FOUNDATION OF SELF-ESTEEM -- YOU!!
It was tough being a kid.
I didn't feel good about myself. In
fact, I really didn't like myself very much.
It wasn't that my parents didn't love me -- I knew they loved me. And, I loved myself. When I first went to school, I was
excited. It was fun and I felt
good. Later school became rough. Someone
else was always more popular... smarter... more athletic... better looking.
Some of the kids were so mean. I
didn't get beat up much, but the things that they said to me... about me. Other
kids treated me like I was invisible. Sometimes I felt so unimportant... such a
dork! My self-esteem was terrible.
It's cost me so much energy, time, and pain... and, it still costs me
today. I don't want... I can't
let my kids go through that pain. How
can I save them?
many adults, adulthood has been a struggle to regain the self-esteem that had
been lost or harmed during childhood. Normally
nurtured children develop a sense of self and consequently a sense of
self-esteem as their caregivers take care of their primary needs.
Infants are appropriately egocentric and selfish.
As their needs are met, they become toddlers who love themselves.
However as they enter into the community of the family, of preschool, and
others, socialization demands affect their self-esteem.
Preschool teachers have noticed that children's self-esteem sometimes
begin to break down as they go through their three-year old and four-year old
years. As there are even greater demands (academic, physical, and
social) in kindergarten and in elementary school (and still more, in middle
school and high school), the destruction of self-esteem can be overwhelming.
Estimates of self-esteem (of children liking themselves) by the 4th grade
have been as low as 20%... of high school students at 5%.
From experience, research, and/or intuition, parents recognized that
their children are at risk. How
much easier it would be for their children if they could maintain their early
self-esteem through childhood and pass adolescence, than to have to rebuild it
in the adulthood.
often look at their children and worry that they too will suffer greatly.
For some parents, their adult lives have been extremely difficult as well
as a consequence of their low self-esteem.
For them, the concern is not just that their children might suffer as
they had suffered but will suffer as
they are still suffering.
In other words, they wish to save and empower their children even though
they themselves have not saved or empowered themselves.
Unfortunately, parents with low self-esteem are significantly handicapped
in trying to build the self-esteem of their children.
Many of the theories, strategies, techniques, and interventions that are
sound in affecting positive growth and discipline with children are often
difficult for such parents to follow through on.
Their low self-esteem creates a sense of insecurity and of helplessness
which compromises their attempts at discipline and support.
Often these parents will resort to looking for the "magic
pills" -- magical solutions rather than sound theory directing appropriate
interactions. Unfortunately, some
professionals and scholars will cater to this weakness and offer interventions
as if the interventions themselves will automatically work.
As with a house, the foundation is the key to the creating a solid
structure. The foundation for
creating solid self-esteem in children is the psychological and emotional health
of the parents. There are seven
fundamentals to this foundation.
building self-esteem is similar to building a house, what is the first thing you
do to build the foundation? The world... the terrain upon which you build a
child self-esteem is full of dangers: child abuse, gains, alcohol and drug
abuse, hatred, bigotry including sexism and racism, domestic violence, poverty,
economic uncertainty, ecological crises, and so forth. Ideally, we would love to
level this terrain... to eliminate these issues before we have to raise our
children. Unfortunately, this is impossible or impractical, since your kid
doesn't have time to wait for that! To build the foundation, the first thing you
need to do is to dig down. Every adult brings the totality of their life
experiences into every relationship. This
includes in addition to their self-esteem, their personality, temper and
frustrations, intelligence, cultural background, values, childhood experiences,
education, hopes and dreams... fantasies and illusions, goals, successes and
failures, joys and traumas, media messages, and parenting models.
you have high self-esteem? Do you
have issues about control (that will be challenged by your children)?
Is there a parent you are determined not to be?
Who is the parent you are determined to be? Will your children be a reflection of your worth?
Are you scared of failure (including failing as a parent)?
Do you have co-dependent tendencies?
How well do you deal with anger... fear... tears... anxiety?
Is there someone you are trying to please?
And so on and so on. All
these issues and others are critical to how you parent your child.
I have seen many parents who parent from the frustration of their
lives... from the anxieties of their past... from the anger in their soul...
from the fear and pain of their traumas, and lose track of the needs of their
children or the demands of the current reality.
When they are supposedly addressing their children's needs for support,
guidance, and discipline, they are actually dealing with their personal ghosts
-- their own emotional and psychological turmoil and vulnerabilities.
person brings into adulthood the ghosts of their childhood (as well as their
successes). It is when a person
does not acknowledge, challenge, and overcome their ghosts, that these emotional
and psychological issues interfere with their relationships -- especially their
most intimate relationships with their spouses and children.
If you acknowledge and challenge your ghosts, you may not overcome them
but at least, you may be able to keep them under enough control that they do not
interfere with your relationship with your children -- so that they not create
new ghosts for your children.
BEING A MODEL OF SELF-LOVE
years ago, I worked with a woman who had been married for 10 years to an
emotionally abusive man. They had
two children: a 1 1/2 year old girl and a 9 year-old boy. For 10 years, she had
accepted the abuse from her husband. Finally,
after he had picked up the little girl and grown her across the room in a fit of
rage, she decided that it was too much. She
moved out with the kids and filed for divorce.
Her life was much more tranquil... for a while.
A few months later, she came to me in tears.
Her nine-year-old boy had become extremely abusive to her.
He was very disrespectful, cussed at her, and hit her.
This should have not been a surprise.
She had not love herself enough over these 10 years to remove herself
from the abuse of her husband. She
had not valued herself enough to leave him for herself. She had loved the children enough, that when they were endangered that she removed them from the abuse.
