In order to understand the complex nature of the female psyche, we must look inside both the mind and emotions of a female from early childhood development. Early in their lives, girls are told they are “cute” and some parents will dress them up in cute outfits to enhance the belief that their “looks” determine who they are and whether they will fit into society.
The mistake this creates is that in addition to telling a young girl that she is cute, there also has to be a feeling of self-worth, inner strength and self-love. If these elements are not instilled in a young girl’s early life, she will seek validation, approval and appreciation from many sources throughout her life.
Additionally, the way a young girl observes an adult female will significantly impact the child’s own self-esteem and beliefs in how women react and relate to each other. If a young girl constantly observes rivalries among the adults in her life, she is highly likely to experience these same rivalries with women when she becomes an adult.
During early childhood, children often start to develop a “self-concept” of who they are. The attributes, abilities, attitudes and values they believe begin to define them. In my psychology studies while acquiring my master’s degree, early childhood development was my focus. During this learning process, I discovered many critical factors that are relevant to this topic, and I will share the information throughout this column. According to “Developmental Psychology” by Dennis Thompson, children by age 3 (specifically between 18 and 30 months) have developed their categorical self, which is a concrete way of viewing themselves with “this or that” labels. For example, young children label themselves in terms of age “child or adult,” gender “boy or girl,” physical characteristics “short or tall,” and value “good or bad.” The labels are used to identify children’s self-concept in very concrete, observable terms. However, preschoolers typically do not link their separate self-descriptions into an integrated self-portrait. In addition, many 3- to 5-year-olds are not aware that a person can have opposing characteristics. For example, they don’t yet recognize that a person can be both “good” and “bad.”
Depending upon a family’s cultural behaviors and beliefs, children can be positively or negatively influenced by their culture. For instance, in my observation of the African American culture, family members sometimes tease a sibling or relative if they stand out or look different from others in the family. Light skin/dark skin, silky hair/course hair, overweight/thin, are all ways that can begin an identity crisis within the child’s mind causing her to believe they don’t belong.
When something like this occurs, she now has to look elsewhere (i.e., to society or to the media) to identify and validate herself. She may not have yet learned that true self-identity comes through the knowledge of knowing her authentic self (from the inside out). It is imperative that parents, grandparents, mentors and coaches help a child to understand she is worthy just the way she is. We are each made for a unique purpose in life, and regardless of what others may cause us to feel, we don’t have to believe it. Ultimate success and happiness comes in knowing who you are and why you were born. It has nothing to do with how we look or what people think of us. Life is full of lessons to help us discover and carry out our purpose. Painful situations help direct us there.
Cathy Holloway Hill is a life design strategist, psychologist and author of “Secret Betrayal — How to Heal Female Rivalries.”