Alfred CHAMBERS, Section Chief of Mental Health
If our self-worth is dependent on performing to some outside standard and fulfilling the expectations of others than we will constantly be in danger of crumbling under the unpredictability of life and the mood of our audience. With good intentions parents often try to bolster their children’s “self esteem” by judging, comparing and criticizing them, assuming that such feedback will encourage better performance and therefore more self worth. Being judged creates insecurity or perhaps arrogance, but seldom confidence or a sense of safety.
Actually it’s not just about criticizing – praising and complimenting will have the same outcome – and not the one parent really wants. “You’re so smart, handsome, strong, etc.” statements will create as much difficulty as “You’re so stupid, lazy and clumsy”.
Imagine if you grew up in an environment where you were, above all, cherished for who you are, not valued for what you did, whom you pleased or how you looked. What if your caregivers and the world in general gave you the message that you have value regardless of your performance or if you fulfill somebody’s expectations? What if you were not judged as good/bad or right/wrong but simply recognized for being a unique individual with an awesome humanness that was more important than grades, awards or other achievements (that are always based on comparing – which parents should never do!).
Imagine that if today in your busy and complicated life you felt an inner peace with whom and how you are and if you accepted your traits not as flaws but as characteristics. What feelings would you have inside if your self-compassion was stronger than your self-critic? How would it feel if you could let go of your anger, blame, hurt and self-pity (all strategies to control other people)? Would it be ok to accept others for who they are and not for who you think they should be – how would that change your relationships?
Letting go of our demands on others not only feels good for us but is also very good for them – it encourages personal strength and self worth. Being cherished and understood creates optimism, strength, acceptance, safety and an ability to adapt to this capricious life.
Rather than saying “You are …..” to children, whether positive or negative, try, “I notice you do …. and I feel …, and how do you feel ….”, and maybe add, “Let’s talk about it”!
Change the statement “Your attitude is no good” to “I notice your mood is changing often, I feel bad for you, can we talk?”; transform “You’re so beautiful” to “I notice you combed your hair, I like that, how do you feel about it?”.
Comparing, criticizing, ignoring, being angry and flattering are the result of laziness, of not taking the time and energy to truly recognize, appreciate and connect to others – especially children. Our self esteem is sometimes solid, sometimes not … for all of us young and old … and it’s all ok.