“Self-esteem is usually a subtle feeling that begins in childhood and is continually reinforced by cultural conditioning…Changing our feelings about ourselves entails a major revision of our awareness.”Building Self Esteem, 6
There are two major ideas in this excerpt: 1. Awareness and 2. Cultural Conditioning. So what are they? Moreover, what do they have to do with self-esteem? In answering these questions, it becomes evident that:
“Most low self-esteem stems from unfortunate childhood experiences.”Building Self Esteem, 12
Our awareness is not just what we’re consciously aware of from our five senses. Awareness is also things we’re not aware of, such as our understanding, logic, and belief systems (18). It’s how we perceive everything around us through our own eyes–or mind (17).
Furthermore, our awareness is constantly being shaped and reshaped through life experiences, our “inner knowledge,” and cultural conditioning (17).
Cultural conditioning is one of the biggest things that form our awareness.
In Building Self Esteem, Barksdale explains that cultural conditioning is what happens when we learn what words mean. From infancy, we begin to pick up the meaning of words by making connections to objects and ideas. We decide if they are positive or negative, good or bad, etc (11).
Similarly, our surrounding culture forms meaning toward ourselves, not just words (11).
–There are many examples of cultural conditioning. Below are a few.
- The idea that when we do something bad, it means we’re bad.
- The logic that if we only tried harder we could do better–be better.
- The notion that a child should be seen not heard.
- Comparing a child to their sibling(s) or peers.
- Adults not encouraging a child to think for themselves and have their own opinions.
- Inconsistent and unjustifiable punishment.
- Placing more value on objects and achievement than an individual’s innate worth.
- An environment that accepts ridicule toward one’s ethnic and cultural identity as well as their socioeconomic status.
- An environment that draws attention and ridicule toward one’s handicaps or appearance (which, by the way, should not place any value on their God-given worth).
- A culture that continually pushes us beyond our capability.
Building Self Esteem, p.11-14I
Relationship Between Awareness and Self-Esteem
“Inadequate self-esteem is basically a problem of awareness. Self-rejection is the result of a mind that has been programmed, i.e., conditioned, by false and destructive concepts.”Building Self-Esteem, 4
Because of how our self-esteem develops, we are clearly all doing the best we can based on what our unique “prevailing” awareness permits us to do. Therefore, we should cut ourselves and others some slack for all the should haves, could haves, ought tos, and musts. In doing so, we are more capable of having unconditional love toward ourselves and others–more capable of not “value judging” ourselves and others (39).
- Our awareness IS what it is at any given point in time, and our actions are a result of our awareness at any given point in time (36, 39).
- Awareness is an automatic outcome of cultural conditioning, inner knowledge, and life experiences. Therefore, it forms unconsciously, without us realizing it (17).
- It creates the basis of our self-esteem (4).
- However, our awareness is not us. It is not who we are (39).
- Rather, it’s a constantly changing, mutable, and sometimes distorted reflection of reality–of who we truly are (17, 39).
- The reality is that we are worthy. And it’s not by our actions, accomplishments, physical appearance, or anything that we’ve been culturally conditioned to consider in order to justify our worth.
- We are all doing the best we can based on our unique awareness (39).
An understanding of these seven points can serve as a roadmap to reducing our feelings of regret, guilt, and shame and increasing our self-acceptance and self-worth.
Barksdale, L. S. Building Self-Esteem. The Barksdale Foundation, 1989.