cover

Contents

Cover

Title page

Introduction

Chapter 1: Self-Esteem and Your Child’s Education

Self-esteem and the school-going child

Nature of self-worth and self-esteem

Self-esteem and children’s learning difficulties

Self-esteem and the child’s motivation to learn

Origins of children’s self-esteem and learning difficulties

Key insights

Chapter 2: The Couple Relationship and the Child’s Self-Esteem

Self-esteem and the couple relationship

Couple conflict and protective reactions

The effects of couple conflict on the children

Resolving couple conflict

Communication and the couple relationship

Affirmation and the couple relationship

Key insights

Key actions

Chapter 3: Love and Your Child’s Self-Worth

Conditional versus unconditional love

Family communication and self-esteem

Key insights

Key actions

Chapter 4: Behavioural Control and Your Child’s Self-Worth

Behavioural control is not just for children

Control of children is not the parents’ responsibility

Developing children’s self-control

Behavioural control and your child’s education

Key insights

Key actions

Chapter 5: Parents’ Own Self-Esteem

Importance of self-esteem of parents

Levels of adult self-esteem

Origins of adult self-esteem

Maintenance of low adult self-esteem

Action is the key to changing self-esteem

Key insights

Key actions

Chapter 6: Your Child’s Self-Worth and Self-Esteem

The child’s self-esteem and educational effort

Mirroring a child’s self-worth

More ways of mirroring a child’s self-worth

Key insights

Key actions

Chapter 7: Helping the Child Who Is Troubled

Troubled behaviours are always right

Recognition of signs of children’s distress

Causes of childhood problems

Responding to signs of distress in children

Seeking professional help

Key insights

Key actions

Chapter 8: Parents as Educators

Loving comes before learning

Knowledge is not an index of intelligence

Making learning positive

Children who are troubled within classrooms

Parents and teachers

Key insights

Key actions

Dedication

Copyright

About the Author

About Gill & Macmillan

INTRODUCTION

The self-esteem of children is central to their educational development. Mounting research evidence, as well as the experience of school teachers, remedial teachers, family therapists, clinical psychologists, counsellors and educational psychologists, indicates that most children who are troubled and have learning difficulties within classrooms come from problematic home situations and have self-esteem difficulties. The resolution of conflicts within homes and the elevation of children’s self-esteem are major responsibilities for parents and determine not only their children’s educational development but also their emotional, social and sexual development.

By the time children come to school their self-esteem has been largely forged. Certainly, teachers can add to or detract from children’s self-esteem, but the sources of children’s self-esteem problems lie primarily within the home. Each parent’s own level of self-esteem influences that of the child. Parents with high self-esteem effect high self-esteem in their children but, sadly, the converse is also true. Another source of children’s insecurities is how their parents relate to each other. Particularly in their early years, children are totally dependent on parents and when parents are in conflict with each other the children’s security is greatly threatened. It is little wonder that children coming from troubled homes find it difficult to apply themselves to school work. Too often these children will receive a critical and sometimes even a harsh response from teachers, thereby confirming their worst fears that this world is not a safe and secure place in which to be.

Children’s educational development is also affected by how their parents relate to them and whether the parents know how to develop children’s self-esteem. Furthermore, parents are the children’s first educators and knowledge of what to teach and how to teach are important skills. Parents need to know about the behavioural management of children; they need to understand the nature and purpose of children’s problematic behaviours and how to respond constructively to them.

Parenting is the hardest job of all: it is not a ‘natural’ ability but a complex and multifaceted one for which little or no training is given. If parents are to prepare their children for the challenges of school they need to focus on the following areas:

– the couple relationship

– the nature of the love shown to children

– resolution of family conflicts

– how they feel about themselves

– the mirroring of the self-worth of each child

– helping the child who is troubled

– parents as educators.

