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Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves.
Perhaps the best definition of self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves. Of all our feelings, those which we have about ourselves are clearly the most important to our success and happiness. Our feelings about ourselves determine our confidence, our motivation, and our worthiness. These feelings begin to take shape in the first few years of our lives, and unless we make a conscious effort to change them, follow us to our grave. In this chapter we look at the relationship between EQ and these most important self-feelings which form our self-esteem.
In the first few months of our lives, our self-concept begins to take form. Fresh from the womb, perhaps even before, we begin to feel either wanted or unwanted, loved or unloved, safe or scared, significant or insignificant, valued or unvalued. Soon after, these feelings become feelings of good or bad, adequate or inadequate. Still later they turn into feelings of competent or incompetent, confident or insecure, liked or disliked, respected or disrespected, trusted or distrusted.
All of these feelings initially come from the family environment, then as we venture out into the world, they come from the school and social environment. In fact, some of the strongest influences on our self-esteem come from our religious programming, to the extent that we were subjected to it.
As our self-esteem is being developed, the developent of our emotional intelligence is also taking shape. Particularly in the pre-school years, the way our EI is developed, whether in healthy or unhealthy ways, comes primarily from our parents, relatives, and siblings.
Likewise our feelings reflect the predominant feelings in the family, since children soak up emotions as well as information. If our primary needs our being adequately met, our self-esteem will be high. Some of these primary needs include the need to feel: loved, valued, important, significant, wanted, respected, trusted, approved of, listened to, and touched. If these primary needs were not met, our self-esteem suffers.
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The school environment is critical to both our emotional development and our self-esteem. Generally speaking, whatever characteristics we bring from home are reinforced at school. For example, if a child is intelligent, confident, and friendly, both teachers and other students are likely to further bolster her positive self-image. On the other hand, if the child is unhappy or insecure and is a poor academic performer, students and teachers may label and ostracize the child, resulting in feelings of inferiority and rejection.
Not surprisingly, research shows that children from troubled homes are the most likely to display early signs of poorly developed emotional intelligence such as emotional, academic, behavioral, and social problems. Because of instability in the home, the child is afraid and insecure. These conditions make it hard to concentrate academically and hard to fit in socially. In addition, children from troubled homes are found to have these specific characteristics in the early school years:
All of these will obviously result in further damage to the self-esteem through rejection and disapproval by both peers and teachers.
If our needs were met at home, however, we were much more likely to perform well academically as well as socially. Successes in both areas are major sources of confidence for children, so if we started out on the right track, we most likely continued on it. In other words, the pattern of our self-esteem is set at a very early age.
Likewise, the pattern of our emotional intelligence development is set at an early age as we watched how our parents expressed their feelings and resolved conflicts. Here are two contrasting scenarios:
Parents with Unhealthy EI modeled:
Parents with healthy and well-developed EI modeled:
Needless to say, our childhood environments made a huge difference in our early emotional states, our EQ's and our self-esteem. Now let's see how self-esteem and EQ are related in adulthood.
As adults, we have the opportunity to take control of our emotional lives and raise our self-esteem. Whether or not we do so depends on many things, but sadly, we often must hit the very bottom before we ever consider self- examination or self-improvement. Judging from my travels, the majority of the people in the world suffer from low self-esteem. And because few receive training in the emotional skills required to raise their self-concepts, the vast majority struggle day in and day out to fill their emotional needs. Perhaps this is what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Having low EQ means we lack self-awareness. Without self-awareness we can not raise our self-esteem, since we don't know what we need to work on. We continue to make the same mistakes, to punish ourselves for them, and to feel powerless to stop the cycle from repeating. All of this further locks us into feelings of low self-esteem.
By working to raise our EQ, however, we become more self-aware as we get more in touch with our feelings. And, with our rising self-awareness, we become more attuned to the areas which need improving. We can spot these areas by our negative feelings. For example, if we get angry when stuck in traffic, our feelings tell us we have a problem with impatience. If we are aware of our impatience, we realize that this is an area which we need to work on improving. In fact, each negative feeling offers us an opportunity for growth. Likewise, each positive feeling, tells us we are on the right track.
Our confidence rises as we recognize the areas we need to work on, and then take action. The simple act of beginning to work on a problem results in positive feelings, since we feel in control and empowered to improve our lives.
Taking action with a clear goal in mind feels much better than worrying about a problem and not knowing where to begin. As the saying goes, "It is hard to be depressed and in action at the same time." With our rising confidence, our fears decrease accordingly.
As our fears drop, we become more secure and less vulnerable. We worry less about other people's opinions, and as a result, are less defensive and more open to suggestions, feedback, and criticism. We concentrate more on our own happiness and worry less about how others run their lives. We are less afraid of rejection and are more willing to share our feelings. By sharing our feelings, we open the door to intimacy, which, when achieved, further strengthens us. Being further strengthened, we reach for higher goals and continue fulfilling our natural potential. As we come ever closer to reaching our potential, our self-esteem rises accordingly.
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