Most people with self-esteem difficulties can trace their wounds back to a family member or caretaker who was harshly critical, rejecting, abandoning or abusive. Those people’s behaviors toward the child conveyed messages that he or she was defective, bad or not good enough. Later, those self-esteem wounds were deepened by a few relationships where the individual received similar negative treatment.
Often, the individual can identify others in their lives who treated them with love and respect, but the negative messages seems to dominate. I’m not sure why this occurs, but the child’s self-esteem seems to be impacted more by the negative caretakers than by the positive ones. Oh, they love the positive people and enjoy spending time with them, but their self-beliefs tend to be molded by the negative people.
A few years ago, I created an exercise where I ask clients to compose a list of people who have conveyed positive messages about them, and a list of people who have been negative about them. The lists can include people from their past and present. They can also include family members, friends, co-workers and teachers. When finished, they have two lists of names; those who made them feel valuable and competent and those who made them feel inadequate or unimportant.
Try doing this now. Write down (or at least mentally identify) your personal list of positive and negative people. You may have some people who could fit on both lists, but try to put most on one side or the other. Now consider the following questions.
- Which group would you say that you like the most, the positive or the negative? You may love people on both lists, but which do you like most?
Almost everyone says that they like the positive people most. The choice isn’t difficult.
- Which group would you say that you trust the most, positive or negative?
For example, if you needed an opinion about someone you had never met, which group’s opinions about the person would you trust most? Most choose the positive group.
- Which of the two groups are the most mentally healthy or stable?
In your estimation, which group demonstrates characteristics of mentally healthy people? Most say the positive.
- Do people in the negative group treat others negatively as well, or are they just negative toward you?
Have you seen them treat others as they treated you? Do you recall thinking that their treatment of someone wasn’t fair or warranted? Most say the negative people treated others negatively as well.
- Which group’s opinions of you do you seem to think about the most?
Which group has had a more powerful impact on your perceptions of yourself? Which group most deeply influenced the way you defined yourself? Unfortunately, most people say the negative group. The wounds of the negative group seem to dominate.
So, the end conclusion is that most people allow their self-esteem to be defined by people they don’t like, don’t trust, consider to be mentally ill and who treat others badly as well. Read that sentence again. Does it surprise you?
This exercise is designed to help people “consider the source” of their negative self-esteem beliefs. Hopefully, it will help you put the negative messages they conveyed in a more proper perspective.
Comments: How did this exercise impact your perspective on the negative people in your life?