In my thirty-four years of outpatient practice, I have seen so many people who suffer from self-esteem wounds; wounds that were undeserved and unnecessary. When children experience harsh criticism, they learn to see themselves as inadequate or not good enough. When they experience neglect or rejection, they learn to believe that they are unlovable or unimportant. When they are abused, they tend to see themselves as bad or defective, and feel shame.
In each case, their negative beliefs impact their thinking, their choices and their relationships. Frequent self-critical thoughts can beat the person down, creating depression, anxiety and helplessness. Poor life choices place the person in situations where their self-esteem wounds are deepened. Relationships are often damaged by negative assumptions and reactions created by self-esteem wounds.
We know that these wounds exist. Teachers see them every day in the classroom; the boy who bullies others to feel better about himself, the girl who thinks she’s ugly, or the boy who proclaims that he doesn’t care about grades, but really thinks he can’t succeed.
When they grow up, they get better at hiding self-doubts or insecurities, but they are impacted nonetheless; choosing a lesser job because they doubt their ability to do their dream job, avoiding others because they assume they don’t fit in, or staying with the abusing partner, while blaming themselves for the abuse.
We know that these wounds exist. So why don’t we do something about it? Why don’t we address the problem? What can we do?
Imagine the possibility of a comprehensive self-esteem education program in every school, where students learned to question their negative self-beliefs and fight their negative thinking. Could such a program help an abandoned child realize that she wasn’t at fault? Could it help the harshly criticized boy see his true abilities and potential? In such a program, could a child learn that bullying behavior really comes from a low self-esteem, and that no child deserves to be sexually abused? Even if it didn’t help everyone, it could help some.
I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I believe we should at least be asking the questions. What should we do? What can we do? We must do something. There’s too much at stake.
Comments: Please share your thoughts about ways that self-esteem education could be implemented in the schools, and other places, to address self-esteem wounds.