Positive self-esteem is developed in many ways in children. If your parents value you and respect your feelings, thoughts, preferences, and proclivities, while challenging you with age-appropriate, achievable goals – you will likely develop good self-esteem. This positive sense of who you are becomes a natural part of yourself – something you take for granted and something that holds up against life’s disappointments and failures.
Negative self-esteem can develop in a myriad of ways. It is pretty obvious, if you have been reading much of my blog, how being emotionally, physically or sexually abused teaches the child that they are worthless, and that certainly will grow roots of poor self-esteem. One of my Stories for the Unconscious “The Good Prince” illustrates how negative self-esteem can develop in a person who is, by all outward measures, very loved and given lots of positive regard by his parents; but wasn’t allowed to find his true self.
I have seen over the years in my practice this exact problem in some adults of wealthy parents. In this situations, the parents wanted control of their child and didn’t allow the child to investigate his /her own proclivities and learn his /her own strengths and talents. These parents have many values and directives that they press upon their child. As the child grows older, the parents continue to hold the child hostage by the magic of their money and the threat of taking it away. Other parents control the child by dint of their own personality – and use love, approval or fear as the currency of their control. Most children are influenced to some degrees in this way in that we take on our parents values. (” Of course they expected me to go to college, they talked about it ever since I can remember” – can be a positive value and directive. Oops! I guess my values are showing here!)
The difficulty lies for kids whose parents take so much control that their child, in order to win acceptance, pushes the best parts of themselves “underground” where the parents can’t see it. The abused child does this so the parents won’t damage that part of them. For example, the boy who has talent as a writer and whose father would surely ridicule and beat him so he won’t embarrass Dad by being a sissy. This kid could shove that talent so deep inside himself that he wouldn’t even know he can write well until he takes a college course in creative writing. The Good Prince put his real self underground in response to the enormous pressures of inheriting the Crown.