Unlearning What We Were Taught

I have worked with adults that struggle with feelings of not feeling good enough, not feeling acceptable, or that they needed someone else to approve of them in order for them to feel okay.

Where did they learn that?

I’ve met adults who feel they can’t speak their true voice, who aren’t living lives they want to live, or feel pressure that they still need to figure out who they are.

How does this happen? Could the answer lie in parenting?

As parents, are we inadvertently teaching children that they can’t be who they want to be? Are parents teaching kids that how they feel doesn’t matter? Are parents teaching kids that they need to seek external approval in order to feel good enough? Is this where these feeling are coming from? Is this where you and I could have internalized some of these messages from our own childhood?

To test the theory, I took a look a some of the ways I was parenting my children that were communicating that “what you think or how you feel doesn’t matter”. A chill came over me.

I was doing it a lot:

  • Telling my child not to be sad or not to cry.  “You’re okay.  You’re not a baby.”
  • Telling my child not to be scared.  “Buck up.  You need to be tougher”
  • Trying to distract my child when sad or scared.
  • Questioning and diminishing the value of my child’s emotions.  “Why are you even upset right now?  There is no reason for it”
  • Over-praising/punishing to coax my child into being obedient
  • Manipulating my child into being happy. “We won’t do X if you don’t stop crying or being difficult.”
  • Isolating or ignoring my child until he/she behaves as I want
  • Comparing my child to another so that he/she complies… “Why can’t you be more like…”
  • Threatening my child to behave differently. “I’m going to get really angry if you don’t…”
  • Physically forcing my child to do something against his will.

The list could go on. But these are all ways of undermining and invalidating a child and his or her thoughts or feelings. It’s a way of communicating what you think is not important, who you are is not important.

Can you think of ways that you yourself were not listened to? Can you think of a time when what you thought didn’t matter, or times when you were steered in a direction you really didn’t want to go? What does it feel like to this day when you are ignored, dismissed, or forced? It hurts doesn’t it?

I get it that parents once in a while will have to make decisions that are in the best interested of their children, even if the children don’t understand. I know this. But using this as a default mode of parenting or as an excuse to dismiss children and their voices will come at a cost. The cost is the same as I’ve mentioned before: not feeling good enough, deficient and confused.

Many of us know what it feels like to feel somehow not feel good enough…or that if we just do X, then we will be acceptable.  But this is a no win game. The finish line never stops moving, it’s continually out of reach.

This is not something I want to pass on to my kids. Let’s teach our children that who they are matters. Let’s give our kids the gift of knowing themselves and loving themselves for it.

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