Her son had observed all of this. Now
he too believed that she did not to serve to be treated with respect... after
all, she had never asserted that she deserved to be treated with respect.
In addition, he had the model of his father abusing her over these many
years. Now it was his turn.
woman understood that her attraction to her husband in the first place and her
vulnerability to accepting his abuse was the consequence of the abusive
relationship that she had with her father in her childhood.
Unfortunately, she still blamed herself for not been good enough for her
father to love and to treat well. She
had also blamed yourself for not being good enough for her husband to love and
to treat well either. She had low self-esteem and she wanted it to be better for
her children. So she had ignored her own pain and poured her love and attention
into the children. She sacrificed
herself, but still had failed her children.
If she had loved herself enough to leave her husband many years earlier,
she would have been a model of self-love for her children.
She would have never allowed her husband to continue to abuse her, and
her son would not have gotten message that it was appropriate to abuse her.
TO SURVIVE -- YOUR GHOSTS
be able to acknowledge and accept your ghosts -- the emotional and psychological
consequences of life struggles, you must be able to accept yourself.
Accepting yourself means that you're able to accept the choices that you
made as a child or the best that you could to.
Acquiesing and trying to please her father was the only way this woman
knew how to survive. She carried
this approach forward to her relationship with her husband despite the pain and
shame it caused her. Many people have shame and even anger at themselves for the
choices that they made when they were younger, more vulnerable, and at the mercy
of more powerful people -- usually their parents or teachers.
Children make choices to survive that are thrust upon them.
In other words, the choices they make are compelling choices that at a
different time as a more powerful adult, they would no longer make.
When a person is truly able to know him/herself, he/she will also be able
to accept him/her self and their childhood choices; and, come to love both the
child he/she was that had to survive and the adult he/she is now.
remedies to her issues -- both in her marriage and with her son would have to do
with setting limits. Her ability to
follow-through on such remedies, however, was compromised -- defeated by the
unresolved ghosts of her childhood that she had not yet addressed.
She did not love herself and both her husband and her son responded to
that and took permission to be abusive. Her
son's abuse of her was from his pain about himself.
His self-esteem had been compromised in observing the dynamic between his
mother and father. It's hard to love yourself when the foundation of your sense
of self -- your parents have such a toxic relationship. In addition, her
daughter whose personality was similar to her mother was going to be at great
risk to carry these ghosts forward as her own.
Her daughter could easily be just like mom, and learn not to love herself
either... to put others' needs ahead of hers... to blame herself for her
unlovability. And become vulnerable to the predators of the world -- perhaps, to
find a spouse just like dear ol' dad. Will
this woman be able to break this cycle? To
prevent it from caring forward in the next generation with her son and her
daughter? Perhaps, but only if she
looks less at what to do with her son and more at how to meet her own needs. She
can only do this if she is able to love herself.
What is her son's (and her daughter's) need?
To have a model of a mother who loves herself appropriately!
Only then, can they learn how to love themselves appropriately. Being a
model of self-love is critical to forming the foundation (yourself) to building
the self-esteem of children.
will continue to look at more of the seven fundamentals of the foundation (YOU!!)
to building the self-esteem in your child in future articles.
Before we do that, we will invest several chapters to examine the
dynamics that can lead to a lifetime of being victimized as this woman had been.
22: "BENEFITS" FROM BEING A VICTIM
What happened? I was
running... must have tripped....
Ow! (Peek) Where's mom?
Where's dad? Oh, there they are. Ow!
Owww! Owwwww! Are they coming over?
Are they looking? Ow!
Owww! Owwwww! I'm gonna to die!
Broken bones! Internal injuries!
Blood! Well…there could
be broken bones! How come they're not rescuing me?
(Peek) Are they coming over? Mommy!
Daddy! Ow! Owww! Owwwww! .... Mommeeee!!
Daddeeee! OwOwOwOw!!! What's their problem? Can't
they see me here lying on the ground? They're acting like it's just a
Well, may be it is just a
scratch... but... but... I'm gonna die! Hurry up!! They're
acting like it's no big deal. Mommeeee!!
Your baby is lying here on the
ground… dying!! Save me!
Help me! I'm not going to make it! ... maybe they can't hear me... maybe
I don't sound hurt enough. Maybe more tears… maybe... more volume!!
OWWW! OWWWWW! AHHHH! I
'm being... I'm being TRAUMATIZED!
sense of survive-ability that is so critical to a person's success comes through
being given the opportunity to be successful (be competent) in handling the
stressful challenges of life – including dealing with not being okay.
Being able to trust your parents to be there for you, starts the
development of a sense of survivability -- of resiliency.
However, your parents cannot always be there. Getting used to, and depending on being rescued becomes
dangerous. The more you mature, the more you must depend on yourself. Without
the ability to handle stress, some individuals develop a victim personality. How
can we keep your children from becoming victims? And why do they still make us so crazy... so frustrated?...
article on bullies and victims in the September/October 1995 issue of Psychology
Today noted that about 22% of children experienced being bullied sometime
during the school year. However,
only 8-9% of kids became the constant targets of bullies throughout the school
year. Why did more than half of the
bullied children stop becoming the targets of victimization? Why did that 8-9% of children become the prey that the
bullies returned to over and over? Is it about nurturing?
parents love them, and caring people including peers and teachers are initially
drawn to care for and help them. However,
eventually the same people become more and more frustrated and negative to them
as well. It is important to
acknowledge that no one…no one
likes victims. Individuals who are
victimized draw our hearts to them. However,
as we empathize with their pain and suffering, their seeming inability to learn,
to change, to grow, to stop being victimized over and over again becomes more
and more frustrating... to us!
