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Theory: Just the way you are

Published: Thursday, July 3, 2014 4:50 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 3, 2014 4:52 p.m. CDT

Where do our feelings about ourselves come from?

We first become aware of our self-esteem in childhood.

Before we reach the age of reasoning, when we are still quite young, our self-image is easily influenced.

If at that point, let’s say age 5, we could have been shipped off to a deserted island, away from human influences, and we would have grown up with a healthy self esteem free of self-doubt and disdain.

Picture yourself on that island. If that world was all you’d ever known, what would make you happy? Finding food, shelter, the beauty of a sunset, your oneness with nature?

When would you feel unhappy? If you became injured, experienced bad weather, or didn’t find food, perhaps?

Now think, would that sort of happiness or unhappiness impact your feelings about yourself?

Regardless of what was happening on your island, you would remain the same person, with the same values, beliefs and qualities. Your fishing spear could break and the coconuts might not be ripening quickly enough, but you would still feel good about who you were, just not about that particular day.

Our feelings about ourselves become influenced when humans come into our lives. Our earliest interactions with our parents or guardians through their words or actions often teach us incorrectly that the feelings we have for ourselves should be linked with our behaviors or other’s opinions of us, i.e.: “you’re being bad,” “you disappoint me” or “I don’t like you right now.”

If physical discipline is used, it can further cement our perception that we are bad, not just our behaviors. This influence from our elders becomes a form of control over us.

Our self-esteem becomes subject to their opinions at any given time. As we get older, we inadvertently add more people to the list of those who control our self-image. Friends, love interests and the media have an effect on how we perceive ourselves. This destructive thinking can ultimately lead to poor decision-making and a lifetime of regrets and self-doubt.

When you don’t know who you are, can you really like yourself, stand up for yourself or make good decisions?

Sadly too many parents think that they have the power to shape their offspring into the beings that they desire them to be. In doing so, they create a child who becomes dependent on what others think of them.

Hopefully many of us experienced the guidance to learn who we were at an early age, and the encouragement and support to develop our individual uniqueness, so that we  came through our early years unscathed and with a healthy self-regard.

However, if the messages we received in our youth were lacking the necessary nurturing and support that children need, we will carry with us a misperception of our true selves far into our adult lives.

At some point, we have to take back the control and allow ourselves to influence our own feelings. In doing so, we can see ourselves as we truly are – wonderful.

If you take the time to get to know yourself, understand what makes you unique, what inherent traits and talents you possess, you will see that those qualities have always been there.

They can’t be controlled or altered by anyone but you. Your uniqueness is what makes you wonderful, and if you believe that, you will have good self-esteem.

Don’t mistake life’s ups and downs with how you feel about yourself. Self-esteem cannot be diminished. You can have a bad day, feel sad or depressed, but your talents, traits, values and beliefs have not changed just because your mood has.

Your innate goodness is as intact as it was the day you were born.

Too often we walk through this life holding on to the gift that we are but never allowing our self to unwrap it and look inside.

Take some time to discover your gifts – your uniqueness. You will find that you are, and always have been, wonderful.

• Jamie Palmer is a Batavia resident and a licensed clinical professional counselor and senior mediator with more than 35 years of experience in the field of psychology working with families, couples and individuals. She can be reached at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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