This book then focuses on these topics. Parental effectiveness relies on each parent’s sense of their own worth (Chapter 5), on how they relate to each other (Chapter 2) and on what kind of loving environment they both set out to create (Chapter 3). Effectiveness is also enhanced when parents know how to resolve conflicts when they arise and when they possess good behavioural management skills in relation to both themselves and their children (Chapter 4). The mirroring of the self-worth of each child is a complex process, and knowledge of the nature of self-worth and self-esteem and how self-worth can be effectively mirrored is also essential (Chapter 6). Children manifest a variety of emotional, behavioural and social problems; an understanding of these problems and the development of constructive ways of responding to them will lead to the maintenance, and often the further realisation, of a child’s self-worth (Chapter 7). Finally, this book explores the role of parents as educators and sets out guidelines on how parents can foster their children’s natural curiosity to learn so that during their school life a love of learning will continue to grow (Chapter 8).

The book provides the reader with relevant case studies and offers tried and tested ways of achieving the aims set out above. At the end of each chapter there is a summary of the important insights and the key actions that will bring about the changes needed to resolve children’s emotional and educational problems. Each chapter of the book stands on its own and individual sections of a chapter can be consulted to understand and resolve some particular difficulty that may have arisen in a child’s, parent’s or couple’s life. To begin with, it is a good idea to read the book through in order to get an overall sense of my ways of understanding and resolving children’s emotional, social and educational problems.

The book is aimed particularly at parents of school-going children, but it has relevance for anybody interested in the emotional, social and educational development of children. It has particular relevance for teachers who can use it to work together with parents who are the primary educators of their children and who can be an essential support and back-up. It offers insights into why children may come to school being emotionally vulnerable and having poor self-esteem, and shows how these problems can be resolved. The book may be of value to home–school liaison officers, to students in teacher training and to community workers, social workers, psychologists and counsellors involved with children who are distressed. It could also be used by groups of parents to work through together some of the issues involved in effective parenting.

The book is a product of my own life experiences, my work as a primary and secondary teacher, my professional involvement with teachers at both staff and individual levels and, most of all, my work as a clinical psychologist helping families, couples, individual adults, adolescents and children who are deeply troubled. In my experience parents are always eager to provide the best for their children but sometimes they are not aware of the blocks to attaining this aspiration and of how to overcome them. My hope is that this book will assist parents in overcoming such blocks.

Finally, the case studies described in the book have been sufficiently masked to ensure anonymity.

CHAPTER 1

SELF-ESTEEM AND YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION

SELF-ESTEEM AND THE SCHOOL-GOING CHILD

A child enters a classroom carrying within her the effects of relationships with significant adults in her life. The most crucial relationship is the one with parents. A child will also be affected by experiences with grandparents (particularly when they live under the same roof), aunts, uncles and child-minders. These relationships are the looking glass through which the child develops her self-esteem. By the time she comes to school, a child has already established an image of herself and that image may be further affected by her experiences with teachers and peers.

It is now known that children who have learning difficulties in school frequently have self-esteem problems, and what is most needed is an affirmation of their self-worth before effective academic development can be established. Teachers can do much to help children feel good about themselves but the involvement of parents is crucial as most of all the child needs to be loved and accepted by her parents and to impress them. However, if the school-going child has a highly protective self-esteem it is likely that the parents (biological, foster or adoptive) also have self-esteem protectors. Parents and teachers who possess a good sense of themselves are in a position to help children feel good about themselves but the converse is also true. This process happens whether or not the parents and the other significant adults in the child’s life realise it. Every action, facial expression, gesture and verbal interaction on the part of significant adults in the child’s life communicates some message to the child about her worth, value and capability.

NATURE OF SELF-WORTH AND SELF-ESTEEM

There tends to be confusion in understanding the concepts of self-worth and self-esteem, often leading to misguided helping.

