The True Self and Self Esteem

So we’ve talked a lot about self-esteem and this is the final post in this series on the topic. Today is all about how self-esteem fits into our children knowing who they are and accepting that person.  It really is amazing to watch our children grow and develop their personalities. Even at nine months it amazes me how much moxie and attitude my little Freya exhibits.  She has a mile long stare when she’s mad that reminds me of my own grandmother and what is (to us) the most infectious laugh ever.

Still, personality and having a grip on who we are is something that starts in childhood and something that can easily be derailed. Think of it as a construction process. Imagine that your child’s development of self is like building a house. We have the brick and mortar, our genetics and societal influences, which include, school, parents, family, peers, community and the society projected through social media.  Ideally, we would like to think that every project uses the highest quality of supplies and that all the supplies should complement each other.  We want things to happen on schedule and, in the end, have a well constructed house that is strong and able to weather the world.

However, we know that life isn’t that clear cut or simple.  A child’s development of self can be derailed by our intense focus on any of the building blocks of self-esteem.  From carrot dangling to creating competency and security, there are a lot of mistakes that either we or our child can make to derail the development of the true self.

This is why our child’s development must start with the creation and understanding of their true self. This returns to the pagan concept of to know, that we talked about in the last post.  When we or our child recognize our true selves, we are truly happy.  We accept ourselves and have confidence that we are loved.  We accept our strengths and weaknesses.  Our own love for ourselves is the only TRUE form of unconditional love.

By being our true self we are liberated to be who we need to be and we are less hindered by our failures and insecurities.  Unfortunately, there are a ton of things in our society that can derail us from having faith in our true selves.  And this creates the false self, or a mask that we wear that may be a bit too big, or a bit small. The point is that it doesn’t fit who we are as individuals.

When we give into this false self we run the risk of internalizing bad habits.  It’s like using cheap building materials or covering up a gaping hole in the structure with something pretty. The mask allows us to move on without dealing with the issues in the structure.  This can be caused by placing results over effort, demanding perfection, a narrowly defined version of success or failure, abuse of any kind, among other things.

Ultimately, when we give into these false expectations we come into conflict with ourselves and create this mask to meet the unrealistic demands we perceive are expected of us.  And sometimes we can pass that along to our children or loved ones.

The false self is greedy. It expects way too much of us and always wants more and more, until we collapse.  Right now our society pushes us towards a false ideal of what we should be and this often harms us.  We think we have to be a certain way to be happy.  This internalizes powerful negative messages.  It doesn’t help that society’s unhealthy expectations are the hardest to overcome.

Red Flags of the False Self

1. Self-Hate. When we self-hate we say that we don’t like (insert trait here) about ourselves or that we are too stupid. We tell ourselves that we cannot do anything right. It’s very depressing and often feels hopeless. It’s a battle I’ve had with myself every day due to the bullying I faced in elementary.

2. Self-Punishment. To reconcile self-hate the mind tells us that we deserve it. It’s yet another vicious cycle. Your child may not participate in something they once loved because they feel they don’t deserve the reward. They become increasingly self-critical of themselves. Your child may put less energy into things they once enjoyed or their friendships.  They may be more combative and argumentative with siblings.  They are generally depressed when they blame the failure on themselves and angry when they perceive that it is someone else’s fault.

When a child self-punishes in this way, they may be preempting a punishment that they feel or are afraid is going to come down the line.  I know I was guilty of this in my own childhood and I’m sure, if you look back, you’ll find a moment when you felt the same way and punished yourself for it. Even if it really wasn’t something you should have felt guilty about.

3. Self-destruction. When punishing yourself and hating yourself doesn’t work, humans often seek a way to escape themselves. This may come in the form of cutting, substance abuse, or eating disorders. Once again they give a semblance of control over the issue. All of these are issues that should cause you to seek help before you seriously harm yourself. Remember as a pagan that we seek to harm none, including ourselves, and that our body is our temple.

Remember that your children may not be seeking to harm themselves. It is about having control over something.  Just look out for warning signs of self-destruction as they can lead to suicidal tendencies.

Developing the True Self

Now, I’m just a mama with a BA is Psych. I’m working towards that Masters as soon as I get the money, but I’m no expert. I can’t tell you how to fix your problems. I can only share what I believe is valid advice based on what I know and what I’ve learned in my short time as a parent and my seven years of college.

If you come to a point where you don’t think you can fix a problem in your child’s life (or your own), remember that it is okay to ask for help. Even I have needed help on occasion to fight the demons of my past that created my false self. It’s a battle that some days I win and others I loose. This is all the more reason why we need to help our children develop these healthy habits and ideas while they are young.

That is why I feel the need to share what I learn with everyone out there.  Part of the reason I put myself out there is because I don’t want to make the same mistakes others have. It’s also because I’ve been in some of these places and I don’t want to see anyone make my mistakes again.  Many of the concepts from this book deeply resonate with me and my own experiences during childhood and I don’t want Freya to face the same thing.

So, let’s take a look at ways to build our children’s true selves.

1. Know the True Self. This goes back to the concept of to know, to dare, to will, and to be silent. For our purposes here, think of to know as knowing yourself. Or in this case, your child knowing themselves. One way to help your child learn this is to expose them to essential life affirming values such as honesty, love, compassion, integrity, etc. The more firmly rooted in these ideals, the less society can detract from those core values.

2. Second, we have to help them understand what the true self is. You have to help them figure out (without telling them) what their strengths, weaknesses, and values are. You have to help them determine what they find important in their lives without imposing your thoughts onto theirs. It’s hard and it doesn’t happen overnight.

3. Place an emphasis on knowing themselves. This keeps it at the front of their minds, which can help them resist the negative messages of the world around them. It also means teaching our children to critically analyze the messages that they are receiving from all forms of media and their social outlets. Teach them that negativity only brings more negativity. Teach them to kick the habit of searching for the negative in the world around them early.

4. Wage war against the false self. Have discussions about the negative messages in the world as your child discovers them. Help them and support them fight this unhealthy mask that skews who they are as an individual.  I’m not saying that we don’t already try to do this. All I’m saying is that we have to be persistent and consistent in our actions and message. Part of this is being a role model to your child. Show them how you fight it. If you need help with this see Building You in my other blog Lessons from the Goddess.

Show that you are not seduced by society’s destructive messages about how we should live.  Reframe negative messages into positive ones by altering them to reflect your fundamental values.

Some Final Tips

  1. Negativity only begets negativity.
  2. Don’t throw stones from a glass house. Essentially don’t disparage others when you are struggling with the same or similar issues. This only breeds distrust. We also have to teach our children to act as we should.
  3. Be careful who, when and how you criticize. You want to get help and help others. Being too critical only breeds defensiveness. This relates both to being a role model and to building your child’s self-esteem.
  4. Lectures breed resistance. I know when someone lectured me as a child and as an adult I made me less likely to want to do what they were asking me to. The same goes for sermons.
  5. Low expectations breed low performance.
  6. Lack of faith creates insecurity.
  7. In a way Yoda was at least partially right when he said the following: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” See this blog for the full article   Anger can lead to fear and fear can lead people down a dark path.

On the other side of the coin:

  1. Positive thinking brings more positivity to our lives.
  2. Positive expectations lead to fruitful achievement.
  3. Love breeds trust.
  4. Affirmation of the true self motivates us to continue growing.
  5. Success breeds confidence.
  6. Being involved leads to learning something.
  7. Faith breeds security.

Unconditional Love?

Today is all about self-esteem in relation to love and expectation.  Everyone knows how important love is in our lives and if you don’t, you’re missing out on something great. However, not many evaluate how love plays into their self-esteem, or the esteem of their children.  This can cause a lot of misperceptions and problems if we aren’t careful.

But before we delve too far into this topic, I want to ask you two seemingly simple questions.

One, is there really such a thing as unconditional love?

Two, is there a right or good way to practice conditional love?

The answers may seem simple, but I think you’ll find after reading this post, that they are far more complicated than we would like to believe.

So love is the word of the day.  Every religion says something about love and its importance.  Christianity has love thy neighbor, which is a form of the Golden rule. AKA. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Even paganism has its own equivalent, do no harm. That is but another form of respect for both us and others.

Let’s start with unconditional love. What is it? In simple terms it is the idea that we love someone or something no matter what they do.

So does it exist?

The answer? Yes and No. Now hear me out before you possibly get mad.

Theoretically and long term, yes it does exist for most people.  At the end of the day most rational human beings love their child no matter what they have done. In reality however, love is somewhat conditional by personal perception, even if it is conditional only momentarily.

