Sarah asks: I feel like I can’t trust or talk to anybody, because I always feel judged, especially by my mom. She always judges me on everything I do, and keeps stuff from me instead of talking to me about it. I also hate it when she’s home, and sometimes I fear her. I can’t be myself around her, and its also affecting me with other people because I am so anti-social and have low self-esteem. I really want to change how I interact with people but I feel like she’s holding me back from the world. Please give me some advice.
Hi Sarah –
Oh I hate hearing things like this. Parents almost always do what they think is best for their kids, but sometimes they make this gigantic mistake, of overjudging, overprotecting, and so stifling them.
The first word of advice I can give you is long-term, which is to just remember all this. In fact, if you can keep a diary or journal, that’d be great. And when you do move out someday, and aren’t living with her anymore, go back and read what you wrote. In some cases, you might think your mom was right, but when you find she wasn’t, tell yourself “Hey Sarah, she was wrong; you’re better than she was saying, and the rest of the world will see you as you truly are.”
But that doesn’t help you right now. In the meantime, you really need to work on two things, and both are relationships. You need to do whatever you can to improve your relationship with your mom, and with yourself.
With your mom, I’d suggest you carve out some time that you can be alone with her. Maybe ask if you two can have dinner alone together. And there, ask her one simple question: “What do you think of me?” Not “Do you love me,” and certainly not “Why do you hate me.” But “What’s your opinion of me?”
The question will probably shock her. Teens don’t normally ask such things. But really leave yourself open. “What do you think is good about me, and what is not-so-hot? What do you think are my strengths and weaknesses? What do you think is best about me? What do you think I need to change?” And when she answers, listen. Listen really closely.
Now let me tell you something about you humans. You folks tend to focus lots on the negative. If someone tells Handsome, “You’re smart, you’re cute, you have great taste, you’re kind, but you think about your dog too much,” all he’s going to remember is that they think I get too much attention from him. So be ready for your silly human mind to do that to you! And so, you might even want to take notes while she’s talking!
My guess is that your mother thinks a lot of positive things about you. But they’re not what she tends to say. When Handsome trained me, he did very little work on things I was doing well; most of the time he concentrated on what I hadn’t learned yet. Parents do the same thing. You’re a great student and athlete and really polite, but your room is messy? Guess what your mom’s going to talk about all the time!
(I hope you’ve noticed something here. I pointed out how humans tend to over-emphasize the negatives anyone says about them; and then how parents tend to over-emphasize what they want to improve in their kids. That means that everything positive about you is getting Under-UNDER-emphasized! And that’s what I’m trying to shift here!).
Anyway, once you’ve had that conversation, hopefully you should see your relationship with your mom begin to improve.
Now, onto You! You also need to make a list of the things you like and don’t about yourself. Do you like your sense of humor? Do you like your eyes? Do you wish you were a better dancer? Do you wish you found it easier to talk with others? Great. Then I want you to take those qualities that you said you like about yourself, and write them on a list, and hide them somewhere where you’re sure no one will find them (so you don’t get embarrassed by them being discovered). And then I want you to read that list every night before you go to bed, for at least a month! Even when you’ve memorized it!
And the list of things you’d like to change? That one you can probably leave out. Because I’d like you to find one thing you can do to improve on each of those. Using my earlier examples, if you don’t like how you dance, then maybe you can sign up for a dance class, or just get an instructional video that would teach you some steps you can practice at home. And if you want to talk more easily to others, then find something to help with that. Maybe you could do some volunteer work where you talk a bit to the people you’re helping. Anything to work on improving what you see as your weaknesses.
And Sarah, if you can do all these things – you’ll be amazed at how your self-esteem improves. And that’s even if your mom continues to be judgmental, or you never become a great dancer or socialite. Because you will be taking care of yourself, and honoring your own needs. And it’s that relationship with yourself that will truly change your life.
Oh, and there’s one other thing I can recommend that’s really great for self-esteem: Get a DOG! Get yourself a pooch who adores you and thinks you’re the greatest thing in the world and tells you so every day! Because WE DON’T LIE! And our opinions are GREAT! So no matter how bad you’re feeling about yourself, we can look at you and prove you wrong, every time!
Good Luck my friend,