Self-worth is a given, unchangeable; it is what you are from the moment of conception: sacred, worthy of giving and receiving love, unique, individual, possessing vast intellectual potential and giftedness. Self-worth cannot be damaged or taken from you, it is always there; but for many people it lies hidden behind defensive walls. Your self-worth has to do with your unique being and no behaviour either adds or takes from your person. It is when the person of a child or adult begins to be seen through her behaviour that self-esteem emerges as a protection against not being loved and valued for self.

Self-esteem is a screen self, a crust you form around your real self in order to survive either in the social system of which you are a member or in particular relationships. The greater the threats to your expression of your self-worth, the lower is your self-esteem and the higher are your protectors. Basically, self-esteem is the amount of your real self that you dare show to people. It is in this sense that self-esteem is a screen, because it hides or veils what would be threatening to reveal. For example, each child is unique, individual and different. However, difference has not been affirmed and celebrated in Irish culture, where children (and adults) conform to the demand to be the same in homes, classrooms, churches, communities and sports fields. The word con-form illustrates powerfully how self-esteem is developed as a shadow, a veil over what would be threatening to show – difference. ‘Con’ means ‘false’ and ‘form’ means ‘image’. To conform makes you create a false image, a shadow self that hides the aspect(s) of real self that is not accepted.

The more characteristics of your true self that are not affirmed, or, on appearance, are severely punished and violated, the greater the defensive screen created by the person. There are individuals who describe themselves, for example, as ‘stupid’, ‘evil’, ‘vile’, ‘ugly’, ‘unlovable’, ‘hateful’, ‘bad’. These persons created these self-esteem defences as a means of survival and, not surprisingly, it takes considerable patience on the part of others to help them to let go of their shadow selves.

There is a certain joy and comfort in being hidden, as it reduces further exposure to rejection and neglect; but what a disaster not to come to a place of being able fully to express your sacred, unique and amazing presence.

There is an inverse relationship between your level of self-esteem and your level of protectors. For instance, if your early experiences were of a loveless and harsh nature, you would emerge from childhood with low self-esteem and with remarkably high protectors. The person with low self-esteem may either be very aggressive, violent, blaming, workaholic, alcohol dependent and possessive, or be extremely passive, withdrawn, apathetic, drug-addicted, shy, timid, fearful and depressed.

Many people fall into the area of having middle self-esteem where they hide only some aspects of their true selves and where their defensive manoeuvres are moderate in nature. A person with middle self-esteem may describe himself as, ‘I’m not all bad’, ‘I’m your average man’, ‘I’m as good as the next person’, ‘There are people worse than me’. Their protectors would be either being argumentative, inflexible, over-ambitious and hypersensitive to criticism, or being dependent, fearful, anxious, uncertain, tentative and concerned about how others see them. Nevertheless, this group are much closer to their self-worth than those with low self-esteem.

People with high self-esteem, which accounts for about 5-10 per cent of the population, are very close to the full expression of their unique presence and worth, but because we live in a world where the threats to being truly yourself are frequent, intense and enduring, some small level of protection is required. Nevertheless, persons with high self-esteem are those who work out mostly from their immutable self-worth and hence are loving, capable of receiving love, spontaneous, unique, different, individual, expansive, adventurous, creative and fearless.

It is important to understand that self-esteem arises in response to threats to the true expression of self and is an amazing and creative defence by those children and adults whose self-worth is threatened. Change can only begin with the acceptance of the shadow self as being a necessary ‘evil’; such embracing of your present level of self-esteem is the first step on the journey back to your real self. Stanislavsky, the Russian dramatist and thinker, wrote: ‘The longest and most exciting journey is the journey inwards.’

There are two central dimensions to self-esteem: the feeling of being lovable and the feeling of being capable. Is your school-going child shy, timid, overly reserved, extremely quiet, attention-seeking and clinging or is she aggressive and bullying? If so, these are indications that the child doubts her lovability. Is your child frightened of and resistant to new challenges, fearful of failure, easily upset by mistakes, nervous of school tests, perfectionist, overly diligent about school work or evasive of homework? If so, these are indicators of the child’s doubts about her capability.

