“I don’t want to pass my childhood experiences on to my children”

June 15, 2022
Asifa Rapaiee

About the author: Shelley supports people around the world through carving out confidence, recovering from comfort eating, and finding love and connection. Shelley works to help you open up to new possibilities, with conviction, from your body’s core.

How To Help Our Children Feel Worthwhile?

As a psychotherapist, this is one of the main reasons I hear, for coming to therapy.

I recently met the mother of my ex. It was so fascinating because we were so alike! But one thing she said stuck with me. She said that her Mother had been judgemental and critical of her and that she had never wanted to pass this on to her children. I know my Mother would say the same.

Our parents and grandparents made ‘mistakes’. It’s impossible not to. We are all affected by the way we were related to, growing up. If that was difficult; it's likely we grew up with difficulties, especially in relationships. My mother doted on me, but she was also a workaholic. So, I grew up thinking I was rarely worth spending time with. This led to me being lonely in life until I learnt that I was likeable.

So, how can we look after our children in the best possible way? How can we help them to feel worthwhile?

I believe the answer begins with learning how to treat ourselves with compassion and understanding, first. Then treating our children that way too.

How NOT to treat ourselves?

To understand this, we need to look at what compassion is not, first.

How we talk to ourselves is largely unconscious. So we first have to become aware of how we're doing it, especially self-criticism.

Most people don't realise that we're putting ourselves down, all day long. Other people might tell us that we're hard on ourselves, but we might not even be aware that we're doing it, because it's become a habit.

So the first thing to do is to watch what you’re saying. Then, evaluate whether you're being kind to yourself, or whether you're actually being quite mean, self-critical, or even nasty.

Are you stressed or frustrated with yourself?

A study of 2000 women in the Mirror, showed that we criticise ourselves on average about eight times a day. Here are the twenty most common self-criticisms. Can you recognise any of these?

  • “I am too fat/overweight”
  • “My hair is a mess”
  • “My belly looks big”

  • I don’t exercise enough

  • Feeling scruffy next to other women

  • Not earning enough money

  • Talking often about having a ‘fat day’

  • Not wearing certain items of clothing because I can’t pull them off

  • “I wish I was as photogenic as other women on social media”

  • Deflecting compliments by saying something negative about self

  • Worrying about people talking behind my back

  • Feeling underdressed

  • “I’m not stylish enough”

  • “I don’t have enough sex with my partner”

  • “I am not as creative as other women”

  • “My bum looks big”

  • “I am not as organised as other women”

  • “I don’t spend as much time with my friends as I should”

  • “I am not wearing enough make-up”

  • “I am not as attractive to my partner”

How to heal?

“The relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.”

- Robert Holden

It can be helpful to become aware of the fact that you're saying these things to yourself. 

Then, to start to challenge these thoughts, feelings and beliefs, with compassion.

An effective way of doing this is by exaggerating one of those beliefs and ridiculing it. So to take on the persona of that critic:

Oh, you're SO fat! You're ENORMOUS! You're horrible! It's ridiculous how fat you are!”

See how this starts to make the voice sound stupid, rather than you?

What is compassion?

Would you ever treat anyone the way you treat yourself?

The idea here is to imagine or to treat yourself the way you would treat others, particularly someone you love, a child or your best friend. Or to treat yourself how your best friend would treat you.

Your best friend would never criticise you for talking too much, for being sensitive or emotional, or for wanting what you want. They wouldn't control you or criticise you. They would understand. This is compassion. This is what you need to emulate.

Your best friend would encourage you to buy that dress that you want, to take the holiday that you need, and to rest when you need it.

The Merriam-Webster definition of compassion

“Sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it”

Self-compassion is to do the same; to be concerned about your distress and to want to help and support you. So that you feel happier and calmer.

If you want to learn more about what compassion is and how to become more compassionate with yourself, these two people are wonderful ones to start with:

‘Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly... When you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realise that suffering, failure, and imperfection are part of the shared human experience.

Self-compassionate people recognise that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable,

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?’

- Kristin Neff

‘There is a wonderful expression that says:

“Be kind. Everyone you know is struggling hard.”

It doesn’t matter what age we are, if we’re in these bodies and on planet Earth, it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean that we’re always slaving away or that life is bad, it just means life can be really challenging at times.

Because we are conditioned to pull away from suffering, awakening a compassionate heart requires a sincere intention and a willingness to practice. It can be simple. As you move through your day and encounter different people, slow down enough to ask yourself a question. 

“What is life like for this person? What does this person most need?”’

- Tara Brach

Moving Forward

Ask yourself:

  • What is life like for YOU?

  • What do YOU most need?

My life has been one long journey of learning how I relate to myself and improving that relationship. I’ve learnt to recognise the subtle, unconscious ways I put myself down.

Often it's not been obvious to me how self-criticism comes into feeling anxious or sad. But it is usually in the background somewhere. I've discovered self-worth by becoming more self-reflective, more self-responsible, and more embodied. By being curious. By noticing my defences and my self-protective behaviour.

If you feel that this is an impossible task, you might need to read about it, spend some time with other people who do this, or seek help from a professional.

Here's a podcast on how to turn childhood messages about self-worth into healing.

Self-compassion is about replacing the negative self-talk with something kinder and more understanding, all day, every day. When you can do this enough, your children can’t help but learn from you how to be kind to themselves, too.

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