The foundation of your self-concept is based on layers of internal and external messages and beliefs you hold about yourself. Initially, your self-concept it based on messages you received from primary caregivers. Where babies are highly valued and treated with love and care, each developmental milestone is met with praise and celebration.
Infants in more challenging situations where parents are distracted by financial, emotional, physical, employment, or health issues, important developmental gains are missed altogether or neglected, thereby diminishing a child’s sense of competency and self-worth. Babies in challenging homes learn that there are more important things for parents to be concerned about than them.
Years of research on emotional abuse has shown that negative deficit-based parenting styles result in long-lasting scars that impact one’s sense of self in all areas of functioning. Where an individual is raised without realistic praise for small and large accomplishments, there is less belief in one’s ability to succeed at school, work, personal and social relationships, as well as in love.
Realistic praise, opposed to inflated or false praise refers to “good job” rewards for actually doing something well. Young children given praise for activities or jobs that they really did not do so well, sets them up for poor self-assessment skills in future. Children who do not have a realistic sense of what they are good at and not so great at, will have more difficulties accepting limits placed on them by others . In these cases, a person’s self-assessment fails to align with the opinions of others, which can be very frustrating and upsetting for everyone involved. It is far better to have realistic perspectives about your abilities and competencies, so that your goals in life are achievable. Where you struggle with generating a list of competencies – that is – “all those things I am good at“, then you may need to work with a registered mental health practitioner to uncover them.
Early sedimentary layers of self-concept become the baseline or foundation upon which additional layers are formed by others and yourself. Where injury occurred in infancy or early childhood, and your belief system was founded on a very negative list of your inabilities and deficits, you more likely to suffer from a deflated sense of self-competency, poor self-esteem, and diminished self-worth.
An early start in life that only caught you doing the wrong thing, pointed out your failures, and punished what are truly age-appropriate mistakes is an unfortunate recipe for poor self-esteem, learned helplessness, and in some cases delinquency and sociopathy.
Children raised with messages that encourage, nurture, love and grow healthy self-concepts based on any and all demonstrated strengths and competencies, thrive in adolescence and adulthood.
Of course, some children are more resilient than others. More and more research shows there is a bio-psycho-social underpinning to resilience that is partly inherited as well as nurtured. Teaching children to identify, accept, and love all aspects of themselves is easy when parents fully love and embrace the beauty of each child – no matter their limitations. So, even where children have significant developmental disabilities such as autism, intellectual, or learning disabilities, their self-concept is strong, accepting, and positive. Children raised in loving homes with consistently loving and nurturing messages view themselves in the same way. In this regard, self-concept is not injured by constitutional disabilities, but by the messages from others made in relation to them. “Autism makes you weird.” “You are stupid because you go to the special education class.” “You are ugly because you are fat”. “You were raped because of how you dress”.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a relatively newer intense model of intervention that can help you to uncover the micro-sediments that support your views about yourself and the value you place on them. Your self-concept is made up of your beliefs and values about yourself, which may or may not reflect reality. Learning more and more about yourself is a wonderful journey of discovery that is best supported by an impartial mental health expert. Teasing apart the intersectionality of perspectives, layers of self-doubt, and sediments of personal loathing is a fragile exercise that may result in real changes to your life that you do not expect like letting go of some friendships jobs, or partners for example.
People in recovery from addictions to drugs and/or alcohol slowly regain healthy perspectives that unlay years of negative messaging from others that they have been carrying around for years. Renewed sobriety yields clear headed perspectives unclouded by the fog of substances, and opens you up to those people and things in your life that you really need, want, and deserve.
Allowing yourself to get what you need, want and deserve in life is the ultimate goal in addictions recovery, wellness coaching, and psychotherapy. What layer do you need to unlay before moving forward? What can you do to balance negative, and perhaps untrue perspectives about yourself that hinder your overall wellness and joy in life?
Do. Think. Feel Well. You deserve to be happy & healthy.
Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW