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
- Negativity only begets negativity.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Low expectations breed low performance.
- Lack of faith creates insecurity.
- 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:
- Positive thinking brings more positivity to our lives.
- Positive expectations lead to fruitful achievement.
- Love breeds trust.
- Affirmation of the true self motivates us to continue growing.
- Success breeds confidence.
- Being involved leads to learning something.
- Faith breeds security.