In this week’s Dating Primer column, Rosie Einhorn and Sherry Zimmerman write about the destructive nature of frequent, often unjustified criticism directed towards children and some of the repercussions of what they feel is unintentional but nonetheless genuine verbal abuse.
Like any kind of abuse, the scars last a lifetime and are a great impediment to the likelihood of the child having a fulfilling life socially and professionally once it is an adult.
Children who are constantly being told they are failures, or disappointments – no matter what they do – grow up with a low opinion of themselves and view themselves as unlikable
or unacceptable individuals. In many cases, these youngsters are berated because of their own parents’ insecurities, and need to relive their lives through their children’s achievements.
An example of unwarranted disapproval is when a parent scolded a student for not getting a higher grade in a test even though (s)he did very well. Girls may be told they are too fat and therefore ugly – even though they are barely overweight, if at all. Kids are being told they are stupid, or clumsy because they spilled their milk, or dropped a dish, or lost their gloves. They internalize this ego-damaging message if it is frequently given.
Whether they are bright, or talented, or good looking is irrelevant – their perception of themselves is their reality.
When babies are born, their view of the world is totally tied to their parent’s interpretations. For example, when a parent points out a danger such as fire, or falling down steps, the toddler accepts this view – especially if the child does fall down the steps, or touches a flame. The child trusts his parents (or caregivers). If a parent often ridicules a child, then why shouldn’t the child – who has no other point of reference – not believe the mother or father who is the center of his/her world?
If Mommy was right about the flame, and right about not climbing on the counter…. then she must be right when she says, “You’re stupid.”
These children have heard from the time they understood words and body language that they are inferior beings. The consequences of thinking lowly of themselves is devastating. Ironically, some parents disparage their kids thinking that this will motivate them to try harder. But the
opposite happens. Some kids just give up trying, knowing they will fail to measure up no matter what they do – so why even bother trying. Others become overachievers in a futile attempt to please their parents and elicit a compliment or praise.
These kids tend to grow up to have commitment problems – both socially and professionally, and are easy targets of abusive predators.
The young adults who are “accomplished” on the outside – are set up with “top shidduchim” who they eventually reject. They do so out of fear that their date will find out how “inadequate” they really are. They are always afraid of being found out as inferior beings (that is what they have been told all their lives). They end the relationship and stay single. They may be labeled as being too picky when the truth is they are terrified the other party will discover that they are
“frauds”. They feel that they are not good enough and are terrified of being “found out.”
Those who do marry often end up with spouses with dysfunctional personalities – those who are physically or emotionally abusive. If someone thinks they are ugly or stupid, they feel more comfortable with other “losers” like themselves. When their spouse yells that the meat is overdone, or the house is dirty (even when this is not true), this kind of unjustified criticism and denigration is familiar (these kind of negative judgments is what they heard from their
parents) – and is accepted as the truth.
These unfortunate souls often allow themselves to be bullied in the work place by their co-workers, or taken advantage of by their bosses – and they allow it – because deep down they know that they “don’t measure up”.
The only way to get out of this low self-imposed quicksand is for the individual to get therapy. Often the young people do not know why they can’t make a marital commitment- why they are rejecting good potential spouses. On a conscious level, they say they want to get married.
Subconsciously, buried deep in their fragile egos is the fear of failure, or the belief that they are incompetent, which prevents them from taking that leap into the unknown. People with a severe lack of confidence tend to avoid risks, since they are convinced they will not be successful.
That fear is why many stay single or end up in mediocre jobs that are below their capabilities. Fear of inadequacy and failure stops them from taking on a situation that requires any real measure of responsibility and efficiency.
Sadly, those who do marry and become parents are likely to repeat the destructive ego-busting habits of their parents, (A) because they don’t know any other parenting styles – and
(B) like their parents, they are hoping that being hard on their kids will “give them a second chance” – through their kids’ “achievements” to show that they weren’t total failures.
Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen, and a new generation will be the latest victims of pathetic parenting.
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