Self-esteem is no doubt crucial to wellbeing. How you see yourself before you step out into the world each morning can significantly impact your behaviour and how you react to future opportunities. A quick Google search of how to get a higher dose of self-confidence reveals society’s obsession with the topic. Some writers even claim Generation Y is, in fact, brought up on self-esteem, exerting all energy trying to boost this feeling when the reality of life means that it often comes in ebbs and flows, despite our best efforts.
Whether you get a quick jolt from an Instagram like, a job promotion or even your relationships, according to philosopher and author Alain de Botton, your self-esteem has very little to do with you. Instead, it is a “prize of psychology”, largely determined by your upbringing and the achievements of those around you.
Here, we explain its three odd origins as masterfully conveyed by Alain and The School of Life.
Have you outshone your mother or father?
According to Alain, what your same-sex parent achieves in their own life serves as the single greatest determinate of your own self-esteem. For example, a daughter whose mother achieved less than her, education or career-wise, is more likely to be bestowed higher levels of esteem, the idea being she managed to outpace her forerunner. Meanwhile, children who have achieved less notoriety or financial status than their same-sex parent are much likely to feel less confident about their place in the world.
What’s your peer group up to?
A second factor in how we measure our value comes down to our peer group: those we went to school with, who similarly live in our part of the world, and who are of similar age. We don’t feel inadequate compared to just anyone who has more than us, only those who we consider a peer. If Tessa from high school takes a seat at parliament as an adult and is earning triple what you do, the likelihood of that affecting how you see yourself is significantly larger than if you didn’t really know her.
According to Alain, what your same-sex parent achieves in their own life serves as the single greatest determinate of your own self-esteem.
How conditional was the love you received in childhood?
As children, we learn what pleases our parents pretty quickly. If you felt that parental love was granted only in the event of high grades, involvement in sports, or popularity, you most likely learnt to believe that was what love meant, and that habit to strive to impress can follow you into adulthood. However, those who knew unconditional love from the start will be more OK with however they turn out, as they possess a solid foundation merely having known a love that was unconditional.
So before you list of all your achievements to reinstate why you’re worthy, according to Alain, a more useful tool may be to more deeply understand your past, how you interpret your place among the people who matter most to you – family and friends – and working on your internal dialogue each time there’s a setback.