Caring for and identifying with a victim brings pain to people that care
for them. Caring people's own sense
of impotence (of being helpless just like a victim) is activated.
The caring person tries to help. However,
the perpetual victim never seems able to take this help, this guidance, and this
love to become more able and successful. This
ignites the caring person's own doubts about their power and control.
As a result, caring people (even parents) often become angry and
dismissive of the perpetual victim (even your own child!).
But in rejecting the victim, they (we) are usually filled with guilt.
We intuitively recognize this is a duplication of many prior abandonments
and rejections… of prior abuses. Feeling
guilty, caring people go back again and again to help, to save, to protect...
and, to fail again to get the victim to stop being a victim.
Caring people's own sense of competency as nurturers -- as
"good" people -- as loving, caring, and supportive parents is damaged.
AND TOOTSIE OF THE POP FAMILY
frustration with interacting with perpetual victims often become so overwhelming
that people find themselves avoiding such people. People you love dearly can destroy your own sense of worth.
When I work with staff in human services organizations, I sometimes
present a scenario with an easily recognizable classic victim personality.
Staff respond with knowing nods and deep meaningful sighs. Human services staff are full wonderful people with
tremendous heart and integrity, who are committed to helping people.
What people present themselves in need, these wonderful staff are drawn
to them. Unfortunately, as much as
staff try, certain people seem not able to be helped.
Instead, they are in a constant state of need and neediness.
Somehow all that is offered: interventions, referrals, material things,
connections, and sometimes, even money is taken with a great appreciation, yet
does not seem to be effective. In
fact, recipients seem to sabotage their own success, change, and growth.
The caring staff offers more help, more resources, and more
encouragement. Again, people are
extremely appreciative.... And still fail to follow-through, or are victimized again.
Domestic violence counselors who work with women who continue returning
to toxic and abusive relaltionships, experience this frustration.
Over and over the dance repeats -- a call for help, aid given, aid taken,
failure,… a new call for help, more aid given, and so forth.
As much as caring/helping people see that certain people seem to
self-sabotage… seem to have an inability to be successful, they continue to be
drawn in again and again to give and to be frustrated.
the helping people begin themselves to feel like victims; to have been
victimized -- coerced into saving people who seem not to be able to be saved!
They begin to feel like Lolli and Tootsie of the Pop family -- the latest
Lollipop or Tootsie Pop in a line of suckers!
When I made this joke recently to a group of human services workers, they
laughed uproariously....at themselves! They had all too often experienced being
"suckered" into "helping" in ways that were ineffective for
themselves and the people they're trying to serve. They admitted that they began
to feel angry with the very people they were dedicated to serving.
As we discussed the victim dynamic, staff were better able to understand
how and why such a mentality and personality develops; how it functions to
"serve" the individuals; and how
to empower people to stop being victims… as opposed to them becoming the
latest Lollipop in a line of suckers!
SO GOOD AT BEING HELPLESS!"
personalities seem to be highly incompetent.
However, victim personalities are also extremely competent -- they are competent in being victims!
Being victims has become a fairly effective way for them to gain
power and control in their lives. Unfortunately,
being competent as a victim and gaining power and control by being one also has
significant negative consequences. A
few years ago, a new client presented her many truly horrific experiences from
childhood through adulthood. She
had been depressed for many years even though she worked and got by day-to-day.
A very strong and pervasive sense of helplessness emanated from her.
She mentioned old and current family issues, a series of toxic
relationships with abusive men, and an oppressive work situation.
I could practically hear the violin music in the background! This may sound insensitive and flippant when a person is
revealing the horrors and pain of her life.
However, while we may be drawn empathetically to the victim, empathy
alone will not help this person (or your child). She had been victimized in her life. She had power and control taken away from her.
Most caring people would be drawn to try to help her -- to nurture her.
In fact, her entire aura was drawing me to help her.
Consciously, sub-consciously, or unconsciously she was asking me to save
her. As a helping professional, I
was tempted to make a quick change into my "Gallant Knight" costume
and ride to the rescue!
However, I did not want to
support her helplessness... her being a victim.
Instead after about 20 minutes of listening to her complain about her
life, I said (in a straightforward but gentle tone) "You're so good at
being helpless." She was quite
shocked, "What!?... What do you mean?"
I had gotten her attention. She
was used to being nurtured with the classic "Oh, poor baby" pattern,
which would have confirmed her
helplessness. Getting a caring
person to take care of her out of sympathy was her power and control strategy. I wouldn't... couldn't disempower her. I continued, "You get a lot out of being depressed.
You're very good at being a victim."
Stunned, she said, "What do you mean?"
I explained, "When you are depressed and helpless, people…
especially your friends take care of you. When you look and sound like a
miserable victim, people cut you a lot of slack and help you.
get a lot of power and control that way. By
being hopeless, you avoid taking risks... avoid challenging yourself... you keep
yourself in an uncomfortable (but familiar) world of quiet desperation.
Being helpless works for you."
DUEL THEORY OF FRAILTY
Wouldn't she fall apart -- be
devastated? It would be difficult to take this approach if you believe
in, what I call the "Duel Theory of Frailty." The first theory is that
the person (child or adult) is too frail to handle the truth.
On the other hand, giving someone the truth explicitly states you believe
that he/she is strong enough to
deal with harsh realities. I
did not believe that she was frail – nor, believe that children are inherently
frail either. By challenging her (as I might challenge a child as well), I
was stating that she had the strength to deal with the stressful implications of
the truth. The second theory of
frailty would be that my anxiety over her anxiety would be intolerable (i.e., I
am too frail). I couldn't tell the
truth if I could not be okay with her
not being okay; with her not being okay (strong, resilient, resourceful,
etc.) enough to go through the process of growth and change.