So what does that mean? Well, all of us have gotten angry at our child at some point or another, no matter how old they are. And we have had to take moments away from our child before speaking to them. Or maybe you sent them to their room, withdrawing affection for an hour or two.  While we may still love them, their perception of the situation is that we don’t love them in that moment. It may or may not be true (usually not), but the perception still exists in the child’s mind.

We do the same thing as adults. When we get angry, that emotion can momentarily, affect our love for someone else, or even cause us to question it. If you have ever withheld relations from your significant other you have practiced conditional love. If you have avoided speaking to someone, you have participated in conditional love.  It’s true because you have created a perception that the love that you share with this other person is in question or danger.

To quote Psychology Today The phrase unconditional love is usually mentioned in other contexts where love is never unconditional.

As a side note I really want to stress that conditional love does not mean that we ever stop loving our child or anyone else. It is the perception that one is in danger of losing love due to the consequences of an action.

We’ve all done it some point. It’s a harsh truth I know, but most love is, in some form, conditional.  I hate to admit it, but conditional love is one way that we as parents control our children.  When we display displeasure in the actions of our children, they perceive it as a danger to our approval and many children equate approval to love.

However, we have to be careful what “conditions” we place on love.  Some conditions are damaging and others are serious enough to be considered abuse.  The ever popular flavor since the eighties has been achievement, which has led to self-esteem being related to what we accomplish instead of who we are.

This is a real problem as it causes us to disconnect from who we are as an individual. That’s not good for a pagan, or anyone for that matter.  One of the, for lack of a better term, “doctrines” of our faith is to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent.  To know is not only knowing information, but knowing ourselves.  We don’t want our children to associate their worth with achievement over their personality.

In all reality, the problem isn’t unconditional love, as we have already established that all love has at least perceived conditions.   The problem is the conditions people place on love.

Conditions on Love

1. Love should never be conditional on the success of a child in their endeavors and failure should never be punished. Instead we should help our children dust themselves off, get back up, and try again. Outcome love produces children who live in a state of fear. They believe that if they are not successful that they will not be loved by their parents or others. They work so hard to maintain their grades or do good in a task that it stresses them out.

2. Never dangle the carrot. You are dangling the carrot if your child’s success is never enough. Relish what your child achieves and help them brush off the failures.  We need to encourage them and find tools to help them succeed instead of withdrawing support, communication or physical contact.

3.The human doing vs the human being. When we dangle love or promote outcome love, we cause children to think that they can only be loved if they meet their parents’ expectations. I’ve been here before. It was a big part of the reason I was afraid to come out of the broom closet. I was afraid to lose the love of everyone important to me because of the expectations of the community I lived in; when in reality the people who loved me most didn’t care or at least, didn’t hold it against me.

Human doings are often list people who don’t feel good until all the tasks on their list are accomplished. Due to some forces outside of my house, I faced this form of conditional love as a child and it can take a toll on you.  It makes it hard to accept failure and it makes you feel like you don’t deserve love. It’s also very hard to overcome.

4. Unhealthy expectations. A goal is something that we aspire to while an expectation is an assumption that something will be achieved. Goals may not be reached, but expectations should almost always be met in our minds. With a goal the mantra is that it is fine to reach for the star, but realize that you may not reach it. When we fail at an expectation, we feel that we lose something that is already had, even if you never had it in the first place.

Let me give you an example of a healthy vs unhealthy expectation.  Healthy expectations would include expecting yourself or your child to be kind, respectful, responsible, hard working, etc. On the other hand, it is unhealthy for us to expect that our children will never get a bad grade, will automatically go to (insert College name here), or do exactly everything we wish they would do.

It is important to have expectations, but we have to evaluate them and make sure that they are rational or feasible.  We cannot expect our children to meet expectations over which they have no control or only partial control either. For example, winning the big game.  If we hold unrealistic expectations we can cause our children to believe that they are incapable of being successful in the future.

Eventually they can even internalize these unrealistic expectations and their discomfort will follow them forward into their adult lives.  If our children place too much value on being perfectionist we have done them a great disservice. Perfectionism has been linked to eating disorders, social phobia, procrastination, fear of failure, depression, performance anxiety, and poor stress coping.

5. Unhealthy praise and punishment. Too much praise can put pressure on a child to maintain that level and too little praise can discourage them. The same thing goes for punishment. And that line depends on your child, your family dynamic, and the punishment. It’s a line that no one can define for you.

