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05/20/2010

3 Words a Mom NEVER Wants to Hear

Ears I've heard an awful declaration from each of my sons (11 and 15 years old) at various times. I hope and pray that I'll never hear words like these again...but I probably will.

"I hate myself."

I know, these aren't the absolute worst things that could come to a mom's ears, but they are so painful for me to hear and understand the meaning behind.

When my kids utter such self-deprecating statements as, “I'm stupid,” “I'm so lazy” or even “I'm fat,” a part of me just crumples up.

It's as if a knife, all edgy and dull cut a “six-inch valley through the middle of my soul,” to quote Bruce Springsteen.

It's agonizing to hear and see these precious beings whom I nurtured in my womb, nursed at my breast and continue to hug, counsel and guide refuse to love themselves as I do.

I worry about how having low self esteem-- even if it waxes and wanes-- will affect their futures. Will they be able to go for and achieve their dreams, have loving relationships and stay healthy and well when they harbor hatred for themselves?

These are difficult questions to consider.

So, when either of my sons begins to cut himself down, I tend to rush in trying to fix it all. I might say to him, “You are very smart/capable/beautiful/lovable” or whatever is the opposite of what he is declaring to me and the world.

I tend to have a zero tolerance policy when either of them starts to beat up on himself. The drawback of this reaction-- er, tactic-- of mine is that my attempt to soothe and reassure discounts the real emotions that he is experiencing.

Of course, it's not helpful for any person to develop an “I hate myself” mantra. At the same time, it's also not helpful to pretend that there aren't fearful or self-conscious thoughts and feelings that are coming up.

Instead, I could (and do when I am centered) be an engaged listener when either of my sons feels down on himself. I might ask questions to help him move away from limiting statements and, instead, encourage him to tap into those feelings that are fueling the self-defeating declarations.

An unpleasant wake up call...

I can remember my own mother consoling me as a distraught, ugly- and stupid-feeling teenager. She told me that I was pretty. I was smart. I would be loved and accepted by my peers one day.

I really appreciate her attempts to bolster my low self esteem, even though I didn't believe a single word she said at the time.

This is another reason why hearing my own children's damning self-assessments cuts me to the core.

I am reminded of my own lagging self esteem that, unfortunately, I did not leave behind when I moved from adolescence to adulthood.

The wake up call is when I hear one of my sons say words like, “I'm stupid.”

I can listen to him and I can also pay attention to my own thoughts and beliefs about myself. I know how powerful an example I am for them.

Sure, they are unique human beings with their own unique experiences.

But they are (and have been) watching, listening and to some extent following my lead.

They will perceptively pick up on my own critical eye of my body size and its unwanted lumps and bumps.

They will hear that uncertain tone in my voice when I speak about an opportunity of which I feel unworthy.

They will see me pull back and hide away when I am in a group of people or am being complimented.

They will make mental note of those off-handed, self-deprecating comments I make about my abilities and my self.

Thankfully, I have come a long way since my teen years. I do feel confident and worthy-- most days and in many situations. There is still much room for improvement.

It's never too late-- for me or for my sons-- to make cultivating a healthy self esteem a priority and a habit. We can be inspired by and learn from one another to love ourselves as we are, on the way to becoming even greater.
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Amy Phillips-Gary is a personal growth coach who specializes in helping women learn to accept and love their bodies and themselves more fully. She writes for various internet websites, including Personal Growth Planet . You can read her weekly blog at Personal Growth Planet Blog.

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