We learn to like ourselves through achievement. Parents make the mistake of trying to give a child outside praise. Outside praise is giving children parental judgments, as teachers give students grades and coaches give athletes trophies. These exterior reinforcements do little to develop esteem in a child. What builds self-esteem are personal achievements that the child regards as important to him or her.
Your choices either value and respect you or disdain and sabotage you. When we indulge ourselves with an immediate gratification, we justify our actions with "I am so tired," "Just one more time," or "No one cares for me" "Therefore, I deserve this little treat, indiscretion or revengeful act," then our ability to maintain a positive and healthy self gets a little chip in it. Afterwards, we may throw on a feeling of guilt or remorse. If someone criticizes us for a wrong choice, like selecting a chocolate sundae or other self-defeating behavior, we subtract more small pieces of our self in the form of embarrassment, frustration or defensive anger at ourselves and at the one who points out that we are taking the wrong direction again.
These little chips begin to accumulate. Each choice that you make begins to carve a well-worn path in you memory. Each time we repeat a behavior or a thought, we carve the path in our brain a little deeper and soon we create a habit out of those little indulgences. Soon we may behave grouchy, eat junk food and do self-destructive behaviors every day instead of the random treat we once enjoyed. That is how perfect children end up with addictions, obese and friendless - all so gradually that no one seems to notice before the problem becomes major. The loss of self-esteem is often slow, with repetitive small behaviors rather than an attention-grabbing event that puts everyone on notice.
If we make the error of dismissing a small choice as insignificant, we may lose an opportunity to change direction of a downward spiral. Each time we choose in a certain direction that particular behavior gains strength, the brain path is deeper and all other good positive behaviors begin to shrink.
If you want to stop a negative behavior, you simply throw all your energy and effort into a new positive behavior and through a process of attrition, the offensive behavior will fade away. Substitute positive for negative and you will begin to respect your choices. Just a little at first. The choices begin to have a synergistic effect to the good when you begin to choose health, exercise, kindness and happiness regardless of what other people do, say or expect of you. That is when your self-esteem begins to climb. Remember, the first few choices are going to be the most difficult as you change direction.
As your self-esteem climbs, the decisions that are self-enhancing rather than self-destructive begin to dominate your life. So remember each time that you choose a negative behavior, you allow your bad habits to build and gain power and influence, and conversely, each positive behavior choice gains power and influence in a self-enhancing direction. If you learn this concept and prepare to make a positive self-enhancing choice in place of negative habits, you will know that with every choice made in the better direction you will gain joy, energy, beauty and quality of life. The movement is imperceptible at first, you may fail many times but now you can see why even the smallest positive choice can be life changing.
Molly Barrow, Ph.D. is a member of the American Psychological Association, and has been interviewed on NBC News, PBS, Fox TV and in O Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsday, New York Times, CNN and Menstuff.org. Dr. Barrow is the author of Matchlines for Singles, Matchline for Couples, and Malia and Teacup, the self-esteem building adventure series for children. Listen to the Dr. Molly Barrow Show on barrow.progressiveradionetwork. org. To schedule speaking engagements, consult with Dr. Barrow, or purchase books, please visit http://www.drmollybarrow.com.
MOLLY BARROW, PH.D.
Dr. Molly Barrow holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of Matchlines for Singles, Matchline for Couples, and Malia and Teacup: Awesome African Adventure and Malia and Teacup: Out on a Limb. As an authority on relationship and psychological topics,Dr. Barrow is a member of the American Psychological Association, Screen Actors Guild, and Authors Guild and is a licensed mental health counselor. Dr. Molly has appeared as an expert in the film, My Suicide, documentaries Ready to Explode and KTLA Impact, NBC news, PBS In Focus, WBZT talk radio, and in O Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsday, New York Times, CNN, The Nest, MSN.com, Yahoo, Match.com, Women's Health, Harvard Business School, Women's World, has a radio show on blogtalkradio.com and is a columnist for Menstuff.org.