Happiness is being loved for who you are

Happiness is being loved for who you are

May we invite you to a little reflection at the beginning of this article?

Go back in your mind to your childhood and teenage years. Think about your closest caregivers: your parents, grandparents, or other people who mattered. What expectations have you felt about yourself and from whom?? Which of these you could fulfill, which not? Which one are you trying to live up to today? How did you have to be, what did you have to do to get love and recognition?? And how has this shaped you?

If you look into these experiences, you may realize that they have had and continue to have a major impact on your self-esteem.

What is "self-esteem"?

In 1965, social psychologist Morris Rosenberg defined self-esteem as an attitude or mindset we have toward ourselves. According to his definition, a person with high self-esteem feels that he is "good enough"; he believes that he is valuable as a human being and can accept himself with his positive and negative facets – without seeing himself as special because of it or expecting others to admire him.

The relationship experiences we have with others are critical to the development of our self-esteem. When we feel loved, safe, seen and accepted, our self-esteem grows. If we feel rejected, rejected or criticized, if someone makes fun of us or shows contempt, our self-esteem suffers.

But our self-esteem can not only be more or less high, it can also be more or less tied to conditions.

When children and adolescents experience that they have to be or behave in a certain way in order to experience appreciation and affection, a conditional self-esteem from. A child may experience, for example:

  • I am loved if I perform well, get good grades and achieve success in sports.
  • I am only lovable if I am good and obey my parents.
  • In order for my parents to accept me, I have to subscribe to my family’s religious beliefs.
  • In order not to lose love and recognition, I have to make sure to always be slim, good-looking and presentable.
  • You have to earn love by being especially helpful and sacrificing yourself for others.

Of course, we all think it’s nice when we can achieve success, look good or help other people, and we react insecurely when that’s not the case. It becomes problematic when self-esteem is so strongly linked to certain conditions that children, adolescents and adults plunge into a real crisis if they are unable to fulfill them for once. When a bad grade makes you feel like a failure and every exam feels like a matter of life and death. If they feel guilty as soon as they turn down a request or stand up for their needs. When they see themselves as wicked sinners for indulging in "dirty thoughts" or behaving unchristianly. When they can no longer take care of another person and therefore feel they are no good or worthless. If they fear that their friends will no longer like them or that they will never find a partner if they gain one or two kilos.

How expectations blind us from seeing our children

Hand on heart: we all have certain images and expectations in our minds, wish for our children to exhibit certain traits, interests or values, and may react with disappointment when our children are not like that. We may want our child to be especially social and empathetic and be irritated when he or she shows up as a dominant bully and likes to play with weapons. Sometimes our desires also obscure our view of the child. Matthias Volchert, head of Familylab, expresses this very aptly: "Can I still see you as you are, or do my expectations already determine my image of you??"

A children’s book takes up this theme

This is also how Jaron, the young fox in our book "Jaron on the trail of happiness", feels. This person could imagine much better things than standing on the pitch at a soccer match on Sunday morning. Only unfortunately, his father feels that sports will do him good and help him develop more bite and stamina:

Happiness is being loved for who you are

"This stupid soccer! Why do I have to go there? Maybe I could say I’m sick…", thinks Jaron. But by then he already hears an excited "Morning, sport!" against. Papa Fox is standing at the stove flipping pancakes – something he only does on special occasions.

Jaron plops down on his chair, hangs over the tabletop and rests his head on his arms.

A tower of pancakes slides into his field of vision. The maple syrup runs down the edges and covers the raspberries and cream on the plate. Jaron’s favorite dish! But today he stares with a lump in his throat at the sweet tower that seems infinitely tall to him. "I can’t do it," he mumbles.

"You don’t have to eat them all," replies Papa Fox. "Two or three pancakes are certainly enough."His father pats him on the shoulder and sits down at the table with a cup of coffee. "Maybe it’s better anyway. Running is not good on a full stomach. And we want you to be fit today."

Unfortunately, Jaron can’t count on support in his team either. After he misses the decisive penalty kick in the final, his comrades exclude him from eating ice cream together and make fun of him.

Not being "good enough" often accompanies us throughout our lives

In seminars and consultations with parents and professionals we notice again and again that the feeling of not being enough accompanies surprisingly many people since childhood.

