Fixing Families

Tools for walking the intergenerational tightrope

The Demise of Self Esteem

When others determine who you are

A few weeks ago both my son Chris and I were engaged in a friendly competition of sorts. We are both bloggers on this website, have different areas of expertise, but for a few short hours we were both #1 & 2 on the PT most-read list. (One of our theories was is that the world was on shut-in because of snow and going stir crazy). This was amazing to us in that the odds of our being able to ever have this happen again were slim to none. We took screen shots along the way, documenting our mutual descent.

Here they are… going, going, gone:

 

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  I've left the pack -- Chris is still holding on
   

    

Of course we knew this was coming though we went back and forth over who would decline faster (article on porn over one on memory—come on, easy enough call—I lost). We were quickly replaced by other good writers with other good articles. We had our ten minutes of fame. Go team. We’re done.

Clearly, a first world problem. What’s the point, you ask.

Change the scenario slightly and multiply the impact by 10 or 100 and we get into harder stuff – the teen who didn’t make cheerleader or lost the student council election or didn’t get a date for the prom. The guy who lost out on that big job that he had always been dreaming about, or worst yet was the first to be let go when the downsizing hit. The child who has to stay behind during recess and get remedial help, and everyone in the class knows it. 

This is life, you say. Disappointments, normal knocks on the self esteem. Yes, but what’s different is the technology, the speed, the public awareness. My son and I dropped off the PT list because readers moved onto to other topics, no big deal. But I talked to a 13-year-old this past week who started cutting after someone at school starting texting calling her fat and that she is a loser and her life isn’t worth living. Needless to say she was embarrassed and angry and imagined that everyone at school not only knew but shared his opinion. This becomes kids being bullied by texts (and she was), when self esteem rides on how many friends you have Facebook or how quickly someone answers you back, whether you LinkedIn profile is up to snuff. 

  What’s changing is that rather than ourselves measuring ourselves, it is increasingly others, a huge number of others, and at a speed and flippancy that has not occurred before. They, not us, shape who we are, they are the commentators of how well we are doing. We play to a crowd of nameless hundreds or thousands or more, hoping that what we show is good enough and wins their approval. They have the power to define who we are. 

But if we do this, what of us is left of us? How do develop integrity and ownership of our lives, and more importantly, how does this process of public shaping have impact our children in the long term? Why should we assume that these children and teens will somehow eventually shake it all off, feel good about themselves, and somehow take control of their lives after years of being wired to always consider others?

The culprit isn’t technology of course. But it is about somehow about not getting swept up. It is about pushing back against the small and large blows to self esteem. About keeping our heads down at times, having a bit of tunnel vision, looking inside rather than out, focusing on who we are. Easier said than done, especially for folks like that 13-year-old. 

But is it doable? Can we get recentered? Can we help our children and teens to push back? Sure. To use a hokey cliche, its about putting the self, not others, back into self esteem. And when we’re getting swept up, to stop and ask simply, What do I want?

 And to realize "that the world approves of me" is the wrong answer.

Bob Taibbi, L.C.S.W. has 40 years of clinical experience. He is author of 6 books and over 300 articles and provides training nationally and internationally.

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