Positive Conditions for Love

1. Values love. This is the idea that we promote love that is perceived conditional on adopting good values and acting in socially appropriate ways. It goes back to the disapproval of an action that causes the perception of the withdrawal of love. You are trying to internalize good behavior and values in those moments of anger or frustration that you express when your child has disappointed you. As pagan parents, we should be focused on teaching good morals anyway.

2. Create a human being. Your child’s success has to come from within them. Foster individuality and don’t expect perfection. I know it sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised how many parents I hear say exactly this and then do the exact opposite.

3. Create healthy expectations. Look at your expectations and help your child evaluate theirs (which are most likely based on some role model in their lives). Make sure to explain why an expectation is unrealistic and help them to set a more realistic expectation for themselves. Ask them what they expect of themselves and why they expect that.

4. Also make sure that you are walking the walk yourself. Model healthy expectations for yourself.

5. Make sure your child has control over the expectations you set for them. A child has no control over whether or not they make this team or get into that school. All they can do is go out and give it their all. In the end it’s up to the people in charge of the programs.

6. Set expectations on determination, hard work, and persistence in their efforts. My parents always encouraged me to try my best. As long as I was working as hard as I could to improve that math grade, I was meeting their expectations. After I had tried my hardest we sought out tools to help me like tutors or after school study groups at the local church. It’s fine to expect your child to do chores or to participate in family activities. These promote values and morals that you want your child to possess.

7. Clearly communicate expectations and enforce them. Be consistent. Make sure your children know that there are consequences

8. And when your child messes up, which we know they inevitably will, talk it through with them. Discuss why it was wrong and what you can do as a family to prevent a similar problem in the future.


Just remember that conditional love doesn’t mean that you only love your child when they do x, y, or z. It is about the perception the child has of our supposed conditions and how that affects their emotional well-being. We want them to learn from their mistakes, but we don’t want them to attribute their happiness in life to the wrong facets of life.

Healthy expectations are key in this and it can be really hard to accurately and impartially assess your own expectations for yourself or your child, so find a sounding board, someone you trust as a wise sage to help you if you need to.  You’re never alone in parenting. It takes a village. I know I take advice from all my friends and elders who are parents. I ask my own parents for advice.  They are my sounding board.

And finally, always cherish your child for who he or she is and not just what they do.  We all want what’s best for our kids and we can all get a little crazy trying to do that. So just stop, take a breath, and take a moment to make sure that your expectations and goals are all in the best interests of your child’s well-being.

Blessed Be.


Self Esteem and my Weekly Reading

Self Esteem

Self-esteem….it’s a word I hate to hear. It is tossed around way too often. It is a combination of several factors in our lives from people to events to our parents. While there are many components, this book is teaching me that its way more complicated than I ever thought, which makes sense.  Usually something that is easy to break down is far harder to fix.

Still, we don’t want our children to struggle in the real world. And to do that we have to give them the keys to succeed, which can even mean we have to do nothing.  So let’s take a look at what all goes into self-esteem.

  1. Security & competence

Part of self-esteem is the feeling that we are loved, valued, and important to the world around us, particularly our families. This forms a sense of security which anchors our children during times of trouble.  Our children should always feel like they can come to us without it affecting how we feel for them. It’s easy for us to feel and far harder for a parent to convey.

I know personally what it feels like to be close to your parents and in the one moment you need them to be that anchor they fail. Nearly all of us have had those moments, experiences may vary, and some are worse than others, but just about all of us have been there.

Second, our children need to feel some sort of mastery over their lives. Another hard task when we want to protect them from every hurt.  That’s one of the reasons I love Montessori. There is a focus on being an observer before intervening in a child’s exploration of the world. We have to let them try and see where they struggle before we can really help them.

It can be hard to put aside this urge and let our children explore the world. However, we must resist the urge to be overprotective.  If we do, we take away chances for our children to gain competency.  When we become too overprotective we run the risk of leaving them incapable of dealing with everyday emotional issues causing anxiety, stress, and distress.

While we would love for our kids to always win, this also means that we have to let them fail, so that they can understand that it is just another learning experience. It isn’t forever and it doesn’t define them or their place in our hearts.

So how do we develop these two important traits? First we have to show unconditional love no matter what we show frustration at. It doesn’t matter if its grades or an action. No matter how frustrated or angry we become at our children failing to meet our expectations, at the end of the day, they still have to feel that unconditional love.  If we can’t manage this, they may end up feeling that our love is contingent on their success and that’s a big burden for any child.  For example it’s better to say that you have to do better if you want to reach your goals than it is to say that we’re disappointed that you didn’t do well on your test today.