Examples of behaviour that show a child has poor to middle self-esteem are given below. These behaviours are signs of the inner turmoil of children and positive responses are needed when they are shown. It is useful to categorise these signs as overcontrol and undercontrol indicators. Children manifesting undercontrol of behaviour are more likely to be brought for psychological help, because their problematic behaviours can seriously interfere with the functioning of parents or teachers or both. The child who shows overcontrol of behaviour is often more at risk but this can be missed by parents and others as the child’s symptoms do not upset adults’ lives.

SELF-ESTEEM AND CHILDREN’S LEARNING DIFFICULTIES

The way parents respond to the self-esteem protectors of their children will be determined largely by their own levels of self-esteem. When parents themselves have doubts about their own value and capability they tend to be either overdemanding or overprotective, or may even be neglectful, of their children. This results in the children also developing self-esteem protectors. For example, the children of teachers are more at risk than any other professional group, because teachers tend to demand high academic performance from their children and tend to scold, ridicule, criticise and condemn failure. All children want to please their parents and the possibility of humiliation through criticism and the withdrawal of love will lead to two possible reactions in children. One reaction is apathy and avoidance. Here the child withdraws from making academic and other efforts because to try means risking humiliation and rejection. The child subconsciously reasons: ‘with no effort, no failure; with no failure, no humiliation’. What an immensely clever strategy! But, such children are often labelled as ‘lazy’, ‘dull’, ‘stupid’ or ‘useless’. Without attention to their self-worth these children will not progress academically.

CHECKLIST FOR LOW (HIGHLY PROTECTIVE) SELF-ESTEEM IN SCHOOL-GOING CHILDREN

The second reaction of children when their self-worth is threatened is compensation. This is evident in the child who is intense, who is a perfectionist, who spends too many hours over school work or who is easily upset by any prospect of failure. Again, the wisdom of the strategy is commendable. By working so hard the child is attempting to eliminate any prospect of failure as failure and mistakes mean risking the disapproval of parents and teachers. This child misses out in other aspects of a child’s life such as play, friendships, sports activities and enjoyment of learning. For this child identity is tied to behaviour – particularly academic behaviour – and unless this identity issue is resolved the child will become even more chronically insecure, perfectionist and hard-working as the academic pressures continue to increase during school life.

Another type of compensation is seen in the child who is boastful, aggressive or bullying and who acts in a superior way. However, she rarely makes any effort and any pressure from others to academically apply herself results in a protective response such as: ‘I could do it if I wanted to but why should I please you?’ Like the child who either uses the avoidance strategy or overworks, the child displaying such arrogance is really protecting herself against any possibility of failure, as, once again, failure would mean humiliation and rejection.

Many adults also use these strategies of avoidance and compensation. For example, the most common phobia of all is that of public speaking. Ninety per cent of people avoid such an undertaking. Such avoidance is a clear indicator of doubts about capability and ability to impress others. Likewise, many parents put high demands and expectations on themselves in order to avoid any prospect of mistakes and failure. Many parents say that they have not put verbal pressure on their children to succeed academically. This may be the case but actions speak much louder than words and it is the parents’ lifestyle that mainly affects children. Children protectively believe that their parents are always right and as a result they imitate their actions indiscriminately and become like them. In adolescence children think parents know nothing. But this attitude is relatively short-lived as the dependence on parents is far stronger than this transitory rebellion. Some children will develop a pattern of behaviour that is diametrically opposed to that of their parents – but which is equally extreme and results in an unhappy and problematic life. For example, the child who drops out of school in reaction to pressure for academic performance from parents builds up a whole new series of problems for herself.

