Self-esteem is central to everything in a person’s life. The way we see ourselves influences our behaviors and decisions. Parents will often try their best to foster a good and healthy sense of self-esteem in their children, but some may not be mindful of the mistakes they’re making and how it negatively affects their children. It should come as no surprise then that according to licensed psychiatrist Dr. Neel Burton, low self-esteem often results from traumatic childhood experiences.
With that said, here are 5 tell-tale signs that your self-esteem was destroyed in childhood, according to experts:
You constantly compare yourself to the people around you and feel like you’ll never measure up to them. This is a habit you most likely picked up from childhood, when your parents would compare you to your siblings or other children your age, saying things like “Why can’t you be more like so and so?” According to licensed mental health counsellor Harsha G. Ramaiya, most parents do this because they want to push their kids to excel and give them an example to aspire to, but it often just ends up hurting their self-esteem and making them more competitive and insecure of other people’s accomplishments. This is because, growing up, children need a lot of positive attention and validation. And if you were constantly depraved of that, then it most likely destroyed your self-esteem.
Criticized for Abilities or Characteristics
Similar to the previous point, if your self-talk is largely negative, it’s probably internalised from the negative feedback you received from your parents as a child. And if you constantly criticise yourself for your abilities or characteristics — which are things about yourself that you can’t change or control — then it’ll definitely take an emotional toll on you, says licensed clinical social worker and child development specialist Claire Lerner. Continuing to do so can also make a person feel insignificant, unappreciated, and discontent with who they are. A better strategy, Lerner recommends, would be to build your self-esteem by embracing the things that make you unique, focusing on your personal strengths, and developing your own voice and identity.
Forced to Conform and Obey
Some parents believe that they need their children to mindlessly conform to all their expectations and obey everything they say, and that doing so is a grave sign of disrespect. But having such strict and authoritarian parents often takes away from a child’s sense of independence and creates a stressful environment for them growing up. According to an article published by the Michigan State University, this parenting style tends to worsen behavioral problems and lead children to becoming either more aggressive or submissive, socially inept, indecisive, and have poor self-esteem.
Rigid Need for Perfection
Are you terrified of making even the tiniest mistake? Do you instinctively lie or make excuses to try to get out of it? If so, it’s likely that you do this as a coping mechanism from the excessive scolding you received from your parents as a child over any mistake you made. Making mistake is an integral part of a child’s learning and growth, explains developmental psychologist Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell. So when children aren’t given the freedom to do this, they aren’t able to test their resilience and build their self-esteem based on their ability to bounce back and learn from their failures. They are essentially raised to believe that nothing short of absolute perfection is what is expected of them, which leads them to becoming extremely anxious, risk-averse, and have no sense of initiative or openness to experience.
Afraid of Own Dreams and Goals
Last but certainly not the least, if you are afraid to share your goals with other people or dream up a big future for yourself, then that’s a red flag that your self-esteem was most likely destroyed during childhood. Because childhood is when we first learn to dream and aspire, if you grew up with parents who ridiculed, invalidated, or chastised you for it — saying your dreams were unrealistic, impractical, or irrelevant — then you most likely felt that you needed to settle for the safe and ordinary life your parents wanted for you.
Studies such as the one by Wendy Grolnick in 2016, professor of psychology at Clark University, have shown that a person’s success is strongly linked with the time, support, and encouragement their parents gave them, which made them feel confident in themselves and internally motivated to succeed.
So, what are your thoughts on this video? Do you relate to any of the things we’ve talked about here? Parents are entrusted with their child’s precious sense of being, so whether they intentionally or unintentionally hurt your self-esteem, know that it’s not your fault and you did nothing to deserve it.
Healing your inner child won’t be easy, says psychiatrist Dr. Neel Burton. But there are simple ways you can start, such as: listing your strengths and achievements; practicing positive thinking and positive self-talk; making a habit of things that make you feel good like dressing well, eating healthy, and exercising; doing more of the things that you enjoy and are passionate about; and surrounding yourself with supportive people.
So, what are some ways you plan on building your self-esteem back up? Let us know in the comments down below and leave some encouragement for anyone else who may be feeling the same way. Til next time, Psych2Goers!
- Burton, N. (2012, May 30). Building Confidence and Self-Esteem. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/building-confidence-and-self-esteem
- Grolnick, W. S. (2016). Parental involvement and children’s academic motivation and achievement. Building autonomous learners: Perspectives from research and practice using self-determination theory, 169-183.
- Lerner, C. (2022, Apr 11). Why Kids Engage in Negative Self-Talk And What You Can Do. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/zero-six/202204/why-kids-engage-in-negative-self-talk-and-what-you-can-do
- Price-Mitchell, M. (2011, Sep 7). Mistakes Improve Children’s Learning. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-moment-youth/201109/mistakes-improve-childrens-learning#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20studies%20have%20found,them%20to%20try%20new%20approaches.
- Ramaiya, H. G. (2022, Dec 12). Why Should Parents Stop Comparing Their Child to Others. First Cry Parenting. https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/why-should-parents-stop-comparing-their-child-to-others/
- Trautner, T. (2017. Jan 19). Authoritarian parenting style. Michigan State University. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/authoritarian_parenting_style#:~:text=The%20negative%20side%20effects%20to,figures%20when%20they%20are%20older.
- Williams, G. M. (2022, Mar 7). Ten Ways Parents Destroy Their Children’s Self-Esteem. We Have Kids. https://wehavekids.com/parenting/Ten-Ways-Parens-Destroy-Their-Childrens-Self-Esteem