Self-Esteem: Learning to Manage Change

Developing a healthy self-esteem is an on-going process. An increase in external demands creates new challenges for each of us in our ability to respond adequately.  Our inner resources are being tested in ways many of us did not anticipate. And so this brings us to the issue of how strong is our level of self-esteem really?

Self-esteem is defined by Nathaniel Branden as: “confidence in our ability to think… our ability to learn, make appropriate choices and decisions, and manage change.”  Self-esteem and hardiness are partners. Authentic self-esteem is something that needs to be cultivated over time.

Recently I commented to a youngster who has just been appointed to his first position that he seems to connect very easily with people. His immediate response: “It is a mask. In reality I am more comfortable in the world of numbers”. We may easily perceive someone to possess good self-esteem. In reality it may just be a layer of veneer hiding vulnerability. Each of us has various insecurities. It is when the pressures are on-going or when we are truly being tested that our real level of self-esteem will become apparent.

This post is the first of a series of posts on self-esteem. This post will touch on some of the influences that may affect our self-esteem or our ability to develop a healthy self-esteem. Some of the key factors include: our genes, biological factors such as health conditions, parental influence, the social and economic environment into which we are born, type of education, occupational factors, life events or changes, support systems and locus of control. Let us explore just a few:

Genetics: We may have inherited certain traits from our parents, either physical or character traits. The physical traits we are less able to change but it is possible to change behavioural traits such as a short temper!

Parental influence: Most parents raise their children to the best of their ability, with whatever inner and external resources they had at the time. No matter how wonderful parents are, every child will develop emotional baggage from their past. As a child we lack the emotional and mental capacity to truly understand or process our circumstances. We then subconsciously find ways to cope with our circumstances. These coping styles may have fulfilled a very useful role during our earlier years but prove to be less helpful when we become adults.

Occupational factors:  Some individuals have occupations that are stressful. We are wired to handle short periods of stress. Our immune system and mental and emotional well-being will be compromised when these periods of stress become chronic.

Life events: There are always experiences in life that shape who we are. These can be either uplifting or negative events. Some families have constructive ways of coping with the stresses and strains of life. Others are less equipped to do so or fall back into destructive coping styles. E.g. Several clients grew up in homes where there was a great deal of shouting and tension between parents. In later years this has affected their ability to communicate effectively and to handle conflict in a constructive manner.

Locus of control: This aspect is about the extent to which we feel we have or lack control over what happens to us. If we feel we have little control over our life then we will open ourselves to be affected by external factors. This is called an external locus of control. Individuals who have an external locus of control  may over time develop a condition called learned helplessness. This may develop into full blown depression. In this case the individual feels they have no control over what happens to them. If we learn to control our responses or choose to do what is best for us then this is seen as an internal locus of control.

Here are some questions to ponder on:

  • What traits run in the family? What new behavioural trait would you like to nurture?
  • What positive coping strategy would you like to develop?
  • What factors in your work have a negative impact on your self-esteem? What do you want to do about it?
  • Do a time-line of both positive and negative events in your life since birth up to now.  How have these events shaped you? What were the gifts or lessons learnt from each event?
  • To what extent do you allow yourself to be affected by external events? What can you do to make yourself more robust against external demands?

The fascinating aspect is that no two people who have been raised in the same circumstances will turn out to be similar in the way they cope with life. Each of us responds differently to many of the factors described above. We are not born with good self-esteem. It is a capability that takes years to nurture. If you are experiencing a phase where your self-esteem is taking a bit of a dip, feel free to Contact Me. In the next post we will look at the first of six pillars of self-esteem.


Posted in Self mastery.