Many people begin their journey into low self-esteem in their childhood. Our early environments affect us deeply. As we hear same messages over and over again, they take shape in our minds, and over time they form our beliefs about ourselves.

What Beliefs Are

Your beliefs can be formed by the messages you hear from people around you like- your parents, other adults in your life, and other children you are around, including your brothers and sisters, your cousins, your neighbors, your playmates, and your schoolmates.

You may hear different messages from these people. Those with low self-esteem consistently hear disrespectful messages from at least one group of people. You can hear or experience something that you think is the truth because it comes from someone you respect. Then you start to believe it. Then it becomes the knowledge within you about yourself.

Messages from Childhood Lead to Beliefs

Here is what children experience that forms beliefs, with what children with high self-esteem experience first, then what children with low self-esteem experience second:

High Self-Esteem -- Low Self-Esteem

Being praised -- Being severely criticized

Being spoken to in a respectful manner -- Being screamed at, being ordered around

Given attention, kisses and hugs -- Being spanked and beaten

Having close friends they can trust -- Being ridiculed or teased by other children

Experiencing success in school or sports -- Experiencing failures in school or sports

Being told that failed experiences happen on occasion to everyone -- Being told that failed experiences are a failure of their whole self

Being told that effort over time produces results, so obstacles are accepted -- Being told that destiny or luck produce results, so helplessness is the outcome

Being given high and realistic expectations -- Being given high but unattainable expectations

Children then hear a self talk that constantly repeats these original messages. As children grow into adolescents and then adults, this self talk continues.

For people with high self-esteem, their self talk repeats messages that are positive, reassuring and uplifting. They are resilient even when they make mistakes because they have learned positive ways to interpret reality, constructive ways to explain difficulty to them, and positive ways of interpreting events that happen differently than they had hoped.

Exercise

Write in your notebook on one page all the things you remember that were done in your family that helped you develop healthy self-esteem. Then write down on another page all the things you remember that led to low self-esteem. Which list is longer? Write down which experiences had the greatest impact and what those impacts were.

Don’t fall into the trap of blaming your parents or other people from your past. If you find fault with others instead of taking responsibility for your own life, you’ll wait for others to change. That’s not going to happen! The change must come from within you.

Your Beliefs Affect Your Life

Your beliefs determine how you see yourself and how you deal with life. They affect how you perceive what others are doing, how you expect others to behave toward you, how you react to other people’s words and actions, and how you treat yourself and others.

It doesn’t matter whether your beliefs are true or not. You accept what others said and created a picture of yourself based on what you heard. This picture is the foundation of your mental programming that directs you today.

Not only can your beliefs be from hearing what others say. They can be formed from observing something, people acting in certain ways toward you, something you read, or something you see on television. Your strongest beliefs are formed by personal experiences that contain a lot of emotion, either painful or pleasurable, and the ones that occur frequently.

For example, when your younger brother or sister was born, your parents may have spent a lot of time with your sibling. All of a sudden, they’re not giving you the attention you once had. You concluded as a very young child that you did something wrong to make them not give you attention, that you weren’t worthy of your parents’ love anymore.

So you may have grown into wanting to please other people all the time so you would get their approval, or you may try to stay as small as possible so there’s no chance you can be hurt when other people don’t give you their attention.

Perhaps your parents were divorced when you were a child. Like many children, you may have concluded that their divorce was your fault. If only you had been good enough, the family would have stayed together. You and you alone were the source of your parents’ divorce.

These beliefs then saturate everything in your life – how you feel, how you act, how you speak. They also are so deep within you that they affect what you think.

But don’t despair. Once you’re conscious of your core beliefs, you’ll be able to intentionally decide whether to keep them or discard them. You can create your own new core beliefs that are positive and life-enhancing.