It has been shown that parents who put pressure on the child for academic performance unwittingly blind themselves to the child’s self-worth and this leads to either avoidance or compensation by the child to prevent further hurt. But what about the parent who over-protects and puts little or no pressure on children to make responsible efforts? If the overly demanding parent causes children to become insecure and lacking in confidence, the overly protective parent brings about similar vulnerabilities in his child. The parent who does everything for the child and does not make reasonable demands on her communicates no message of belief in the child’s wondrous capacity to learn and to become independent. Protection disables children and keeps them dependent and helpless. These children may feel loved but they will in no way feel capable.

SELF-ESTEEM AND THE CHILD’S MOTIVATION TO LEARN

Parents are often puzzled by children who clearly possess the skills but make no effort to learn. The child with high self-esteem retains a natural curiosity for learning and is enthusiastic when presented with a new challenge. This child is confident in social situations and in tackling academic challenges. On the other hand, the child with middle to low self-esteem has lost the excitement of learning; any learning means risking failure and mistakes and these have only brought about humiliation and rejection in the past. It is safer to risk a parent’s or teacher’s disapproval than the embarrassment and punishment of failure.

Success and failure in themselves have no effect on a child’s motivation to learn but the reactions of parents, teachers and other significant adults to success and failure can have a devastating effect. When adults react positively to successful performance and punishingly to failure (for example shouting, blaming, scolding, comparing), the child begins to doubt her ability to live up to expectations. Many parents (and teachers) have difficulty in understanding that praising the successful performance of an activity breeds dependence and consequent fears of not pleasing in children. Parents need to encourage children in their efforts to master an activity. What counts is the effort not the performance. Emphasis on performance may eventually dry up effort or lead to overtrying. Every effort on a child’s part is an attainment. Think of the child who manages for the first time to put on her shoes: she presents herself to her father and says, ‘hey Dad, look’, proudly pointing down at her shoes. Dad looks down and responds crossly, ‘you put them on the wrong feet’. The child will now feel put down, hurt and rejected. The father has totally missed that this effort is a major attainment: for the first time the child has managed to put her own shoes on her own feet. By showing that he was impressed by her effort, the father could have encouraged and guided the child to learn the next stages of shoe fitting. With the punishing reaction she is unlikely to try again or may get anxious and perfectionist on the next attempt. Without realising it, her father has undermined her self-worth. He has not yet learned that children are always lovable whether they fail or make mistakes and that they are capable of learning any skill. If a child experiences such punishing parental reactions only now and again then no serious block to self-worth occurs. However, if such reactions are a regular feature in a child’s life then children develop self-esteem protectors.

An important rule for parents to be aware of is that while unrealistic demands lead to low (highly protective) self-esteem, equally no demands at all lead to low self-esteem. In both cases children are doomed to low academic achievement or overachievement. The wise parent knows that there is an optimum pressure – just enough to cause children to feel challenged and positive but not so much that they become distressed. The secret is to be aware of the child’s present level of functioning and to work from there in a realistic manner.

Another important guide for parents is not to allow a child slide out of responsibility. Loving children means encouraging them and being positively firm with them in pursuing the responsible behaviours that will gain them the skills and abilities to have an independent, fulfilling and challenging life. Parents cease to love their children when they allow them to slide out of responsibility. But the challenges that are set need to be close to their present level of functioning. If the gap between their present knowledge and skill levels and what the parent is expecting of them is too wide, children will become anxious and threatened and will resort to either avoidance or compensation.

It is now well established that without attention to self-worth children are not likely to make long-term scholastic progress. Research is showing that, in general, people’s levels of achievement are influenced by how they see themselves and, more specifically, that self-esteem and academic achievement are strongly associated. Parents are in the most powerful position to influence how their children feel about themselves. The most important medium of influence parents have is their relationship with their children and when this is valuing and caring in nature the children’s self-esteem will be elevated.

