Self-esteem describes the feelings of worthiness and value that one assigns to themselves as a person. A multitude of factors affect one’s self-esteem, including life circumstances and input from mentors and relatives.
Self-esteem development begins at a very early age. Researchers suggest that humans have the capacity to develop self-esteem as soon as they can recognize their own name. Problems with self-esteem start to occur when one or more needs fail to get fulfilled. Specifically, the needs for belongingness, attention, affirmation, safety, and love must be fulfilled in order for healthy self-esteem development to occur.
As humans start to undergo the lifelong process of socialization, they realize that a degree of power to have these needs met lies in their hands. So, when one of these essential needs is not met, one might blame themselves, which leads to reductions in self-esteem. For example, when a peer group intentionally excludes a single child on the schoolyard, that child may believe that his rejection has something to do with his own shortcomings. The socialization process dictates that the excluded child will learn from the experience, and either find a new peer group or make adjustments to the ways in which he goes about making friends. However, if enough of these rejections occur over a period of time, that child will begin to think that he must be worth less than those who reject him. In his mind, if he were a person worth being friends with, then the other children would automatically accept him into their social circle.
Your current level of self-esteem is a product of a lifetime of receiving messages relating to your personal qualities. To illustrate, imagine that, as a child, you interrupted your mom while she was speaking on the phone. The way in which she responded to your interruption had a lasting impact on your self-esteem. Did she tell you that your behavior was rude, or that you were rude? In the event that you were informed that your behavior was rude, you would have gotten the idea that you can make adjustments to your actions in the future to avoid upsetting your mother. On the other hand, if you were told that you yourself are rude, then you would be led to believe that you lack the power to do anything about your behavior in the future. Being rude, according to this belief system, is just a part of who you are; you cannot help that you are like that. Thankfully, you can take steps today to undo the effects that a lifetime of harming messages had on your self-esteem.
If you go through your own life with an ingrained belief that you are a bad person, then you will struggle with self-esteem. You will believe that anything good that you experience is a fluke. You will believe that, because you are a bad person, you deserve for bad things to happen to you.