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Where does your Self-Worth come from?

November 12th, 2012

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Have you stopped to think about your self-worth, your sense of self esteem and pride, where exactly does it come from?

Selfworth

Well, I have been thinking about it a lot, since I listened to a wonderful interview on parenting, with Shelly Lefkoe (from The Lefkoe Institute). Shelly explained how important it is to help our children find their self esteem in who they are, as opposed to what they do. This seems logical, but most of us were raised, and are raising our kids with the opposite approach.

She explained for instance that the often exaggerated praise that parents and other members of society give to children for their achievements (in any particular area), is not as positive as it may seem.

The focus on praising our kids a little "too" much for what they do well is not so good because it is based in the "doing" as opposed to the "being" and in the future those kids may seek their self worth on the approval of others, on doing what others expect from them. We often forget to praise our kids simply for who they ARE, and show joy just by being in their company. More often than not, we praise our children when they do what we like and show frustration, disappointment or even anger when they don't. This gives them the wrong message.

In other words, if your parents are happy and praise you only when you do what they want, but fail to assure you that you are loved simply for who you are, regardless of what you do, you will grow up with the false assumption that in order to be loved, you need to please others, do what they want, keep them happy.

This is specially dangerous when kids reach their teen years. If their self esteem is strong and based in who they are, they are much less likely to get in trouble, but if they are looking for approval from their peers in order to feel valued (self esteem), they may end up doing things that they will regret.

Little kids need to feel loved regardless of what they do or don't. Love is a survival need for small children, because of their total dependence on their care givers. Children are therefore constantly trying to win their parents love and are deadly afraid of losing it. If they grow up in an environment where they are loved for who they are, they will feel much safer than if they feel they are only loved for what they do or don't do.

Also, it is important to teach children that failure is not only necessary but is good! Yes, they need to know that they will fail in life and they will learn from it and get stronger because of it. When parents overreact to children's small mistakes or failures (like failing a test, loosing something, missing a ball at a game, etc.) they may give them the message that they can't fail, that failure is bad, that they are loved less if they fail.
This creates a great sense of guilt (for letting parents down) and ultimately kids will feel they ARE a failure, when in reality they just made a mistake.

It is incredibly important to keep this in mind and not only as parents raising our kids, but as adults, since we all carry the effects of our upbringing with us throughout life. It is a good exercise to try to identify where our own self esteem comes from? is it from our successful career? our pretty looks? our hard working ethic, our selfless caring for others, etc. or is it truly based in who we are?

This is not a very easy task, because the truth can be quite buried, but with a little observation on our part, we can start to figure it out and make adjustments for the better. For instance, if a critical comment from a peer, coworker or family member suddenly makes you feel like you are a failure (note that this feeling may only show up as anger or defensiveness), then most likely your self esteem is based on others' approval.

The truth is, we are all sensitive to what others think or say of us, but the stronger our self esteem (based on who we are), the more easily we can detach ourselves from other's opinions and comments, and the better off we will be.

That said, there is nothing wrong with listening to a constructive criticism and considering if there is any truth in it that can help us improve, but if our self esteem is strong, we can do this with total peace and no negative emotions involved, the negative emotions show that our self esteem is not fully based on who we are.

Have a great week!

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