“I hate myself!” - “I hate the way I look!” - “I am worthless!”
These were the comments from my student as she sat slumped over sadly in front of me. She continued to tell me how bad she was and how when she growing up every morning her mother also told her how bad she was and complained to her angrily that she was not nearly as competent as her siblings and cousins.
Educational science tells us that as young children when someone important in our lives such as a parent or a teacher tells us something repeatedly, we tend to deeply accept it and it can become the ‘inner voice’ that we use to speak to ourselves with. This ‘inner voice’ becomes our constant companion and may travel with us our entire life. The quality of our ‘inner voice’ greatly impacts the quality of our life – positively or negatively – depending significantly on what was said to us as children by significant people in our life.
If the comments we heard from these significant people such as, our parents and teachers, were positive and supportive, we will tend to build a positive and supportive voice to speak to ourselves with and will generally develop a good level of self-respect.
In this young woman’s case the absolute opposite was true she had heard from her mother strongly negative criticism about herself and strong comparisons between herself and her siblings and relatives and had formed a very negative way of speaking to her self and this has continued for over 20 years, leading a deep state of depression and hopelessness.
Understanding this we may ask the question, why would any parent say something to their child that could possibly lead their child to develop negative self-talk and damage their confidence?
I remember coaching a young man in his late teens who shared that his father had been very critical of him and it had to led him to both deeply hate himself and hold extreme resentment towards his father.
Standing in the Other’s Shoes with the Lenses of Wisdom
As part of the coaching session with him, I asked him to do a reflective exercise where he ‘stood’ in the shoes of his father to get sense of how his father may have felt as a child growing up. As he reflected, he shared that he had never deeply considered what it must have been like for his father as he was growing.
That although he had heard that his father grew up in a very difficult situation during the war and for some years, he didn’t have enough food to eat, and that there were times when it was too dangerous for him to go home so he had to stay with relatives in the jungle, he had never considered how his father may have feel during such a deeply difficult situation, or indeed what long term impacts such a situation may have had on his father.
Image: Bambi Corro / Unsplash
Yet when this young man ‘stood in his father’s shoes’ in this way, he gained empathy for his father realizing the pain and sorrow his father must of experienced. The young man’s newfound empathy towards his father greatly reduced the long-term resentment he had carried.
As he continued to reflect, he understood that growing up in such an insecure and difficult environment may have deeply affected his father and contributed significantly to his father’s pattern of putting so much pressure on him to study so hard, and perhaps this was why his father was only ever satisfied with him gaining the very highest mark in the class. That his father deeply wanted him to have a better life that he, himself had both as a child and as he struggled to earn enough for his children and their education.
For this young man understanding his father’s experience as a child was enough to free him from the resentment. This understanding, didn’t mean that he agreed with what it happened as he grew up, he didn’t agree with his father’s severe beatings, his father’s severely critical comparisons of him with other children.
No he didn’t agree, and he understood why his father behaved that way and he was no longer resenting his father. After some more reflection, he was able to move to a state where began to respect his father for how hard he had worked for his education and how much sacrifice he had made for him and his siblings. He developed the respect that his father had done the very best that he could, given the circumstances he grew up in, to offer this offer him a better life, as he knew it.
Now that this young man had a positive respect for his father and was free from damaging resentment, his next task was to challenge his own negative self talk or ‘inner voice’ and begin to speak to himself or nurture himself with very positive thoughts to build a sense of self-confidence. He started to speak to himself as a ‘kind and supportive friend’ would, so that he gradually moved from this deep sense of hatred towards himself into a state of self acceptance and then on to self appreciation.
This process allowed him to build the confidence to achieve the best that he could and be the best that he could be. From a sad, resentful and angry young man, he completely transformed into a confident, motivated, active and happy young man.
The young man’s exercise of standing in his father’s shoes allowed him to understand what was behind his father’s very difficult behavior.
After understanding, he could begin the process of transforming his resentment into respect for his father.
Then he moved on to healing himself and building his own level of self-respect.
Through this process, the young man also answered for both him and others, our earlier question of why a parent and in this particular case, a father that loved his son very, very much would on a frequent basis would beat, criticise and speak negatively to his child. Obviously it was never the father’s intention to hurt his son but he was deeply affected by the trauma of his own upbringing and not having dealt and resolved it, this trauma deeply impacted on his own parenting of his son and other children.
Often times we just ‘become parents’. While most other jobs have years of training, the job of being a parent which is extremely valuable and important, is very much something we ‘learn on the job’. Yet as parents it can be highly useful to do some inner reflection on our own childhood, and understand both the positive and occasionally negative ways that our own experiences may impact on our parenting of our children.
We may consider doing a simple reflection exercise such as the following one to review our parenting style.
Image: Valeria Zoncoll / Unsplash
Reflective Exercise for Parents
Find some time and space alone
Take some deep breaths and relax your mind. Let go of any tension in your mind and allow yourself to be still inside so you can clearly reflect.
Give yourself some space from your situation to have a sense of being an observer of yourself and your role as a parent with your child or children.
Firstly, spend some time appreciating yourself and appreciating all the time and energy you offer your child or children as a parent.
Ask yourself what valuable and positive things you learned and experienced as you were growing up, that support you in your parenting of your child or children?
Ask yourself if there is anything about the way that you speak or act with your child that you would like to change or do differently in order for it to be more effective? If yes, how would you like to speak or act differently?
Do you feel you have had any negative experiences in your childhood that negatively influences the way you speak and act with your child or children now? If yes, how would you like to speak or act differently?
Do you compare your child with others in order to motivate them? If so, as comparing children can greatly damage their self respect, can you see another more positive way to motivate them?
As parents we can be busy, but investing 20 minutes or so every few weeks to o to step back and reflect in this way every so often can greatly help us to learn from what’s been happening in terms of our parenting and be even more effective which benefits both ourselves and our children.
Our future is Very Bright and it is in Our Hands to Build It Beyond the limits of Our Past Challenges and Beyond the Limitations of the Present.