The following material comes from Changing Attitudes In Recovery – A Handbook On Esteem. The Handbook was written by James O. Henman, Ph.D. and the Steering Committee from members of CAIR Self-help Groups in 1990.
"Our self-esteem is formed through a complex interaction of factors. As we grow, we learn who we are through the reflections we receive from the important people in our environment. We make decisions about ourselves, and the world around us, from our perceptions of these reflections. There are also genetic and physical aspects that affect our self-esteem and character formation.
Our external environment can very within several different dimensions:
- Nurturing/Abusive…Our environment may be quite supportive and loving, giving us the needed fuel to build a healthy self-esteem. It made the hurtful physically, sexually or emotionally. (Stop and discuss.)
- Predictable/Unpredictable…Our environment may be safe and dependable for it may change in unstable ways to leave us confused and unsure. (Stop and discuss.)
- Congruent/Incongruent…The verbal and nonverbal levels of messages we received from our environment may be in agreement so that the meaning of messages is clear. The lack of agreement between levels of messages can cause us to constantly guess at the meaning and doubt our perceptions. (Stop and discuss.)
- Open/Closed…When our environment is spontaneous and open to growth and change, we are free to explore and develop healthy self-esteem. When it is rigid and closed, we are forced to deny important aspects of ourselves which do not fit into our environment. (Stop and discuss.)
The interaction between these dimensions influences the reflections we receive from our environment. The development of healthy self-esteem requires nurturing, predictability, congruency and openness. These environmental qualities lead to internal decisions of basic trust, permission to grow into an autonomous independent person who can take initiative and risk while trying difficult tasks. When our environment is abusive (including neglectful), unpredictable, incongruent and closed; we learn to mistrust ourselves and others, develop strong feelings of shame, doubt and a guilty sense of failure, when we are less than perfect (Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society, 1963). (Stop and discuss.)
When we grow up with distorted mirrors we learn to survive at any cost. We learn rules to help survive. These rules may includes such things as "be nice at all times", "don’t cause problems", "don’t get close", "don’t get mad", "the invisible", "don’t outshine dad", "always put others first", etc. These rules are usually not stated directly, but we know better than to break them. It is not take tragic war stories to create deep wounds in our self-esteem and character. It is in additional burden on we feel that we have no right to be wounded because we cannot point to dramatic scenes in our families. (Stop and discuss.)"
We often think of self-esteem as something either we have or don’t have. If we have it we are lucky, and if we don’t have it we suffer from the lack of it. The first step in building healthy self-esteem is the permission to start where we are starting in the present. Can you give yourself this permission? As you reflect on your life growing up, considering the dimensions presented in the CAIR Handbook, what do you notice? Do you notice a pattern that helps you understand where you are starting today? Can you notice, without judging what you see? It is imperative that you realize that "you are not your story" and your story affects where you are starting today. In the CAIR and CAIRing Grace Groups we can all learn how to parent ourselves differently in the present. We can all learn to create an emotional environment that is nurturing, predictable, congruent and open to change. The tools, principles, attitudes and perspectives reflected in the Handbook and the groups, allow you to continue growing and developing healthy self-esteem.