My confidence, clarity, and skills in my role allowed me to take the risk
of challenging her -- of stressing her. Parents
require similar confidence, clarity, and skills to challenge their children as
well… to avoid developing victim tendencies in their children.
Her process was more complex
than this. Eventually, she began to
understand how her life experiences had led her into a pattern of hopelessness
and helplessness -- of power and control gained through being a victim. She
began to explore and experiment with healthier ways to gain power and control in
her life. A true success story--
over the next 18 months, she worked on empowering herself, changing her work
situation, taking numerous risks, and eventually meeting a nice guy, developing
the relationship (with plenty of anxiety!), and becoming engaged.
She stopped being a victim and is currently working on "happily ever
What were the life experiences
that developed the victim mentality for this adult?
What was the process that helped her recover and grow into a healthier
23: CHARACTERISTICS OF VICTIMS-
The Chicken and the Chicken Hawk
La la la la... Where does this piece
What's that? Is he
coming this way? Oh... it's okay.
La la la la... Hmmm... Huh? Oh
oh... is he mad? Oh... no, just
getting excited. Let's see... maybe
the piece goes over here. La la...
What? They're getting wild.
Don't come over here... Please, stay over
there... leave me alone! Whew!
They went the other way. Uhh...
what was I doing? Oh yeah... this
piece goes... La la... What? Did he say my name?
They talking about me? Oh
no... they're looking this way... looking at me?
No... no... not me. Leave me
They went over to Lucy. That
was close. This piece goes...
over... here... no... What? They did say my name. What
are they going to do? He has that look
again. Please, not me. No... Please,
not me again. How come
not Billy? or Sally? Why me? Always me?... all
the time? Do somebody else.
I try to be invisible... just leave me alone... I just want to do this
puzzle. Why me? What's wrong with
me? It must be something I do.
I wish I wasn't so messed up... I don't want to play with you... you
scare me. Don't you know you scare
me? That I don't like you?
You do know you scare me. You
do know I don't like you.
That's why you bother me. Please...
please leave me alone... please... please please... here they come... somebody
save me! Some-bodee... save...
me! Please... please... help
me! Please... Oh noooooo!
CHICKEN SPENDS ITS WHOLE LIFE...
few years ago, I had 29-year-old female client who had horrible experiences from
early childhood through adulthood. Male
relatives had molested her in childhood. She
had a series of painful relationships with toxic men.
It seemed to her that bad things always happened to her -- that
trouble seemed to seek her out... that she seemed to be the favorite victim for
all the bullies in the world. With tremendous anguish, she cried out,
me? Why always me?
How do they find me all the time? It
happens all the time. Just the
other night... I went out to dinner with my grandma.
We had to wait for a table, so we ordered some wine and sat at a small
table in the bar. There I was... in
baggy sweats, hair in a ponytail, no makeup... with my Granny! Just minding my own business waiting with Granny.
Out of the corner of my eye... or, maybe it was just a certain kind of
sound -- tone... or, maybe some kind of sixth sense... something...
I looked up and there in the doorway was... trouble!
It was a man. But not just a
man. I knew right away that he was
trouble -- big time."
did she know with just one look that he was trouble?
She knew because the chicken spends its whole life learning how to
recognize the chicken hawk. The
prey spends its entire life learning how to recognize the predators in their
environment. When somebody feels so vulnerable to
predators/abusers/bullies -- feels completely unable to protect themselves from exploitive people, then their only hope is to recognize the
predator before it attacks and (hopefully) avoid it at all costs.
She had become hypersensitive and hyper-vigilant in order to anticipate
potential abusers. Unfortunately,
this hypersensitivity and hyper-vigilance not only did not translate into
avoiding victimization, they sometimes increased the possibility of harassment!
CHICKEN HAWK SPENDS ITS WHOLE LIFE...
had seen him before... not this man specifically, but she had seen him before...
met him before. Dozens and scores of times before, she had met abusers like him.
She had met bullies... other chicken hawks who had harmed her at
different times in her life. In
glint of his eyes... in the smirk that danced on his lips... in the posture of
his body... she had seen the chicken hawk before... seen the predator before.
A tremor crept into her voice,
turned my face away from him right away! To
avoid any eye contact. Out of the
corner of my eye, I watched him... standing in the doorway with his hands on his
hips. Scanning the room... the
predator scouting the herd. He
looked around the room no more than three or four seconds.
And, then... And, then... and, then
he walked right up to me! And
started harassing me! Why me? Why
me again? Why me out of all those
people... out of all those women in the room?
A dozen other women... most of them dressed up... pretty makeup... a few
sitting by themselves or with girlfriends.
But he comes up to me!
Me, in baggy sweats, hair in a pony tail, no makeup, with
my Granny! Why me?
How did he know out of all those women that I was the one?
That I was the victim? How
do they always know that I'm the one?
The easiest and best one to abuse?"
did that man know that she was the most vulnerable? The most fun to provoke, to
manipulate... the most scared, the easiest to intimidate?
He knew because the chicken hawk spends its whole life learning how to
recognize the chicken! The predator
spends its entire life learning how to recognize its prey... the prey that is
the most vulnerable... that offers the least resistance... that is the least
dangerous to the predator... the prey that is crippled.
Predatory individuals seek power and control over the others.
However, they are careful to aggress against only the weakest.
Abusers know stronger individuals will resist and will fight back; they
learn to leave them alone. They are
too much trouble. Bullies learn how
to recognize the easy prey. This
man had picked up on her vulnerability with a quick scan of the room.
He knew instinctively that she was the one he could intimidate.