ORIGINS OF CHILDREN’S SELF-ESTEEM AND LEARNING DIFFICULTIES

Two-parent families

The self-esteem of the child is also affected by the parents’ relationship with each other. The child who regularly witnesses openly hostile conflict or silent hostility between parents can become chronically insecure. Children are so dependent on parents that any threat to the couple relationship undermines their confidence that their needs will be met. Children do not understand that the conflict between their parents does not mean that they are not loved. But it is true that when marital conflict is ongoing it generally means that children’s needs are neglected. Furthermore, conflictual relationships are typically characterised by self-esteem protectors on the part of each partner. In many ways the conflict in the relationship just adds further fuel to the fire of self-esteem difficulties in the offspring of such a partnership and to the self-esteem protectors of the parents. It is not surprising that children who come from a home troubled by parental conflict cannot attend to classroom activities. Very often they will not reveal these home problems and, consequently, teachers may misinterpret their inattentiveness, non-cooperation or aggression as impertinence, laziness or boldness. The teachers may then punish, ridicule, scold or withdraw affection from these children, thereby confirming their worst fears about being of no value and possessing no capability. In this way teachers add to the turmoil of home and, generally, because of their poor relationship with troubled children, pile up more management problems for themselves in the classroom.

A major determinant of self-esteem is the way members of the family interact with each other. Even though parents may have a reasonably good relationship with each other they may still have self-esteem protectors and these will largely determine their effectiveness as parents. Many parents live their lives through their children and consequently block the emergence of their own and their children’s self-worth. Other parents may be neglectful, emotionally cold or overly protective – all of which lead to children creating a self-esteem screen.

Lone-parent families

Lone-parent families are a growing feature of Irish society. There is no evidence that a lone parent is any less effective than a married parent but the latter generally has the advantages of a supportive partner, better financial resources and back-up support systems. Lone parents, on the other hand, often have meagre financial resources, are sometimes alienated from their family of origin and have poor or no support systems. Not surprisingly, the stress and pressures experienced by lone parents can be far greater than those of their married counterparts. Lone parents deserve the social and psychological resources necessary for them to continue their own development as individuals and to become effective parents. When these are not present, difficulties can arise within the lone-parent family leading to a loss of a sense of good about self both in the children and in the parent. A caring and responsive social system can rescue such families.

Subcultural families

Not all the problems of children in schools are due to self-esteem protectors. Sometimes the cause is that children from a subculture are being educated in the schools of the main culture of the country. They may come, for instance, from the travelling community or an area of high unemployment or a strongly working-class area and may not have the same motivation or interest in academic development as their middle-class counterparts. Playing truant or dropping out is quite common among such children. There is quite a difference between children who develop a school phobia and those who are school truants. For the latter the problem normally resides in the school whereas for the child with a school phobia the problem lies in the home. The child who plays truant from school generally hates school and may be the victim of a teacher who is ridiculing, scolding or even violent. The child may also be a member of a subculture and may be having difficulties in adjusting to the demands of the different culture of the school she is attending. In contrast, the child who has a school phobia usually loves school and when she does manage to get there will be a model student. In this case the problem lies in the home and the child may, for example, stay home to ‘look after’ a mother who is being neglected by her husband or a parent who is overly dependent on the child. Sometimes the school-going child stays at home because of the arrival of a baby brother or sister and she dreads not getting her needs met should she go to school.

KEY INSIGHTS

Children enter classrooms carrying with them the effects of their relationships with their parents and other significant adults in their lives.

Parents’ relationships with children are the looking glass through which children develop a sense of themselves.

Children who have learning difficulties in school frequently have self-esteem protectors.

Parents with high self-esteem reflect their children’s unique worth but the converse is also true.

When children have self-esteem protectors they will manifest these through either undercontrol or overcontrol behaviours.

Avoidance and compensatory behaviours are attempts by children to avoid failure and mistakes as these experiences are associated with humiliation and rejection.

Parents who put pressure on children for academic performance unwittingly cause children to become protective.

Parents who are overly protective of their children undermine children’s belief in themselves.

Success and failure have no effect on children but the reactions of parents and teachers to success and failure can have devastating effects on children’s motivation to learn.

What counts is effort not performance.

Emphasis on performance may eventually dry up effort or lead to overtrying.

