The task of continual encouragement goes hand in hand with replenishment of emotional reserves. Contrary to what many people believe, self esteem is not established once and for all early in life. Although its foundations are laid down during childhood and adolescence, self esteem fluctuates during adulthood.
It reflects not only our own view of ourselves but how we feel we are regarded by people who are important to us.
- Does he love me?
- Does she think of me as having integrity, as someone to be trusted?
- Does she think of me as a competent person in whom she can have confidence?
Self esteem is not a single idea; rather, it is like a tripod whose three legs are feeling loved, feeling virtuous, and feeling competent. If all three are strong, the support high self esteem and self confidence.
If they are weak, the result is a poor self image and a chronic expectation of failure.
Each part of the tripod of self esteem is challenged everyday of our lives. We give ourselves new grades with each important experience.
If we do something well, we are proud of the achievement, pleased with ourselves as a parent, a cook, a lawyer. If we perform poorly. we chastise ourselves for being so incompetent, for having lost the contract, for having come down so hard on a child, for having burned the dinner and ruined the party, for having lost an important case. Then we are ashamed or guilty, angry at ourselves for being so klutzy an so unlovable.
If an individual's self esteem is firm because she/he has always been pleased with herself/himself and felt loved and appreciated, she/he may need less reassurance from her partner. When she/he fails, she/he counts on having another chance to do better and bounces back with relative ease. But even people with generally high self esteem have periods of profound doubt and disappointment.
At such junctures we turn to others -- a husband or wife, children, or good friends--to help restore our inner sense of self worth.
In a good marriage we first turn to our partner. After all, he/she loves me and knows my merits. He/she reassures me that whatever makes me feel shaky, it is less important than I think, that it will soon be past history, and that she adores me. Together we review and thrash out what happened until we are able to close the door on that failure and move on. Helping one's partner maintain self esteem and continue without getting discouraged and giving up is an important task of marriage.
We expect a husband or wife to stand by us and provide loving support and encouragement. We especially need this vote of confidence when things look bleak, but we need it as a reserve all the time.
Our self esteem needs to be shored up when we look in the mirror and realize that we look a little or alot older or fatter. An achievement, whether it is cooking dinner or writing a sonata, needs to be acknowledged first by the person we married. Our need for emotional nurturance by our partner is inseparable from our need for encouragement.