Like a cat playing with a captive mouse, he proceeded to play with his
prey. Like a mouse, she felt
trapped, helpless, and terrified.
life of the victim is a miserable existence.
When they aren't being picked on, they worry about if and when they will
be picked on again. People (even
close friends and family... even teachers and parents) eventually get frustrated
with them -- even angry with them for being victims.
Other people begin to avoid them. They
become more and more isolated in their communities: the neighborhood, the
office, the playground, the classroom, and the family.
Life becomes extremely stressful. They
may begin to hate any social situation. For some adults, it may contribute to agoraphobia.
Some children come to hate going to school -- the school they used to
love. Some children begin to have
somatic problems -- the stomachaches, headaches, or other pain that gets Mommy
or Daddy to keep them at home. As
others get frustrated with them, subtle and not so subtle messages begin telling
them that is their fault -- that something is wrong with them
to be such a victim. Soon, they
begin to believe that something is wrong
with them; that is their fault.
child who becomes a victim is often younger than the bully, more naturally
sensitive, cautious, quiet, and anxious. They
tend to have a negative view of violence (if you were the victim of violence all
the time, you'd have a negative view too!) and are fairly non-aggressive in
interactions. Their physical
weakness (youth and/or size) and their anxiety set them up as potential targets.
In of themselves, however, their sensitivity, aversion to violence, and
non-aggressive natures could be positive social traits -- certainly traits that
are supported and taught by many parents and teachers.
Insensitivity, violent tendencies, and aggression, on the other hand are
defining traits among bullies. Sensitive
(healthy, non-victim) children are distinguished from victim personalities in
that, victims tend to withdraw from confrontations of any kind and respond to
confrontations (attacks) with crying. When
faced with conflict, they are paralyzed with fear.
They exhibit an "anxious vulnerability" that is easily
recognized by bullies. It is as if over their head floats a flashing sign saying
"Attention all Bullies...Victim
situations where there is not any conflict, they show anxious vulnerability
anyway. In classroom situations,
veteran teachers can easily identify potential victims because of their anxious
vulnerability. I had been asked to evaluate the child described at beginning of
this article. I did not know which child I was supposed to observe, nor had
he been pointed out. However, from
his anxious vulnerability -- his rabbit eyes, he was easily identifiable.
While other children played freely, he played hesitantly with the puzzle.
The other children didn't have a care in the world. He looked like an
anxious rabbit-- tense and hyper-vigilant, wary that suddenly a fox or bear
might step out of the forest, or an eagle or hawk swoop out of the sky.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE...
personalities' entire approach to conflict is passive.
They are not assertive. They tend not to try to negotiate with others,
persuade them, and make few or no demands, requests or even suggestions.
Basically, they hope that things will get better ("please please
please please please... come on, lucky lucky lucky... please"). Unfortunately,
since they don't "make their luck," their reality often continues to
be miserable. They don't initiate interactions but tend also to be passive in
their play. Even as they mature
beyond developmentally appropriate parallel play (three and under), they
continue to play next to people rather than with them.
In many ways they are socially incompetent -- not in a negative
aggressive antisocial manner, but rather from being unable to socially and
verbally negotiate and reciprocate social situations.
They seldom have acting out problems in the family or in a preschool or
playgroup. However, because they
cannot handle aggression toward them... can't handle the situation by
themselves, they always need to be rescued.
end up feeling worse and worse… feeling more and more anxious… increasing
their "anxious vulnerability," which leads to further targeting for
victimization. They end up feeling
ever more helpless and unable. By
submitting, victims seem to reward the ego needs of the bullies. Consequently,
the bullies return over and over to them to get satisfaction. Ironically,
victims also seem to be drawn to the bullies.
Adults tell children to avoid the abusive kids.
However, victims seem to gravitate to bullies anyway. Why?
The bully and the victim exist together at the bottom of the social
status ladder. Everyone avoids both
the bully and victim. Unable to be socially included and be involved with other
children, victims often become socially isolated. They can become so desperately needy for attention that the
negative attention of the bullies becomes desirable! Often they are left with only each other to interact with.
Negative attention is experienced as better than no attention at all.
potential for your child to develop a victim personality is a terrifying
prospect for any parent. Many adults have their own issues from being bullied as
children and/or even current experiences of being exploited. There are plenty of abusive individuals -- predators and
bullies out there in the world. Fortunately,
we can also identify the adult-child interactions that facilitate the
development of a victim (and work to prevent it).
24: HOW VICTIMS ARE CREATED
Mommy and baby are going to the park.
I love taking baby to the park. The
sun... the grass... the sand... the swing... the other moms, and a few dads, and
the occasional grandparent or babysitter... with our babies at Tot Land.
An oasis in the urban desert. A
peaceful place for babies... for my baby and me.
No dishes, no bills, no news about this or that atrocity somewhere in the
world… or in New York, Los Angeles... Colorado... Wyoming.
No ugliness here... just beautiful
babies and their mommies and daddies. Mommies
and daddies... Daddy didn't come. He
was in a bad mood anyway. Baby
didn't need to be around him. Ol' meany daddy... He said he was too busy.
He wasn't too busy to go to the bar last night... or all those other
nights. Oh, forget that. Mommy and baby are at the park.
Everything is nice here. No
angry daddies... no fights... fresh air and sunshine... me and baby... me and
baby will always be together.
Anything you need... anything you'll
ever need... I'll be there, I'll be there for you.
Mommy will take care you, baby. Mommy
will take care you in the big bad ugly world.
But... we don't have to worry about that, do we?
We're in Tot Land! Sunshine,
grass, sand, swing, and other sweet babies... sweet babies, right? Just sweet babies. Right?
