Here, Let Me Do That… Let Me Help

I came across this blurb (end of post) a few months back.  I don’t recall what led me to it specifically.  Sometimes I’ll find something so profound that I’ll compose a draft with its contents knowing I will want to write about it later.  Tonight, I started to go through my “drafts” for the purpose of writing out of discipline.  This stuck out… But before I address said contents, I want to digress.  🙂 ________________________________________________________ The other day, I had a simple and brief conversation with my husband that I think is one of the more “successful” instances where we actually communicated effectively, bi-directionally.  Further, I think the conclusion of the conversation was mutual and effective; the far reaching benefits of a very simple concept are already starting to be evident.

Let me give you a brief bit of background information so you can follow the dialogue I will use to share the experience with you.  My daughter, who will be three in the very near future, has taken to a specific doll.  When we began our nomadic journeys, 4 months ago, she suddenly became very attached to this doll (she calls her “Baby”) and we fostered her interest.

Every day, my daughter’s waking thought is to care for her Baby; she won’t get out of bed without first tending to her.  Sometimes my daughter will personify her own needs through those of her baby (“Mama, my baby is hungry for breakfast”), and often she will simply communicate her Baby’s needs, independent of her own.  She keeps track of her Baby as we do her.

The doll is never left at home alone, she won’t leave her in the car alone, she takes her everywhere she goes.  We have never tested her loyalty by, for instance, leaving the doll in the car overnight (having taken my sleeping daughter in from the carseat).  We have too much respect and value for our child to test her dedication to this doll, or to attempt to make her prove how that dedication represents her internal values.  We don’t want to know her anguish at waking in the middle of the night to find her Baby not lying next to her, but instead discover that baby had been left alone, in the cold and dark, abandoned.  This is the extent of value her Baby has: We have two children now, one just happens to be stuffed with cotton and the other is stuffed with bones, nerves, arteries, and muscles.  This is also the extent of admiration and awareness we have of our what our daughter holds as valuable… and what we hold as valuable.

I assume you get the picture.

We have taken to commenting on our daughter’s attentiveness by statements such as, “Your Baby is such a lucky baby to have you”, and “It’s so awesome to see you take such great care of your Baby…. You always know just what she needs”.

We have even, on occasion, indicated to our kiddo that her baby seems to need her, taking our cue from our daughter saying things like, “My baby is scared of _________, she needs me to hold/fix/take care of her.”  As well as the baby being hungry, thirsty, hot/cold, tired… etc.

I often remark that my daughter is a wonderful mama for her baby.  And sometimes we say that she’s “such a good Baby Mama”.  She understands and acknowledges our praise and recognition, usually with some sort of intelligent response that demonstrates and affirms our comments.  However, the other day I noticed a different response…

Instead of affirming our comments, she rather sulked. It was barely perceivable, but I happened to catch a glimpse of a momentary facial expression, followed by just a tiny flash of body language that was inconsistent with pride, confidence, and self-esteem.  In its place, I saw what almost appeared to be invalidation and a touch of diminished self-value set itself in her countenance and little form.  Her shoulders dropped a bit, her head angle changed, she looked somewhat conflicted internally (like she wanted to say something but didn’t know what/how), and she just sort of – missed a beat.  This is the kid that never misses even 1/16 of a beat, but at that moment, she skipped out for almost an entire phrase.

So, I brought it to her Papa’s attention and told him what I observed.  I identified some of it immediately, and some of the concept developed subsequently, but we concluded that she was indeed affected “not positively” by what had been said.  And through conversation (in code, I might add), we realized that, from the best we can tell, our quantifying and qualifying of her actions, assigning an ambiguously positive adjective to them (based upon us assuming we have the power to assign such value), was what sat wrong with her that day.

She knows how attentive she is.  We don’t need to tell her. She is well aware of herself, and is not seeking empty praise. She is seeking recognition and acknowledgement; confirmation of her success and a shared sense of value and commonality. She also knows that we see her value of/for her baby and we approve.  We approve directly as well as inwardly. We both appreciate her actions because they seem an indicator of how she perceives our care of her.