They have clearly felt that they were too loud, too shy, too demanding, too sensitive, too lazy, too ambitious, too unathletic, too fat or too uncool for their parents, teachers, but also peers. Some have experienced that they have to be special for their parents: The best student, a top athlete – and you get your parents’ attention primarily when you stand out from the crowd. Some did not feel accepted because they did not have the gender they longed for, did not fit the common role model of a "real boy" or a "real girl," or were painfully similar in character to the ex-partner their mother or father demonized. Some had experienced that their parents kept talking about how much they had sacrificed for the children, how exhausting fatherhood or motherhood is for them – and that as a child, this sacrifice can only be outweighed by a great deal of gratitude and conformity.

Why is unconditional love sometimes so difficult for us??

An independent sense of self-worth takes away the pressure of always having to do something or conform to the expectations of others in order to be loved.

It arises when children and adolescents are allowed to experience again and again from various caregivers that they are loved and accepted even when they do not conform to their ideas.

Maybe you are like us and it is not always easy for you either to accept your child as it is in everyday life? Perhaps you sometimes find yourself annoyed by your child, unable to hide your disappointment, or your mother’s or father’s heart swells with pride when your child meets or even exceeds your (unconscious) expectations?

Even though the requirement to love your child unconditionally can be found in many modern parenting guides, it is still relatively new.

It is helpful to keep in mind that this concept comes from psychotherapy. It was first described by the humanistic therapist Carl Rogers, the founder of conversational psychotherapy. He assumed that people can learn to accept themselves and integrate difficult experiences if they are accompanied by an empathic, authentic and appreciative counterpart in the process. At the same time, the therapist makes it his task to listen without prejudice.

Of course, this is much easier in a professional therapeutic setting than in close, personal relationships. To express it with a striking example: The statement "I cheated" is easier to bear for the therapist than for the partner.

The closer the relationship with our counterpart, the more his or her behavior influences our own life, and the stronger we feel emotionally connected to someone, the more demanding it becomes to show unconditional love.

In contrast to a neutral therapist, we have hopes and wishes for our children. We want the best for them and to give them a happy life. Depending on how we grew up, we have very fixed beliefs about what it takes to do that and what traits enable us to do that. Accordingly, our alarm bells ring quickly when children stray from the supposedly "right" path: Some parents are so strongly identified with their children’s success at school that they have sleepless nights before exams; others panic when the child behaves "antisocially" at times, or immediately fear for the child’s salvation if he or she breaks away from certain values and religious or political convictions.

Unconditional love is a gift

When parents realize that unconditional love is important, they sometimes turn it into an absolute requirement: you must always accept and love your child unconditionally!

From this they deduce that they should never react angrily or disappointedly, that scolding is forbidden and that you should even feel guilty if you praise your child – after all, this is also a form of manipulation?

Unconditional love suddenly becomes a complex set of rules that one must adhere to with all doggedness in order not to be a bad mother, a bad father.

Without realizing it, we once again fall into the trap of conditional esteem: "I am lovable as a mother or father only if I do everything right, do not show any "negative" feelings towards my child and do not "manipulate" him in any way"."

If we want to give unconditional love to our children, it is helpful if we start with ourselves and approach ourselves with an accepting and accepting attitude.

In addition, we can make ourselves aware: "I, too, may make mistakes, react inappropriately from time to time, have feelings that do not always seem pedagogically correct to me – and I can still be a loving mother, a loving father."

Instead of devaluing ourselves or sinking into feelings of guilt, we can accept ourselves and at the same time take responsibility for our feelings. We succeed better when we are honest with ourselves and question what images, desires and needs are behind our reactions:

  • "Now I have yelled at my children again. It drives me up the wall when they fight! I thought with a second child our family happiness would be perfect. I imagined it would be so nice if they always had a playmate at home – but now the two of them fight non-stop and are jealous of each other. I just realize that this disappoints me and makes me pretty sad."
  • "When I see my son doing so little for school and he doesn’t care about bad grades at all, it sends me into a rage! If I’m honest, I’m scared that he’ll ruin his future and that I’ll be to blame if I let that happen."
  • "My child is so dominant again and bosses the others around. I would love to bring it down from its high horse or give it the cold shoulder! It annoys me so much when people put themselves above others, it brings back a lot of bad memories in me. I have always suffered when others have been so bossy with me."

To the author and the author:
Fabian Grolimund is a psychologist and author. Stefanie Rietzler is a psychologist and author. Her new children’s book "Jaron auf den Spuren des Glucks" (Jaron on the trail of happiness) explores the big question of happiness, which is sometimes found in small things. In addition, both write regularly for the Swiss parents’ magazine Fritz+Franzi. Learn more at mit-kindern-lernen-ch

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