Just beautiful sweet babies...
VICTIM DEVELOPMENTAL PROCESS -- THE PREDATOR STRIKES
victims tend to be sensitive, nonviolent, and non-aggressive, all the children
and people with these traits do not become victims.
What differentiates what would be very positive personal traits for
healthy social relationships from vulnerability to become a victim?
Victim children also tend to have very close relationships with their
parents. Oh no!
Sounds like that same old "blame the mother" psychology!
There was an extensive period in American psychological theory
(approximately 1950s through 1960s, and still somewhat today), that blamed every
problem -- emotional, psychological, interpersonal, social, and so forth on
mothers having messed up their children. However,
it is not the closeness of the relationship that causes the development of the
victim personality, but how that
closeness is expressed. The victim
personality is developed through the good intentions of protective (and
anxious!) parents gone awry. In
protecting their children, these parents actually
prevent their children from developing the skills (including assertiveness, negotiation, and compromise) to
handle aggression and conflict -- to deal with bullies.
Jordan is in the sandbox at the Community Center Tot Land playground.
He is eight months old. Mommy
has brought him and his little red bucket and little blue shovel to play with
the other little kids. The sand
feels wonderful -- it's warm and flows through his fingers.
Mommy shows him how to put sand in the bucket with the little shovel.
It's fun. Little Darlene, 10
months old crawls over to Jordan. They
look at each other. Jordan doesn't
know Darlene. Is she okay? He looks
at his mom for reassurance. Mom
smiles at him and says, "Say hi to the little girl, Jordan."
Mom starts talking to another lady that she knows from church.
Jordan stares at the Darlene... he doesn't know what to do... Is it okay?
Darlene looks at Jordan... she looks at his bucket... she looks at
Jordan. Jordan doesn't know what to
do. He just watches Darlene.
Darlene looks at Jordan... looks at his bucket... looks at Jordan, and
she reaches over and grabs his bucket! He
holds it tighter, his eyes getting big... Darlene pulls harder. Tears form in
Jordan's eyes. Darlene frowns and smiles at the same time... Jordan is
getting scared. Darlene gives a big
yank... Jordan gets pulled stomach down into the sand... and Darlene has the
bucket! Jordan is in shock...
nobody at home snatches things from him! Darlene
has the bucket but she's still there watching him... a small smile on her face.
It's not a pretty smile... it's not a nice smile... it's a scary
smile! His lips begin to quiver.
Jordan looks around. There's his
mom. Wahhh!! Wahhhh!!
Waaahhhhhhh!! The predator has
THE SAVIOR STRIKES
has stepped outside his safe, nurturing, loving world.
Darlene doesn't love him and won't do anything for him like Mommy... like
Granny... like... Darlene just took his bucket and Jordan doesn't know what to
do. This is the first of many crises that will shape Jordan's
ability to deal with intrusion, aggression, bullying, or abuse.
Jordan's mother turned suddenly at the sound of his desperate cry.
Quickly she realizes what has happened -- some bully girl has just
attacked (the vicious chickenhawk!)... just abused her little baby!
Immediately, she springs into action.
There are three paths that she might consider: first, to protect little
Jordan from the bully, second, to let little Jordan handle it by himself, or
third, to empower and train little Jordan how to deal with bullies.
The danger here is that she may choose to protect Jordan and protect him
as if he were truly frail -- as if he were actually in danger of disintegrating.
As if having a bucket snatched away by another kid would be that
destructive of his emotional and psychological being. If she thought that Jordan was that vulnerable, she would
rush in, take the bucket away from Darlene and give it back to Jordan.
"Here Jordan, poor sad baby. That
mean little girl took your bucket. I
got it back for you. Mommy made it
okay for you. You're okay."
so wrong with this response? The
problem is, in intervening and taking care of the conflict (mean ol' grabby
Darlene!), Jordan gets the message that Mommy will rescue him. Unfortunately,
this also implies that Jordan is incapable of taking care of this conflict on
his own... that his skills, resources, and resiliency would not be sufficient
enough for him to be able to take care of himself.
His power and control in the situation (getting his bucket back) was through crying, getting his mothers attention, and getting her to rescue
him (Jordan needs Mommy to rescue
him). He had no direct control or
power to resolve the situation. His
mother's action is a powerful message (remember that nonverbal communication
messages including behavior are very compelling.
Nonverbal communication is more trusted and integrated than any words).
In effect, her rescuing Jordan tells him louder than words, "You're NOT
okay". Her actions tell him
that he cannot handle the situation on his own and is vulnerable to harm.
LOVING THIEF AND A SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY
greatest harm is when these messages become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
By continually rescuing Jordan, Mommy (or Dad or teacher) becomes the
loving thief. She not only
inadvertently gives him over and over the message that he is incapable and
vulnerable, but also steals from him the
opportunities to learn how to handle conflict and to develop the resiliency
to deal with stress. Jordan becomes
more and more incapable because he never gets to practice and develop the skills
necessary to handle conflict on his own. He
becomes more and more vulnerable because he realizes both that Mommy must rescue
him or he will suffer, and that Mommy
will not and cannot always be available to save him.
On his own, he realizes he is completely vulnerable to any bully that
decides to come after him. He starts to become extremely vigilant in looking for
potential abusers that might approach him. His "anxious vulnerability"
increases and become ever the more obvious to predators looking for easy prey.
It is often the parents' insecurities about their own vulnerability to
harm that leads them to become overprotective.
In other words... "I couldn't prevent what was done to me or is
happening to me, but at least, I can keep it from happening to my child,"
or, "I can't let my baby feel the pain I felt... feel." The parents'
anxious vulnerability expands to encompass their children.
is not the closeness of the relationships between children and their parents
that causes the development of the victim personality.