Secondly, children need to know that they can take risks and make mistakes. They need to know that they can explore the world within boundaries set by you. Without boundaries the world can be a scary place and without a chance to make mistakes, take risks, or adventure, the world can seem very small and limited.

And how do we develop competence? Well the first thing we all need to understand is that our children have to believe that they can succeed and achieve if they are going to be able to achieve. Any pagan knows that belief is powerful. We believe in magick, spells, and in the rituals that we do.  We believe in spirits and powers that we cannot see, but sometimes we forget to believe in our own, or our children’s dreams/ability to achieve amazing feats.

Henry Ford said it best “If you do or don’t think you can do something….you’re right.”

First, we have to make sure that our children learn that there are consequences for their actions. This is the easy part. With Freya we’ve been letting her practice drinking with a shot glass. I’m not worried about her breaking it. If she tosses it and it breaks, it just offers an opportunity for her to learn that if she throws it, it breaks.

It also ties into the rule of three in its own way.  Part of understanding the consequences of their actions is realizing that you get back what you put into your efforts.  It’s the idea that when you are a good person and do good things, good things come back to you in your life. The same is true of bad things. And as simple a concept as it is, it can be hard depending on what the problem is.

If we instead protect our children from consequences and their actions, we get one of three things, a spoiled child who has always gotten their way, a neglected child who gets what he wants no matter what they do, or a frustrated child who doesn’t understand why they never get what they want.  These children don’t try as hard because they don’t think that their actions matter.

In the end our children need to understand the importance of their actions in the midst of their natural talents and hard work. It takes a wide variety of experiences to build a firm foundation and understanding of this. More importantly you have to let your children know that they can do it. If you put positivity into their upbringing they are more likely to exhibit those same tendencies.

Once our children learn global competence, they can then translate this to specific activities on their own. Yes, I said it, on their own.  You can support them and guide them, but ultimately, they have to start doing their work and activities on their own. One is important to the other. A specific belief doesn’t help the child in the broader picture and a broad belief doesn’t matter if they can’t apply it to their passions

Self Reflection

Just as our children have to feel confident and competent they have to be able to reflect on who they are. Many of us don’t learn this until we are much older.  It’s hard to accept the dark along with the light, but it’s important to each of us as we grown in life and in faith.  I know I still struggle to see my own faults some days.  Ignoring our faults only causes us to falter even more.  We have to remember that the big picture is more important than immediate success and that improving ourselves, in the long run, will make us more successful as any of us pursue our own endeavors.

If you struggle with your own self-reflection, now is a good time to work on it. Your children are going to pick up on you comfort or discomfort when it comes to inward reflection.  This means being able to admit our own mistakes to our children and significant others when they arise. Not only is it the mature thing to do, but it is a very pagan thing to do. The Goddess wants us and our children to be our best selves and to not hurt those around us. Lying about our own imperfections doesn’t help the family and often ends in someone’s feelings hurt. Bad karma.

We cannot use our imperfections as excuses, but we can use them to display that no one is perfect.  That is simply a part of the human condition. We make mistakes. These mistakes can include inaccurate perceptions of our inward reflections as well. That is why we have to honestly act as a reality check for our children sometimes. We have to be honest, not brutal, nor overestimate their talent, which also means being realistic in our perception of their ability.  It’s a fine line and one that I feel I will often be asking the Goddess for assistance with.

So a few hints and tips for all of us parents….

  1. Let your attitude determine your achievement. Not the other way around.
  2. Never be afraid to be a kid….have fun (This goes for adults too).
  3. Don’t let self-esteem get mixed up in achievements. Achievements aren’t your life in a nutshell.
  4. Don’t run away from yourself, embrace the good, the bad, and the quirky.
  5. Don’t ignore obstacles, overcome them.
  6. Confidence is born of patience and experience
  7. Learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes (easier said than done).
  8. Get into the process, not the result.
  9. Doubt is the number one cause of poor achievement. (If you don’t believe me listen to the Ford quote above).
  10. Follow your dreams and enjoy the trip.

If you’d like to read this from a more adult perspective….as in how you, as a parent, can work on your own competency and security….see my other blog post in Lessons from the Goddess on the same topic.