Self Esteem, The Not So Silent Killer

self esteem

When I think of the bright, successful people who don’t

experience themselves as successful, who always feel they need to do more than what is expected, who believe what they did was not quite good enough, I have an immediate suspicion. From somewhere – most likely their growing up – negative messages were unconsciously internalized. They are carrying the “not good enough” monkey on their backs.

These people – a great percentage of the population in my office – are often from a dysfunctional family, not aware of the damage the parents were inflicting on their children, as the caregivers acted out their own unhappiness with themselves and their circumstances.

Babies are born into this world craving love and affection. They want their basic needs met from a warm, loving, and responsive person. They try to please from the very beginning of their little lives; and when they receive yelling and screaming in return, they don’t automatically say to themselves, “Well, my mother is a narcissist and doesn’t have the capacity for empathy”. Or, “My father is an alcoholic and doesn’t regulate his feelings when he is drunk”. They don’t understand that mom is overwhelmed with her work, or, her husband is having an affair, or they have other major problems between them. (They, too, may have come from angry, dismissive families.)

The little ones continue on their mission to be loved, believing that it is they themselves who make mommy and daddy mad. Children are very egocentric. It must be themselves who are the problem. So, they try harder to be “good”.

When the child works so hard to please, and there are no rewards of affection and kind words, they despair. Something is wrong with them. They are not “good enough”. That is when the “not good enough” monkey takes hold. They will carry that belief until someone helps them heal the wounds that come from parents who have damaged their esteem.

When Daddy says, “You’ll never get it right. You are stupid.” or Mommy says, “What’s wrong with you?”, how else do they translate those messages? Words hurt. Words damage. Coming from our caregivers, those words are believed on some very deep level.

There are some homes where a parent may be loving one minute and angry the next. This makes the atmosphere of home very unstable – unpredictable. The young people are confused about where they fit in with these mood changes. One minute they are told they are wonderful and then they are screamed at, for what? These children live in fear never knowing what to expect and how to avoid the attacks. Anxiety may be a companion throughout the rest of their lives, hyper-vigilant for negative judgments about themselves.
It’s the angry, unhappy people who are critical and rough on others. When we come to like and respect ourselves, we understand that each person is who they are because of what they lived. We don’t judge. We feel for them and wish their lives could be happier.

When I find myself working with a grown-up who admits they rage; invariably, they tell me that is how they were raised. Everyone yelled in their home. “Didn’t I turn out okay?” Not if you scratch the surface! That human being is not living their full potential for happiness. They have defenses that are often hard to challenge. They think that their child understands. They say that is how they release their tension, their frustration. “Our children know they are loved.”

So I ask – as you imagine being little: What impact do you think it has on your little infant who cries? And, what do you think it does to your toddler? And, how does it impact your teenager? And, when these children are grown, and seek their own relationships, how do they behave if their partner is a yeller; or does their partner shrink when they are screamed and yelled at, or criticized? When kids are treated as if they are bad, many believe it, and then act out their own anger.

It is a lousy legacy for your children. As adults we must all learn how to regulate our emotions. When they are too overwhelming, a professional can do the work of healing the scars left from their earliest experiences.
Anger and critical accusations – at any age of growing up – embed the message – not needing to be explicitly spoken, “You are bad. You don’t do anything right. You are causing my unhappiness. If it weren’t for you…”
People who say things like, “Look how much I sacrifice for you.” is yet another deep message that says, “If you weren’t born, my life would be easier.”

Others who share the “monkey” syndrome are those whose parent or parents have died, left them, are too busy to be involved with them. This form of abandonment (because we are quick to make ourselves the reason) also feeds the unconscious decision that we are not good enough, or they would not have left us.

So with those messages now a part of our belief system, we go out into the world with a terrible “monkey on our back”. Nothing we do is ever quite right – perfect enough – good enough, because we are not. Those early internalized messages go on haunting even the most successful people, until they learn to experience themselves – take ownership of who they are – as separate human beings from their family’s emotional abuse. (The apple can be moved far from the tree, retaining just the good stuff.)

When we are able to own our uniqueness, our goodness, and live with self-respect, we are more loving and accepting of others. That is the goal to achieve. And it is the way to live a healthy life of good relationships.

We need to rid ourselves of the anger we have taken in. We have to extinguish the negative beliefs we created from the unhealthy homes in which we grew up.

Then our worlds will open to us and we will be able to receive love and to give it. Our bodies will be healthier. When we internalize those unwanted emotions, they affect all aspects of our health. They contribute to dis-ease and diseases. They actually color our worlds, our relationships, and the quality of our lives.

Love and understanding is what gets us love and understanding in return. That is something to strive for when you make the decision to be happy and replace the monkey with self-respect.

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About Paula Susan

Paula Susan, MSW, LCSW, Masters in Clinical Social Work & Psychology; specialist in Trauma and Relationships since 1982. In 1991, I integrated the powerfully transformative process of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Research demonstrates that it facilitates life-altering changes more efficiently and effectively than talk therapy alone. I teach skills such as communication and anxiety relief to improve connection with others. Over the decades, I’ve come to respect how much damage even small traumatic experiences inflict on our core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. I consider it a privilege to help my clients understand and change what has undermined their happiness and their relationships. I do it with warmth, integrity, humor, and profound respect for those who care about the quality of this small piece of time we have on

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