It is when their parents' anxiety causes them to become overprotective
rather than protective. Parents
face the decision over and over whether or not their children need to be
protected in any given situation. There will be times when your child definitely
needs to be protected -- circumstances or individuals that he/she faces are too
overwhelming and/or too dangerous for them to handle on their own.
You would need to step in quickly and assertively.
And, there will be times when it is very clear that your child is fully
capable of taking care of his/her own needs. Here you can step back and observe
your child's skills, resources, and resiliency. However, there will also be
times when your child will be stressed -- when it will be difficult, even
agonizing for them to deal with a situation or individual.
They will be greatly challenged and stretched in order to succeed (or
even to try and still fail). If you step in immediately, you steal from them the
opportunity to be challenged and to be stretched and still succeed, or even to fail, but to survive.
Parents best serve their children not by only protecting them, but to
also by encouraging, training, and empowering. You cannot do this if you are
unable to let go... if you can't stand watching your child struggle, even suffer
in order to build the skills and resiliency necessary to handle stress,
conflicts, and intrusive or abusive or exploitative people, including bullies.
that little girl took your bucket. You don't look happy.
Is that okay? No? Okay, then
take it back. Darlene, Jordan wants
his bucket back. Darlene, Jordan
wants you to give it back to him. Next time you want the bucket, ask for it
first, Darlene. Maybe Jordan will let you have it soon.
Jordan, get your bucket. Get
your bucket... Mommy won't get it for you.
You need to get it. Darlene
will give back to you
(a firm glance at Darlene would be useful here!).
Tell Darlene, "No." You need help?
Here's Darlene. Put your hand on the bucket.
Hold on (if necessary, close your hand around his hand on the bucket).
Okay? Now, pull it away.
There you go! You did it! Good
job, you got your bucket. What do
you want to do with your bucket now? You
want to put sand in it? You want to
let Darlene play with it? Or, play
together with Darlene? You decide.
empowerment, empowerment. Empowerment
is a key to developing self-esteem. Competency
is a key as well. Competency can not be learned without the opportunity to
learn. Grit your teeth and clench
your fists! Giving children the
opportunity to learn depends largely on you handling your own fears for your
children. If you can do this, then you can empower them by giving them the
opportunities to become competent. If you can't, then you will steal from them
the opportunities and disempower
them, building incompetence and vulnerability. Being competent in taking care of
oneself -- in dealing with bullies and other hurtful people and situations
contribute to higher self-esteem.
parents dealing with difficult children may inadvertently promote them into
becoming abusive and bullies. In
addition, following chapter will explain how and why bullies bully as the means
to establish their self-esteem and how adults can redirect the process towards a
YOUR OWN BULLY
are these bullies? Of course, some
bullies are clearly the children of bullies -- of parents who are abusive and
aggressive to everyone. Such adults
tend to be hostile and aggressive in how they deal with everyone.
Intimidating others feels not only appropriate but also desirable.
And, I also doubt that they would be caught dead reading this article!
Or, perhaps the non-bully half of the couple may read this (often a
victim of the bullying as well). Their
children have exact models that they can emulate as bullies.
On the other hand, there are children who become bullies whose parents
are well intended and loving. And,
who are these children's first victims? Often,
their own parents!! Just as we
discussed in the previous article, that sometimes parents inadvertently
ironically, they "love" their children into becoming victims.
Parents' love mixed with misunderstanding of their children's
personalities and needs, can also result children becoming bullies.
Before we examine this dynamic, let us first define what the bully is.
AGGRESSION, AND THE SEARCH FOR SELF-ESTEEM
takes tremendous courage to for a parent to admit that his/her child may be a
bully. It is often more comfortable
to be in denial. Freud said that all defense mechanisms (including denial) are
to avoid anxiety that would otherwise be overwhelming. To consider that your beloved baby purposely and joyfully
hurts others would cause overwhelming anxiety for any loving parent.
However, if a parent understands how intensely his/her child will suffer
for the bullying behavior, it may give him/her motivation to face reality… and
then work to move the child into healthier processes of relating.
problems for a bully (the problems the bully him/herself experiences) start
early in preschool, if not earlier in his/her own family.
His/her behavior creates not only misery for others, but also for
him/herself. The bully is a victim (to poor parenting and/or an
abusive parent), but also he/she becomes a victim to his/her own behavior and
reputation. The damages to his/her
own well-being last decades. The
bully's victims often can move on to healthier, safer, more productive, and
rewarding relationships. However,
the bully hurts him/herself the most. From
early on, the bully experiences a consistent downward spiral in life.
The bullying behavior ends up harming learning, friendships, work,
intimacy, income, and mental health. A
bully is much more likely to become an anti-social adult: have criminal
problems, become a batterer, become a child abuser, and tragically produce more
bullies in next generation.
one likes the bully. People important to the bully don't like the bully.
As a consequence, the bully gets few if any messages of significance from
caretakers and their peers. Despite
his/her distorted self-image, negative social sanctions for his/her negative
behavior continually tells the bully that he/she has failed to live up to
his/her ideal self. He/she loses power and control as he/she is continually
restricted because of the negative behavior.
There is a multitude of issues that a bully may have in terms of learning
disabilities, temperamental challenges, the emotional disturbances, and so forth
that make it very difficult for him/her to experience success academically or
socially. Certainly, the bully is
socially incompetent. Significance,
messages of worth from those who are significant to you; moral virtue, being
able to live up to one's own value system; power and control, how much one is in
charge of his/her own life; and competence, ones skills in the areas that are
important to oneself -- in all the four components of self-esteem, the bully
comes up short. The bully's low
self-esteem becomes motivation to create a false sense of worth based on
ARE YOU LOOKING AT!?"
bully has a hostile attributional bias – a kind of paranoia where he/she
perceives provocation where it doesn't exist.
