By Zara Maqbool
In my short counseling career, one thing that has stood out for me very starkly again and again is how all my clients suffer from low self-esteem and self-worth. This low self-esteem is being carried by them from their child hood and greatly affects their relationships and their life goals. I commonly ask them a question. On a scale of one to ten where do they see themselves and most of them with their good looks and successful careers see themselves as a 2 and 3 totally blinded by their potential. I then begin to explore where this low self-esteem stems from and was it too late for them to change it? In most cases it takes a lot of work but self-esteem can be enhanced and the client can be facilitated to see him or herself in a different and more positive light.
As a parent I changed the way I related to my children. I have always been a strict mother and so I thought extra compliments and validation might turn them into arrogant adults and humility was an important virtue I wanted to inculcate in my children. But then I learned that healthy narcissism is important and how it is closely linked to building my child’s self esteem and self-confidence. I also realized that I don’t have to over gratify my children but under gratification in the name of turning them into down to earth beings was not a good thing either.
A child needs validation much more than we realize. In the initial years of their lives they see themselves through the parents eyes. ‘If mommy says I am good then I must be good.” So it is important for mommy to tell the child that he is good and accepted even when he is not good. He needs to know that the parent’s love is not conditional.
A very popular psychoanalytical theory called object relations talks about the child’s relation with the primary caregiver and how the earlier relational patters of with the mother affects all his adult relationships. If as parents we are over critical and always putting our child down then there is very strong chance that the child will grow up to be an adult who will not see himself in a worthy light, and no matter how much you try to convince him he will never trust his inner abilities. A poor sense of self will develop and it will take years of therapy to undo the mistakes of the parents,
Lets try working on building our children’s self esteem. For starters let’s give more choices to our children and empower them. Simply asking them if they would like to do homework now or after half an hour will probably communicate to the child that his input matters too and in turn he gets the message that he matters too. Imposing our decisions on our children in the name of I am a parent and I know better will probable emasculate the child and give him the message that he doesn’t matter.
Let’s also try to communicate to our children that we trust them to make mistakes and yet grow with those mistakes. The way we react at times to mistakes makes them feel that they are only accepted if they do everything right. How can a child who is scared of messing up ever gain confidence in himself?
One of the biggest mistake is when we compare our children and by doing that we teach that child to always compare himself even as an adult with others and always doubt if he is good enough.
Recently I have started spending one to one time with my three children so they all feel special in their own right and they know they have their individual place in my heart. We might have been used to a certain type of parenting but then awareness should help us to parent our children differently and give them more than just functional support but work on helping them mature into fully functioning adults too.