Open & Hidden Messages and How They Affect Our Life Stories

As we track thoughts about our life stories (See How to Track Thoughts as They Convert to Story), we begin to notice messages that guide us. Some traits are more acceptable to the important people in our worlds. In those cases, the traits are encouraged.

For example, Stephen Curry, Warriors basketball player and Most Valuable Player of last season, grew up in a family of athletes; his father played professional basketball and both his parents had been star athletes in college. The messages he received likely included a value for achievement and success, as modeled by both parents. With that encouragement – whether spoken or unspoken – Steph said that he “tried to do the best I could to create my own story.” He apparently trusted that he could follow his parents’ lead, but do it in his own way. His sense of self-worth was stable and enabled growth.

But what happens when a family’s messages are colored by parents’ or guardians’ insecurities, their own lack of self-esteem or self-worth?

Let’s assume two working definitions:

Metaphor for self-esteem

Self-esteem perched precariously

  • Self-esteem is a value placed on self that is grounded in others’ approval. It can teeter precariously like the stacked rocks in the picture on the right.
  • Self-worth takes it a step deeper; it is a valuing of self that is generated by the self. The plant in the picture on the left is self-empowered – growing in spite of the boulders around it.

Self-worth growing freely

I grew up looking for approval from others. Regardless of good grades or other achievements, it never felt like enough. I had no concept of self-worth – I kept struggling for self-esteem. In adulthood, I began to notice the messages that went into creating the threads of my life stories. My parents, too, had worked for approval of others. Anything beyond that, a sense of being empowered in one’s life and world, was deemed “bragging.” They seemed to have an unwritten, unspoken rule that we should leave a light footprint on the world. On some unconscious level, I picked up the message that they felt “unworthy.” And so did I. (See Dr. Diane Engelman’s post, Do We Need to Feel Bad in Order to Feel Good?, for thoughts on how negative emotions can trigger positive change.)

Meeting the man I would marry began my growth. In retrospect, I can see his determination to help me step beyond self-esteem and fully embrace my self-worth. It took years, first with his help, and then on my own. The battle is not yet won, but at least I know what battlefield I am on!

None of this is meant to condemn my parents. They did their best given their own life stories. But if we are to play detectives in our own lives, it helps to clearly understand what defines our perspectives on self-esteem and self-worth. Some questions to ponder:

  1. What messages did you absorb that empowered either self-esteem or self-worth?
  2. If positive, have you done all you feel capable of?
  3. If negative, how might you begin rethinking your self-perception?
  4. In both cases, what small steps can you take to grow your story toward self-empowerment?

Killion, Ann, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2014, “MVP Stephen Curry’s Fairy Tale Reaches a Height.”

Note: In this post, the author, JB Allyn, is not directly or indirectly giving psychological or medical advice. Nor is she prescribing the use of any technique to treat medical, physical, or emotional problems. The author intends only to offer information of a general nature that may assist you in seeking personal growth. If you choose to use any of the information the author presents, she assumes no responsibility for your choices or actions.

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