"Who are you looking at!?"
"Stop trying to screw with me!"
People are often stunned ("What!?) to find themselves the target of
hostility from a bully about something they did not do or did innocently.
The paranoia distorts the bully's perception and interpretation of
innocent comments and behavior. He/she
just knows that the other person is going to do him/her wrong. The bully does
not see him/herself negatively. It
is too great a threat to his/her fragile self-esteem to admit that.
And as a result, feels completely justified in being aggressive and
hurtful against the other person. Hostility
and aggression is the only way to relate to others.
Such behavior makes him/her feel powerful.
Most importantly, the bully experiences
aggression as working. It gets
him/her the last cookie, the new toy, first
place in line, quicker service, and silence from the intimidated (which he/the
interprets as permission). A
bully can think of only one the short-term outcome, and fails to see long term.
"If it gets me the remote control right now -- good!
So, stupid sister is mad. So
what? She'll get even with me?
Hate me? When we grow up?
Who cares? Ha!
I got the remote control!"
Such behavior -- "successes" serves to build upon the bully's
fragile sense of self-esteem. It
becomes his/her only way to have any semblance of self-esteem. The bully
gradually gets locked into patterns of aggressive and hostile responses. With
the male bully, he becomes acceptable only to those like him.
More and more the male bully will be isolated from the community to hang
out with and socialize only with other bullies.
This is a primary reason why bullies eventually run in packs or as a
gang. It is somewhat different for
girls and women because of gender role differences that will be discussed in the
marginally skilled parents come up against a "difficult" child.
Some children (and adults) have more intense and problematic
personalities. With good parenting,
sensitivity, and appropriate boundaries, such difficult children often become
absolutely wonderful adults. However,
they take special attention that some parents, unfortunately, are unable to
provide because of their own issues: economic stress, relationship difficulties,
poor models of parenting, and/or a poor temperamental match between themselves
and their children. The scenario is as follows: the parent requests and the
child is noncompliant -- simply put, the child doesn't do what the parent has
asked. "Huh? What?" Initially,
the noncompliance may have been from inattention, being preoccupied, or a test
of the parents' frustration level. The noncompliance eventually becomes
purposeful. The noncompliance
becomes essentially aggressive behavior against the parents. The parent asks
again and is ignored again. This
may happen over and over. Eventually
the parent loses it. "If you don't.., I'm going… I'm going…" There is more yelling and everything intensifies. The child
is controlling the parent by his noncompliance.
Finally, the parent gets so upset at the back talk and noncompliance that
he/she strikes out and hits the child. Some
parents never hit the child. Instead,
they insult the child with the emotional and psychological blows -- "I
don't know what's wrong with you!" "I
wish you were never born!" "You're
just like your damn father!" And,
the child responses with outrage, "WHAAAT!!??"
noncompliance goes unpunished
until the parent is so full of hostility that s/he lashes out unpredictably.
Highly frustrated, the parent makes ever increasingly severe threats but
doesn't follow through consistently. Sometimes
a consequence or punishment follows immediately.
Other times, there's no consequence or punishment at all.
Other times it happens after a short period -- sometimes after a long
period. Sometimes the consequence
or punishment is rather mild. Sometimes
it is so severe as to be legally considered child abuse. The inconsistent use of ineffective punishment winds up
intermittently rewarding defiance. Many
times being defiant is experienced as been successful.
After all, "I got to more television."
"They usually give in." "I get it all time.
Yeah, I get wacked a few
times. I don't care."
"My parents are afraid of me! I'm
the boss!" With the
expectation that the defiance will be successful proves false at times, instead
of learning that defiance is inappropriate, the child feels that he/she has been
treated unfairly. The expectation
develops that others will treat him/her unfairly and unpredictably.
use of physical punishment as a solution
teaches that aggression is the appropriate
addition, the punishment is presented with
intense retaliatory feelings. Deeply
frustrated, the parent will often strike out with self-righteous rage blaming
the child for the physical punishment that he/she is receiving.
you to stop!" "It's your fault you got hit. You didn't listen to
me!" "That's what you get
for being so bad!" The
child who already has tendencies to be to be aggressive, not only gets a model
of punishment that is aggressive but also a model of self-righteous retaliation
as appropriate. The punishment also
creates resentment that directs the child toward even greater aggression against
others. The child's anti-social
behavior is reinforced, and prosocial behavior is neither modeled or
reinforced. The issues are not
resolved by sitting down, talking, exploring motivations and emotions, seeking
to affirm needs in the context of social reciprocal relationships, and so forth.
FOR & UNABLE TO CARE
parents get more and more frustrated with their children, and as they are
sometimes intimidated anticipating the battle that they face disciplining their
child, they often pull back and let them get away with more and more.
In addition, the lack of compliance by the child -- the not needing to
comply because the parent is not following through, is actually experienced by
the child as the parent not caring.
As much as the child may want to be in control in the short-term, at a
deeper level he/she knows that if he/she is in control and the parents are out
of control, something is very wrong. Life
becomes very scary. However, the
child is unable to articulate this. All
he/she can do is continue to be aggressive and hurtful.
As the bully is immersed in his/her own insecurity, he/she doesn't…can't think about
other people feelings. A bully
is unable to have empathy… unable to experience connection to other people's
Sounds scary! And
discouraging? However, there's a
lot that can be done to break this dynamic.
We will get to this, but first we will explore more issues about bullies
including gender differences in bullying behavior and the ineffective bully.