"Low Self-esteem" invites Frustration
We often experience frustration when the people we love don't see their own successes, their own competence.
It's what makes 'low self-esteem' such a gnarly problem. You can't convince someone that they are competent, if they are not seeing it themselves.
Part of the problem has to do with how we are taught to praise and reinforce kids. We tell them they are 'good' at things. Good at art, good at math, good at making friends. Or, we tell them about their admirable qualities; we say that they are kind, or thoughtful, or a good listener.
But these words may not mean that much to a young person. These words are abstract, and they don't make much of an impact on 'comparison' or 'self-doubt'.
Stories are much better.
Stories that describe the person doing something competent, or demonstrating a valued quality can be quite useful. Told with enough detail, they create a vivid memorable picture of the person using skills and having success.
There are two ways we can use stories to shift the influence of 'low self-esteem'.
1. We can get the person to tell a story about themselves
2. We can get other people telling a story about something a person did.
Here's what we want in a story:
Let me give you an example.
Let's say I was meeting with a boy called Lenny and his dad.
Lenny is starting to get a bit stuck in the idea that he is a 'loser'. He's in trouble a lot a school for not paying attention; it seems he might be getting picked on a bit by some other boys, and lately he's been sent to the principal for running out of the class.
His dad is sure that his son is not a 'loser', but his words don't seem to mean much.
I start by asking Lenny's dad to tell me some things he notices that are a bit special about Lenny.
I hear that he is:
- a good listener at home,
- very observant,
- and he has a wonderful imagination.
These skills sound very interesting, and they don't fit with the image of a boy who can't pay attention.
So I ask Lenny's dad for a story about these things.
For example, how did he come to know that Lenny is 'observant'?
As Lenny's dad tells the story, I ask him for lots of detail, like:
- When did the story take place?
- Where were they?
- Who was there?
- How old was Lenny?
- Were people surprised?
- How does Lenny's dad understand this ability to observe?
- Does it run in the family?
- Were there games or ways of practicing this skill, that explain how Lenny got so good at observing?
- Has he gotten better at observing things, over time?
- How does Lenny's dad know this?
- How does he explain it?
Now, what does this have to do with running out of the class?
At first, it doesn't seem to relate at all. But Lenny is listening and making connections between his actions and his skills.
He is getting a vivid picture of himself from someone else's eyes, and at the same time remembering the situation for himself.
His opinion of his own abilities is a little bit more specific, perhaps a bit more informed. Lenny might be feeling like a person who can do certain things.
So, when we come to talk about the trouble at school, we might wonder if these skills of observation have any tricks to offer. Might he use them in a way that could be helpful?
The answer could be yes, or no, or maybe- but the story of Lenny's skills of observation will get us on the track of something useful.
It's just a matter of time...