Tom's mother was a rather quiet woman who fitted snugly into her husband's hang-ups. In fact, one reason she married him was that she felt insecure and withdrawn herself. She was looking for a husband who would take charge and run matters with a strong hand. Needless to say, she was unable to help Tom develop a healthy sense of confidence and competence as he was growing up because she lacked these traits herself.
Consequently, Tom reached adulthood feeling that he didn't have much to offer. Tom didn't trust himself, his thoughts, his decisions, or his abilities. He had a terribly sagging, low self-esteem in the area of confidence.
Millions of children are raised in homes where similar dynamics take place on an hour-by-hour basis. One negative experience after another is fed into their mental and emotional computers until they are solidly programmed with uncertainty, indecisiveness, and lack of confidence.
The experiences that destroy a child's self-confidence are legion. All you have to do is listen to parents correct their children in your local shopping center! Or listen to adults talk about their own childhood experiences. You will quickly realize how many boys and girls are raised in such a way that their God-given needs for feeling confident and competent have not been adequately met.
Here are several more of the most common confidence-killers:
- Lack of encouragement
- Angry punishment and correction
- Excessive parental anxiety
- Unfavorable comparison to siblings and friends
- Unrealistic or age-inappropriate expectations
- Lack of praise
- Excessive competition
Each of these leaves children doubting their own ability to become competent, successful people in school, work, and in their relationships.
Ordinarily, parents have much more influence, either negatively or positively, on their children than does anyone else. This is because parents live with their children from the day they are born, and because they provide their children's most important emotional attachments. But other voices also tell children they are or are not what they should be.
Peers can be a tragic source of low self-confidence. Junior-high school-aged girls, for example, can be incredibly jealous, critical, and rejecting! Trying to find their own niche, they criticize, exclude, and poke fun at girls who don't make the "inner circle."
Peers can be a tragic source
of low self-confidence.
Competition, whether it is about looks, friends, athletics, or grades is universal, and every child is doomed to fall behind at times. But some children repeatedly seem to not quite make it. An average student may feel inferior compared to the best students. So may a child who isn't as talented musically or athletically. Both criticism and comparison leave imprints on the pictures we hold of ourselves. They say, "You can't do it well enough" or, "Others do better, no matter how hard you try." Excessive criticism can leave serious scars causing us to feel incompetent and always unable to measure up. These feelings can remain for a lifetime, to inhibit us or hold us back unless something happens to change them.
Other childhood influences which affect some children deeply are teachers. Many teachers are wonderful, helpful, respectful people who know both how to help children learn and how to help them feel good about themselves. But others, probably because of their own lack of positive feelings about themselves, tend to undermine their students' confidence.
I remember a boy named Steve. He was a shy, withdrawn child when he entered kindergarten at the age of five. His parents quarreled most of the time and life was quite unbearable at home. Steve daydreamed at school. He escaped to this "other world" because the real world in which he was living was unpleasant and unfulfilling.
Unfortunately, Steve had a succession of teachers in the first few years of elementary school who were very displeased with him. They scolded him, ridiculed him in front of other children, and embarrassed him to tears.
"You can do better work, Steve. Why don't you do it?" a teacher would say. And this continued day after day and year after year. By the time Steve was ten, he felt so weak, whipped, and useless that he completely gave up.
By the time Steve was ten, he felt
so weak, whipped and useless
that he completely gave up.
Occasional negative experiences with a teacher are not too harmful, but constant negative occurrences coupled with a weak home situation can be devastating to a sensitive, growing child.
Our attitudes toward ourselves in childhood, including our sense of confidence, are not only influenced by our parents, friends, and teachers, but also by our circumstances in life.
I refer to such things as the financial condition of families, the type of vocation in which our parents are engaged, the cultural status of the parents, and even the geographic location of our home.
These, too, can make a lasting impression on a child's outlook and feelings about himself and his fellow man. Twenty-five-year-old Jill, for example, has still not gotten over the rejection she experienced because she lived in the poor part of town and rarely had new clothes for school. She never felt that she fitted in and she developed no confidence in her social skills. Even though she is now a college-educated woman with poise and outstanding technical skills, inwardly she approaches each new social situation expecting not to fit in. While most observers wouldn't know it, inwardly Jill still feels like that awkward adolescent from the other side of the tracks.
Jill struggles with both a lack of love and a lack of confidence. Because deep down she doesn't believe she will ever fit in and be accepted, she has a serious lack of confidence socially.
As I have counseled with people through the years, I have seen that circumstances like Jill's generally do not produce in themselves a significant negative influence upon a child's feelings of confidence. It is usually only when these social circumstances are combined with other family dynamics that they have a major, lasting influence.
Literally millions of adults have been raised in homes with meager financial resources, on the "wrong side of the tracks," or as members of minority groups that were severely discriminated against and mistreated. Yet their parents were loving, kind, and supportive. These parents enabled their children to grow up feeling that they were adequate, talented, and even privileged in spite of the external circumstances! As a result, their basic emotional needs were well met, and the children reached adulthood feeling loved, worthwhile, and competent.
Continued on Page Three