Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Negative Self-perception and Shame

This article has been hanging around in my tabs for a few days now, so I figured I should probably get it up tonight. Negative Self-perception and Shame was written by
We hear a great deal about self-esteem. But what is self-esteem, really? Self-esteem is our opinion of ourselves, based on others' perceptions. So, how is it that we all, or at least many of us, have such a distorted and negative self perception? Good question.

In every social interaction that we have -- even before we are able to fully engage in those social interactions, because of our level of development -- we are given instructions. Sometimes those instructions are positive, sometimes negative and sometimes benign.

If you are the last one chosen for kickball during recess, your peers are giving you an instruction that they don't feel you to be athletic. If your artwork is always chosen to hang in the hallway near the principal's office, your teacher is giving you the instruction that you're artistic. If your mother is constantly harping on you to clean up your room, she is giving you the instruction that you're sloppy. If your school guidance counselor "dumbs down" the list of colleges and universities to which you selected to apply, s/he is giving you the instruction that you're not so bright.

These are clumsy examples. But they point to a very important idea. Until we come to an authentic and unclouded idea of who we are, we are only a reflection of the opinions of other people; we are a reflection of what others believe about us, as opposed to what we believe about ourselves. People hand us instructions, hold opinions and pass judgment, and we buy in.

The psycho-social mechanism for this is described in detail by cultivation theory. Why it is exactly that we buy in to the negative side of things with more alacrity than the positive is a difficult question to answer; nonetheless, it's what happens. And it is through this negative buy in, and consequent development of a negative self-perception, that we develop a sense of shame about who we are and our place in the world.

Shame can manifest itself in any number of ways from anorexia to frantic overachievement. It is not so much an emotion or a condition or even something that you can put your finger on, it is more a sensibility.

Read the whole article.

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