
    2. Ask children to play the game called "I can't do this, but I can do this." Ask them to think of something they cannot do, and then say something they can do well. You start by saying something like this: "I cannot whistle, but I can play the piano."
    3. Discuss with them what is meant by the word "unique." After discussion and sharing, tell them that is what makes them so special and important -- because "you are the only one just like you."

    "If you have self-esteem, you are happy to be you and you believe in your intrinsic value as a unique individual. It therefore involves having a positive self-image and an accurate self-awareness. "
    -- E. Hartley-Brewer, Positive Parenting

    "If I could give my child no other gift in the world, my top choice would be self-esteem."
    -- Steven Vannoy, "The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children"

    When you give love messages, you're boosting your child's self-worth. When you focus on their strengths rather than on their weaknesses, their self-esteem can only rise. When you teach through questions rather than telling, they find the world of their own creativity and talent and abilities they might otherwise never have discovered or acknowledged.
    -- Steven Vannoy, "The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children"

    No matter how many of our children's teachers or friends - or eventually, therapists - acknowledge their value, our children's real sense of self-worth initially comes from us, their parents. -- Steven Vannoy, "The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children"

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Copyright 1995. Permission to reprint is granted provided acknowledgment is made to:
Peace Center
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"If five percent of the people work for peace, there will be peace."