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Cultivating Self-Worth through Painful Experiences

Have you ever had an inner knowing that something was troubling your child, but he wasn’t willing to tell you what it was? And then when he did, you discovered that another student at school was teasing him or laughing at him and the experience had left him feeling bad about himself? You feel your child’s pain like a heavy ache in your chest, and you’d do anything to make it better. If this sounds at all familiar, read on for strategies on how to  use this experience to support your child’s development of self-worth and empathy.


Here’s my story

(a few details have been changed to afford my son a little privacy).

The above situation happened to me recently, and it came to my attention when my son was insisting on going to the store to buy some new shoes. His Dad and I had both said ‘no’, because he didn’t need new shoes, and we were feeling tired near the end of a long day. He persisted, and when I asked him what was going on, he reluctantly told me, in a very small voice, that 1 or 2 kids at school had teased him about them. So he was going to fix the problem by getting new shoes.

I felt sick—mostly because I could feel his pain of being hurt by his friends (and my own pain from similar past experiences), but also because I want him to feel confident enough to wear what he likes and wants without changing it because others don’t approve. I also felt a bit angry—you know, that ‘protective mama bear mode’ that we go into when our child is hurt, even when we understand that the other kids are still learning social skills as well.

I wasn’t initially sure how I was going to handle the situation, but as I felt my way through, guided by my recognition of his experience as similar to my own past experiences, I was completely surprised by how quickly he was able to regain his confidence.

Here’s What I Did:

(1) I began by acknowledging that must have really hurt his feelings—and big tears welled up in his eyes. We sat with that feeling for a bit, as I nodded and acknowledged it. (2) After a moment or two, I asked him “Is there a little voice inside your head telling you that because others are laughing, or because someone who might be kind of popular is laughing about your shoes, that you are not quite good enough as a person? Or maybe you’re not as good as them?” He looked shocked that I knew what he was thinking, and nodded.

(3) Again, I waited for a moment or two while he sat with that feeling. (4)Then I asked him if he knew that that feeling is called feeling ‘unworthy’, or ‘not good enough’, and that I’ve had it, and everybody has it sometimes. Even the people who seem really popular have that feeling, and sometimes that ‘not good enough’ feeling is actually the reason they laugh at other kids, even if they don’t realize that’s why. Or sometimes it’s just because they’re not paying attention to your feelings for some reason in that moment.

He seemed interested now. Suddenly he wasn’t alone and isolated in his feeling—it was common, he wasn’t the only one.

(5) I carried on. “But what’s most important to know is that it’s not true. It’s just a perspective—an opinion that someone has, and it has nothing to do with who you are, or even whether your shoes are nice, or ‘cool’. It’s just what something thinks in that particular moment.”

I saw his shoulders and face relax, and a little twinkle come back into his eye, as if he was thinking, “Of course! That makes perfect sense!”

I will add that since he was very young, I have been teaching him that there’s not very many absolute ‘truths’ in the world—most things people say are a perspective not a truth, so he knew what that meant, and it immediately made sense and brought relief for him. Also, he is familiar with the notion that we are more than our physical selves—we have an inner essence, or spirit, from which our unique self is expressed, and while in our human experiences, we make poor decisions at times, that part of ourselves which is spirit is ‘perfect’ as it is.

So the truth of what I was telling him resonated instantly. However to be honest, I was a little surprised at how quickly the issue resolved and he bounced back. He walked over, picked up his shoes and put them back on and smiled. When I asked if he was okay with wearing them to school, and whether he knew how he would handle things if the situation recurred, he nodded confidently. He didn’t want any further help from me.

Recognizing that the human experience of believing you’re ‘not good enough’ is common to all people, and knowing that it is not an indication that you are less worthy than others, is important for developing self-worth, resilience and the confidence to connect with others in these painful situations instead of pulling away and isolating oneself in fear.

  • Feeling his own pain and human experiences enables him to recognize pain in others and feel empathy.
  • Knowing that the message of ‘not good enough’ inside his head isn’t true gives him access to the strength of his spirit—and the courage to move forward.

Practical steps:

  • I have placed italicized #’s in the text of the story above indicating the steps I took.
  • One of the best ways to help your child recognize painful feelings is by recognizing them in yourself—when you are able to feel your own fears and insecurities in your own difficult moments, you will more readily recognize them in your children, and be capable of helping them make sense of the experience.
  • If you have difficulty recognizing the experience underneath the superficial emotion (in this story, especially #2 & #4) in your own parent-child interactions, you may want to check out my 6-hour workshop, which will include a segment on how to do this, in detail, along with guided exercises to practice. Click here for details.

I will also be speaking on this topic on CFAX radio this Saturday May 3rd—see below for details on how to tune in.

As always, I love to hear from you! Has this happened to you? Do you have some strategies to share? If you have questions or comments, please share them below, or email me at with your question.


Upcoming Events

Real Parenting Radio Show

Join me on Saturday for more on the topic above.

Have you ever felt your child pulling away and resisting when you are trying to teach or tell him something that feels important? If so, listen in as I talk with host Shirley Broback on CFAX radio about why sinking deeply into our feelings and human experiences is essential for connecting with our children and living authentic, heart-centered lives with them.

The Real Parenting Show airs at 4pm PST on Saturday May 3rd, on CFAX 1070, AM radio.

Outside of the Victoria listening area, tune in on the internet at:


Evening Workshop– Video Gaming: How Much is Too Much

We want to allow our children to have the benefit of learning about that which is on the leading edge, as well as enjoying fun activities that are common to their peers.

But how do we ease that uneasy feeling we sometimes get when we see signs that it is perhaps impacting their motivation, their ability to connect with their peers, family or at school, or even see signs of addictive tendencies?

  • How can I tell if it’s too much screen time?–What can I watch for?
  • How can I limit screen time and preserve the connection with my child?
  • Is lack of motivation linked to video gaming or time spent in front of a screen?
  • What are some strategies and opportunities for supporting your child to use this experience for gaining self-awareness and learning some skills of self-mastery?

Join me for this presentation and discussion in which I share stories, brain science, research and strategies on the topics above.

As always, my approach is not prescriptive—I provide you with information that can help you make a decision for your unique situation.

Click here for more details.

If you know of someone who may be interested in this newletter or the upcoming workshops, please feel free to share by email or on facebook! Many thanks!