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.
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:
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.
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.
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.