Deep in the womb, the baby feels warm, relaxed and loved. It has no inkling of the potential dangers which lie outside. If it could enter into a discussion with you, it would probably say that it felt valued and wanted; in other words, it would have a high Positive Self Image-level. (Arguments about pre-birth traumas aside for the moment.)
After birth, the baby enters the 'stage of life' upon which will be enacted an important drama. All good drama has conflict as an underlying theme; and in this case the conflict is between the forces which increase the child's Positive Self Image level, and those which decrease it.
You entered onto this stage the moment you were born, and since that moment, you have been subjected to some forces which made you feel good (increased your Positive Self Image), and some forces which made you feel bad (decreased your Positive Self Image or increased your NSI).
These forces we will call "strokes". (A term used by Dr Eric Berne.)
The present level of your Positive Self Image belief is a direct result of these conflicting strokes throughout your past life.
If you have a high Positive Self Image, then you received more (or better quality) positive strokes than negative.
If you have a low Positive Self Image, then you received more (or stronger) negative strokes than positive.
I will now tell you something which is very important:
These strokes have far more effect upon your Positive Self Image when you are younger than when you are older. (By 'older' I mean over about twelve!) Remember also that strokes are stored away subconsciously, so you don't have much access to them via your conscious mind.
Positive and negative strokes started to accumulate when you were born (some would argue before). As a baby you immediately started to store away feelings about your own self-worth (Positive Self Image- belief), depending upon how your parents handled you and spoke to you. If they spoke softly and were kind, loving and gentle, then your Positive Self Image started to increase. On the other hand, if they were rough and unkind, your Positive Self Image started to decrease.
In the real world, most babies are neither loved absolutely, or continually brutalised, so you probably received a mixture of positive and negative strokes. Hopefully you received far more positive than negative, but if it was the other way round, then you were off to a bad start with a pronounced NSI.
The process did not stop there. As you grew up into a toddler and learnt to speak, you started to be bombarded with messages intended to alter your Positive Self Image one way or another.
Wait a minute! Surely the Positive Self Image is not affected by messages like these?
That's right! It is not really affected by the CONTENT of the message (although the I-Can is!), but it IS affected by the EMOTIONAL TONE of the message. Put simply, the WORDS are not important, it is the WAY THEY ARE SAID which affects the Positive Self Image.
For example, you could say really softly, gently and lovingly to a one-year-old: "I wish you would go and boil your head, I can't stand the sight of you!" The chances are that the child would smile sweetly back at you.
Alternatively, you could yell loudly and angrily at the same child: "I think a banana is a yellow skinned fruit!" and no doubt it would burst into tears and become very upset.
The CONTENT was unimportant, it was the EMOTIONAL TONE which had the effect.
I will now tell you something surprising: Even when you are old enough to understand language it is STILL the emotional tone of the message which affects your Positive Self Image-level and not the content.
(The CONTENT affects your I-Can level but we will be discussing that in the next chapter.)
Let me give you some examples:
Danny is four years old and very pleased with the model boat he has just made. He toddles up to Daddy and proudly displays his handiwork.
Daddy says in a flat monotone without looking up from his paper: "That's really very good Danny, well done." Danny feels dejected and toddles off to play by himself.
Although the CONTENT was correct, the EMOTIONAL TONE did not support it! The EMOTIONAL TONE effectively said: "I don't care about you, I'm far more interested in my newspaper." And this was the message received and filed away in Danny's subconscious.
Score minus-one for Danny's Positive Self Image belief!
How about this though? :- Danny toddles up with his model boat and shows it to Dad. Dad puts down the paper, takes the boat, admires it, smiles broadly at Danny then gives him a great big hug. ALL WITHOUT SAYING A WORD!
Danny goes away glowing with pride, even though the verbal CONTENT of the exchange was zero!
Score plus-one for Danny's Positive Self Image belief!
The messages received between birth and about five years old play a major part in determining your present level of Positive Self Image belief. I would estimate that these messages formulated over half of your Positive Self Image belief, and that the remainder came as a result of all the years since!
If at least half of your Positive Self Image belief was formed before you were five, is it any wonder that you cannot access it via your conscious mind? It is there nevertheless and it controls your life as effectively as a puppet-master controls a puppet.