Self-esteem plays an important part in bullying prevention. That’s because when people develop high self-esteem, they feel good about themselves and see the good in others. They are less likely to bully and, consequently, be bullied. So, in order to make bullying prevention a reality, you must understand self-esteem. In this post we will look closely at the development of self-esteem.

group of students

We will take a look at the following topics regarding self-esteem and its development:

  1. Self-Esteem at Birth
  2. Nonverbal Messages
  3. Verbal Messages
  4. Our Inner Voice
  5. Inner Self-Learning

    mother and child

Self-Esteem at Birth

The development of self-esteem begins at a young age. Children as young as three years old have already established a pattern of self-esteem. As soon as you were born, you faced a new world involving touching, feeling, eating, sleeping, and reacting to hunger, pain, heat and cold. Your ability to react to these and other sensations was an essential tool for your survival. As time went on, your ability to control your world became more developed. You learned to associate good and bad outcomes with certain sounds and feelings. You linked familiar voices and faces to a source of caring and comfort.

As your first language skills began to develop, you learned to label the things in your world with words, such as “hot,” “cold,” “hungry,” “daddy” and “mommy.” You became aware of your own name and began the development of self-awareness. Once you recognized your name and related it to the idea of yourself, a whole new world of personal development began. You were able to link qualities and characteristics with yourself, causing you to make judgments about yourself. You gained the ability to think of yourself as “hot,”“cold,” “happy,” “angry,” “good,” or “bad.” Before you could even speak sentences, you had the tools you needed to form opinions of your self-worth.

Nonverbal Messages

Babies learn about self-esteem through non-verbal messages. Something as simple as how we are handled as infants sets a pattern for our future levels of self-esteem. Babies know whether caregivers are sensitive or insensitive to their physical needs. They begin to form core feelings about themselves based on their caregivers’ sensitivity to their needs. Infants can also sense their mother’s emotional state. When the mother feels rushed, the baby often becomes uncooperative and cries. When the mother is relaxed, the baby tends to become calm and peaceful.

Infants who have experienced warm, responsive care tend to develop a positive view of themselves (high self-esteem). Caregivers who show little warmth toward their babies will see these children develop a negative view of themselves (low self-esteem). Babies gather thousands of impressions of themselves from the body language of those who are close to them. These impressions are stored and form the foundation for a person’s level of self-esteem later in life.

Verbal Messages

Once a child can understand words, verbal messages begin to have a huge impact on his or her developing self-esteem. When parents tell their children they love them, the children accept this message and feel pleased with themselves. A child’s behavior will then reflect his or her level of self-esteem. Children who hear negative messages over and over behave in a negative way. Words have a great impact on a child’s developing self-esteem. Positive words can build self-esteem, while negative words can destroy it.

Notice how the first video showed a positive interaction between a parent and child. The parent’s words made the child happy and he felt pleased with himself. It is likely that he will continue to do his best since his confidence was built up. In the second video, however, it was obvious that the child’s parent was disappointed in him. The negative words destroyed his self-confidence in this area. It is likely that this child will continue the same behavior since he did not feel encouraged to do better.

Your Inner Voice

The messages you store in your mind are constantly replayed. These messages make up what is called your inner voice, the voice in your head that directs your thoughts. All too often this inner voice tends to attack and judge. People with low self-esteem have a more critical inner voice. This inner voice says, “Things are going wrong,” even if they are not. It often sets standards of perfection, then criticizes harshly when perfection is not met. Not only does this inner voice criticize imperfections–it remembers. 

The inner critic is always ready to remind you of your failures. The key to learning to improve your self-esteem level, then, is to listen to your critical inner voice. You must analyze the patterns you see and then replace your inner critic with more positive voices. This lesson is both simple and encouraging: self-esteem is learned and can be unlearned and replaced with more positive patterns of thoughts.

girl working

Inner Self-Learning

We must use our inner voice to focus on the positive rather than the negative. The negative inner voice is always busy weakening self-worth, yet it is so quiet that we simply don’t notice its effect on our behavior and our lives. In truth, the negative inner voice is the major cause of frustration and failure. It also causes low levels of self-esteem. To learn how to silence your negative inner thoughts, let’s take a closer look at Inner Self-Learning.

Timothy Gallwey, in his book The Inner Game of Tennis, identified how athletes develop negative or positive inner self learning. As with most of us, when an athlete performs a skill, a positive and negative inner self attempts to control the behavior of the athlete. The positive inner self has learned to be successful. The negative inner self behaves like an obnoxious spectator in the stands. This negative spectator reviews the athlete’s performance with such remarks as, “You screwed up!” or, “You know how to hit the ball, but you didn’t.”

As the athlete hears these inner statements over and over, they feed the negative inner self. If the athlete gives in to these false beliefs, he or she becomes distracted and loses confidence. His or her performance suffers, and guess what? The obnoxious spectator’s observations are confirmed.

Cycle of Negativity:

1. Constantly criticize behavior.
2. Command oneself to change the behavior.
3. Try hard to perform the behavior correctly.
4. Criticize results, which leads to the continuation of the bad behavior.

Successful athletes, just like successful people, learn to silence their negative inner voices and replace them with positive inner voices. The positive inner voice is like a good coach rather than an obnoxious spectator. It provides the athlete with positive criticism, in a cycle of success that looks like this:

Positive inner self learning:

1. Observe existing behavior without judgment or criticism.
2: Decide what changes are necessary and recall the desired performance or improvement through remembering the correct process or procedure.
3: Allow the activity to occur reserving any judgment.
4: Observe the results until the desired behavior is achieved.

Remember that the development of negative inner self-talk took years, and it will take time to unlearn. After you begin to silence the negative inner voice, then you can start replacing it with positive inner thinking.