Our assignment of a quality/value (such as “good”) that was not her own self assessment, triggered something inside of her that was not “good”.  She didn’t beam with pride and confidence, which is our goal.  She sunk and struggled with an internal “offset” instead. She did not benefit from us telling her something is “good”, “great”, “bad”, or any other ambiguous adjective of qualified value, assigned by us, as if we hold the power to bestow such an assignment.  She benefits from our approval and awareness of her efforts, the reasons for those efforts, and the values that she holds for and of herself. These are the comments that build her up, give her wings, and cause her to soar.   – And no, we’re not inflating her pride, we’re giving her the building blocks to construct her self-esteem and foundation.

All that said, I believe there is a connection with the concept identified above, and that of the one discussed below, that I initially mentioned at the beginning of this post.  The exchange above is positive, below is not so positive, but the unifying understanding is significantly similar.  I hope you’ll catch it. Above, I talked about the value of acknowledgement; of not assigning one’s personal value system to another, but instead giving the other person the respect and due recognition of their efforts and values, and acknowledging their own assigned levels of quality.  Approval and acknowledgement are not synonymous, but sometimes are very intricately linked, as in the above example. In what follows, you will see something that initially may look positive, but I submit that it is indeed actually demeaning, diminishing, and causes far reaching damage.  This sort of interplay can be overt and with malice, which usually results in a diminished recipient (who may then be invalidated further by the denial of the existence of such invalidation). However, such behavior can just as easily be inconspicuous and with an apparent intent to be constructive and beneficial, and is then often very confusing to the recipient and others within observational range.  In reality, taking into consideration the very real likelihood that the individual controlling the dynamics of the exchange suffers from his/her own insecurities and a need to raise themselves above others, at the cost of the others’ autonomy and self-value, it is an entirely unsuccessful approach at anything in the realm of positive and beneficial.

Loosely quoted:  Source is here

For example, a father conveys the subtle message of “I don’t think you’re capable” by taking on a (the child’s) task to do it right.

“Here, let me help you cut that out”, as he takes over the child’s school project.

When the child states, “I can do it myself”, the father keeps working on the project.

“I know you can. I’m just helping. Now doesn’t that look better?”

If the child should protest angrily, “You don’t think I can do it right!” the father might respond, Of course I do”, “I was just helping”, or “you are so ungrateful!”   Do you see the three levels of damage here?

In this situation, the father has escalated the situation to cause the child to become angry and then to criticize the child for being angry. (This is called a setup, in case you aren’t seeing what the problem is yet.  The father instigates the conflict and the child’s loss of self-value by devaluing and having no courage to trust in his child’s own abilities, and telling him as much.  Then the father sets the child in a position of defense or subjugation (child can pick), which he then berates the child for acting out his need to defend. And then the father adds insult to injury by telling the child he is further lacking in value and lacking in a common socially expected behavior patter.  The father hopes the child will surrender to the barrage, thereby giving the father his sadly desired “victory”.  Might as well add an “I told you so, stupid”.  The kid is low enough at this point that he would agree.)

This teaches the child that his emotions are unacceptable, as well as that her father doesn’t believe he/she is capable.

Let that last sentence sit for a moment.  Read it again.  Can you identify the ramifications of those two concepts in their entirety?  Grab a pencil and start making a list.  Seriously.  It’s multi-layered and extends far greater than what appears obvious at the surface.

Over time the child learns to not trust her own perceptions of reality.  That’s not all she learns… but let’s just think on what bad sort of stuff might result in her experiencing doubt on this level, when so vulnerable.

Another example of this sort of devaluing is a parent telling their children that they should respect or love them because they are their parents – nothing more.  Not a mutual respect, a respect learned by example, or even a natural respect allowed to grow and develop due to a distinct absence of hindrances.

“Love and respect is something that occurs due to the underlying relationship not because of a demand.”   And to that, I add, love and respect are due to many things far greater and in more depth than just an underlying relationship, but that’s a good place to start the understanding and exploration.

Love and respect are intrinsically interconnected with recognition, acknowledgement, and value.  Look up validation.

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