Children’s levels of academic attainment are strongly influenced by how they see themselves.

The most important medium of influence parents have is the relationship with their children and when this is valuing in nature children’s self-esteem rises.

The self-esteem of children is affected by the parents’ relationship with each other.

Many parents live their lives through their children and consequently block the realisation of their own and their children’s self-worth.

CHAPTER 2

THE COUPLE RELATIONSHIP AND THE CHILD’S SELF-ESTEEM

SELF-ESTEEM AND THE COUPLE RELATIONSHIP

Individuals bring their self-esteem screens into the couple relationship and all the interactions between them are affected by their doubts, fears and insecurities. It is known that the first two years of marriage are the most difficult, giving rise to the saying ‘love is blind but marriage is an eye-opener’. The stress in these early years arises because the couple are trying to adjust to each other’s differences. Differences between a couple can be challenging and exciting and can be an opportunity to learn from each other. But when the self-esteem of one or both partners is low, differences become a major threat and can become the battleground on which each attempts to establish his or her identity at the expense of the other. For example, the aggressive partner will push that her needs, career, viewpoints and so on are more important than the other’s; on the other hand, the passive partner sacrifices her own individuality for the sake of acceptance from the other and ‘for peace sake’. The more extensive the self-esteem protectors of the partners the longer the problems and conflicts will endure.

Unfortunately, ‘problems marry problems’. Individuals who are deeply insecure tend to marry or form relationships with persons of like vulnerability. It may seem on the surface that the two partners are opposites and the saying ‘opposites attract’ may often seem true. For example, the aggressive person tends to choose a passive partner. Other examples are exhibitionism being paired with inhibition, extroversion with introversion, people-pleasing with selfishness. There is subconscious wisdom in these choices of seeming opposites. The person who is aggressive needs to learn some of the passivity of her partner and vice versa. Likewise the person who is reserved, shy and quiet can learn much from an extrovert partner and vice versa.

I recall the following case of a man who married a person opposite to himself in behaviour. As a child, and for much of his adulthood, his identity was totally enmeshed with being the ‘helper’. His mother had become an invalid when he was about seven years of age and he had taken over the caring role within the family. The reinforcement he got for this role was very great: ‘What a wonderful child who can cook, shop, clean the house, look after his mother, do the laundry’. The condition for recognition became being the ‘carer’. This early conditioning led him to take up professions in adulthood which are primarily of a caring nature: the priesthood, teaching and therapy. Without realising it, he was still getting his acceptance from others through taking care of them. It was quite a sad but freeing revelation to him when he discovered that all his giving over the years had been driven by a need to be accepted. The giving was a subconscious strategy to get recognition. Before (and for a long time after) he had arrived at the insight of his dependency on others for acceptance, he had tremendous difficulty in saying ‘no’ to the needs of others. He had a further difficulty in identifying and responding to his own needs.

A year into his marriage he found he was getting quite hostile towards his partner. Knowing that his hostility was an indication of something about himself, I asked him: ‘What is it in you that is making you cross and irritable in this relationship?’ and his answer was clear: ‘I give and give and give but get little in return’. But his wife was not responsible for his needs and neither could she read his mind. It was his responsibility to let her know clearly what his emotional, social, sexual, occupational, domestic and other needs were. In fact, his wife was the ideal partner for him and someone from whom he had much to learn. Unlike him, and like his mother, she was an expert at identifying and getting her own needs met. She had come from a family in which she was the ‘pet’ and had generally been spoiled. The child who is spoiled is used to getting his needs met by others and this expectation continues into adulthood. However, such people are not good at taking responsibility for themselves. The child who is overindulged is disabled and emerges into adulthood being heavily dependent on others to meet his needs. This man’s wife had subconsciously chosen him in order to continue the pattern from her childhood of having her needs met by others. But she also had the opportunity of learning from him that other people have needs as well and that she was capable of being responsible for herself.

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