The Influence of the Family on Our Self-Esteem

April 1, 2020

The formation of our self-esteem is fueled (in part) by the family dynamics we were educated in. It is a legacy that leaves its mark and that is sometimes hard to heal. Especially if it came from a father or a mother who never loved his or herself, and who wasn’t skilled in attending to our needs, giving encouragement or having a heart-to-heart.

There is no shortage of psychologists who say that in order to function in life, our “tank” of self-esteem has to be full to overflowing. Whether we like it or not, there are few “fuels” that give us as much determination, self-confidence and a sense of competence. However, we know very well that we often go through life with virtually nothing in the tank. Our levels are so low that it is almost impossible re-start our engine and overcome this problem.

“Most of our fears of rejection are due to our desire that other people approve of us. Don’t base your self-esteem on their opinions. “

-Harvey Mackay-

The famous cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead explained something very important to us. She maintains that the family is that first social group where our way of interacting determines who we are (or at least a good part of it). Our parents are the ones who have the duty and obligation to fill our “tank” with adequate nutrients and rich components. They should ensure that there is no lack of security, affection, and attention.  They should supply that vital encouragement and drive which will help us to walk through this world feeling that we are valuable people.

However, in the arduous path in the formation of our self-esteem, we don’t always have this quality of fuel. This inevitably leads us to try and discover who we are. And also to seek to repair that childhood which was lacking in so many things.

girl with bad self-esteem

The formation of our self-esteem and the connection with our parents

The formation of our self-esteem begins in childhood. However, does this mean that our character is completely determined by everything we experienced in our childhood and early youth? We should point out that in psychology, as in many other sciences, the word “determinism” is dangerous and has deep undertones.

In psychological matters, everything that happens in childhood has a big influence, but it doesn’t completely determine who we are. One thing we know about human beings, and in particular the brain, is that our flexibility and capacity for improvement is immense. However, despite this, we can’t get away from the great importance of our upbringing. The quality of our interaction with those who care for us is absolutely key. They don’t only provide us with food and sustenance, but also with an emotional and educational legacy.

Being emotionally connected

To delve into these topics we would recommend the writings of Dr. Ed Tronick, an expert in child development and professor of pediatrics at Harvard University. He reveals that in order to favor good self-esteem, and quality care in children, we need to be emotionally connected with them. However, in much of his research he was able to show that even good parents aren’t in tune with their children 40% of the time.

Girl surrounded by birds

These findings may seem somewhat alarming to us, or we may consider them exaggerated. However, Dr. Tronick points out something that should make us reflect. The reason why many parents do not connect 100% with the emotional needs of their children is because they do not do it with themselves either.

A parent who is full of stress, and unresolved emotional knots, will be unconsciously sending a series of signals and information ​​to the child. The child will subsequently absorb this information into his own life too. On top of that, if the parents themselves don’t have high self-esteem, then it will be difficult to create it in the child. If the child can’t sense this foundation in the parent then they are not going to receive that same security.

The family influences, but you decide

The formation of our self-esteem throughout childhood is influenced primarily by three factors. Physical appearance, our behavior and our academic performance. The way in which our parents handle these three dimensions can encourage us to grow in security and confidence. If they don’t show this, it can cause helplessness, loneliness and fear.

“The worst loneliness is not being comfortable with yourself,”

-Mark Twain-

The most difficult part of all this is that, to this day, we continue to see the immaturity of many parents in this respect. They are not aware of the problems they are causing with their language and communication style. Just by listening to the conversations at the school gate, we can see how, without even realizing it, they are plucking the wings of their child’s self-esteem feather by feather.

The use of comparisons

The use of comparisons and negative affirmations affect a child’s self-esteem terribly. To tell a child they are hopeless at math or that they will never pass their exams causes their self-esteem to crumble. Parents who do this are unable to see hidden emotional problems in their children, and they are letting them fall into the same abyss as they did as regards self-esteem.

Two sisters

While it is true that the family influences the formation of our self-esteem, we need to also see that what happened in the past doesn’t have to determine us for life. We have the power to stop being affected by running on such low self-esteem. In our hands is the possibility of repairing a childhood full of deficiencies, in order to give us a maturity that others couldn’t give us. We to learn to supply our own fuel, and to stop looking to see what others can offer us. We need to work on our self-esteem every day. There must be a desire to change, to be courageous, and to love ourselves. Regardless of our past, there is always time to change, and to invest in our own self-esteem.