How Parents Prime Children For Victimization Through Faulty Ideas About Self Love/Esteem

How Parents Prime Children For Victimization Through Faulty Ideas About Self Love/Esteem September 21, 2015

Undermuchgraceby Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much More Grace

Originally published January 2012. This is part of a series on Understanding How Emotional Development in Childhood Affects Adults: Fostering Spiritual Abuse via the “Roots of Victimization”

Failing to Teach A Child Appropriate Self Love and Value

As noted in the previous post, children the characteristics of children, when respected and anticipated by the parent help to form the basis of appropriate core behaviors in adulthood. What is perhaps the most primary of these is the development of appropriate self-love, addressed briefly in an earlier post.

When a child learns that they have precious value and the trait is honored by the parent, the child matures into an adult who can find stability and worth in themselves instead of either earning worth through outward performance (What happens when you can’t perform?) or only when circumstances in life are very good.
Most people tend to think of a person with poor self esteem and self love as a collapsed individual, but as we explore these traits, we will note that imbalance of either introversion or extraversion results from poor development of appropriate self-love. Remember the issue of balance and the needed maturity of the parent to hold two opposing forces in tension, exhibiting self-control and modulating experience? We used the example of the extremes on a continuum ranging from greedy over-indulgence and self-neglect. Both of these extremes constitute a show of disrespect for the person and for others. The ideal is not one extreme or the other but rather that “sweet spot” of balance between the two, where a person cares for themselves appropriately but also responds dynamically to the needs of others with empathy, caring and respect.  The place of balance is one of movement and is not static, so there is a bit of swing, but it is within a certain limit, not too far from midline.
Image from Under Much Grace
Image from Under Much Grace
The Two Extremes of Self Love and Value
Parents teach their children about their own personal worth based on how the parent models respect for other adults but also how the parent treats the child or children. When a parent lacks appropriate respect for the value of their children, they can choose one of two alternatives:
  1. They can devalue their children. They can neglect the child’s needs and despise their nature. They may put their own wants before the child’s basic needs, teaching the child that they have very little value as people.
  2. Though it may seem counterintuitive, when a parent idealizes a child and behaves as though that child can do no wrong by idealizing them, exaggerating accomplishments and paying excessive amounts of attention to the child, it is also a type of abuse.
In both cases, the child is objectified because neither level of esteem is consistent with reality. One is collapsed and the other exaggerated. Somewhere in the middle is the child in real life – precious for being a wonderful human creature, complete with realistic flaws and imperfections. So though the child who is idealized may seem to be free from abuse, the abuse comes through the demand of the parent that the child be something other than who they are. Both are fantasy based ideas, but the child’s true nature is rejected.
Two Outcomes of Poorly Communicated Value
Just as the parent either undervalued or idealized the child, the child can manifest their poor sense of self and lack of worth in two primary ways. First, the child who is treated as though they have little value will become a people pleaser, because they find their worth outside of themselves. They only feel good when they have earned love or affection or esteem. It cannot be given to them merely because they are creatures worthy of respect.
The child may also develop exaggerated ways of expressing their low sense of internal self worth by becoming manipulative and arrogant. They feel entitled to praise and value, beyond reasonable worth, giving them the sense that they are indeed better than everyone else on the planet. So this, too, is another kind of low esteem, but the extraverted need communicates as arrogance and deceit. These adults tend to gauge themselves and their worth from their successes and through condescension.
Both outcomes manifest as ways to cope with the lack of healthy esteem. The parent lacked adequate maturity and resources to be able to teach the child appropriate worth, and the child obtains their worth based on the parent’s unbalanced perception of them.

Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.

Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.

Read everything by Cindy Kunsman!


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  • SAO

    I think when parents idealize their children, it is to make themselves into perfect parents or to make up for a lack they feel in themselves — the child is not idealized for what the child is, but for what the child represents to the parent, which is why it is almost as bad.

  • ScenicTexan

    My mother definantly has undiagnosed mental illnesses. Me and my sister spent our entire childhoods walking on eggshells in my parents house as a result. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep while I listened to my mother ranting about what a “dumb daughter” she had. My mother did not give a shit about our emotional well being. I had a nervous breakdown in 11th grade before I droped out the private high school. During this time I would frequenly self harm by banging my head against walls. My father chose to ignore that my mom was crazy and a raging bitch. It probably took a year to recover from mental breakdown. I have currently have no contact with my parents at all and prefer it this way for my own mental well being. My sister Barbara still resides in my parents house and appears to have little memory of the many nightmarish things that happened in our house. I think she stuffed those memories out of the way somewhere because it’s easier for her. But the end result is that she has never struck out on her own. I honestly think too that she is brainwashed into believing that my mother’s behavior is normal .

  • ConcepcionImmaculadaPantalones

    There’s also a terrible trend with a lot of parents these days, where they are so focused on their child(ren) being destined for great success – athletic, academic, artistic, which will get them into a top college so they can become one of the youngest ceo’s of a fortune500, or a professional athlete, discover the cure for cancer, invent whatever which will become the most important invention of all time – so they push their kid, apply tons of pressure, and set up a ridiculously full schedule of extracurricular activities…all because they need to present their child as brag-worthy on facebook and online communities for parents. Parents don’t want to acknowledge that not every child is going to grow up to be a leader, if that happened what would be the point of leaders with no one to lead? They especially don’t want to admit that not every child, definitely when it’s concerning a child of theirs, will invent anything, or cure cancer, nor will they achieve corporate greatness or fame. It’s shameful to them to be ok with ‘average’ kids that become ‘average’ adults. Parents of special needs children adjust and temper their expectations, but they also worry a great deal about what will happen to their child when they are no longer there and they struggle with how to plan for that point and will be best for parent and adult child.

    And don’t even get me started on parents who immediately take to the internet or seek attention from the media over the smallest perceived injustice perpetrated against their child. Or decides to call CPS when a child is walking to/from school just a short distance without an adult, much like when a kid is at a playground sans-parent/guardian/nanny.

  • AuntKaylea

    I have to say that I do not care for the use of the terminology extroverted/introverted here. I’m much more a fan of Susan Cain’s definition of Introversion. Wanting quiet and solitude does not necessarily equal passivity and is one of the fundamental abuses I see in the Quiverfull mindset – it deprives children almost completely of solitude, which can be soul crushing to a child who is wired to be energized by quiet.

    But if I take out the extroverted/introverted words and their definitions and go just with the active/passive extremes, then I understand the point. I tend to think that the shared thread of both extremes in the Quiverfull and like mindset is that they do not allow the child (or woman) space to exist independently at all. They actively pursue co-dependency instead of health by doing this.

  • That’s essentially what I’ve said to my own parents in recent years. I said that if my feelings, wants, and minimal needs aren’t of any value in comparison to what they want them to be, then we don’t have a relationship. And it took me twenty years to be able to communicate that to them. I told them that they wanted a living doll that they could program, and they were asking me to destroy who I was so I could be who they wanted. Sadly, they chose to discount me. I don’t understand how they sleep at night, really. Why wouldn’t you want to truly know who someone so beloved to you? What if the pretending you required of them hurt them and caused them to feel so much distress? Wouldn’t you be willing to listen and rethink things? But my parents either will not — or perhaps cannot which is even sadder.