Psychological First Aid For Wounded Parental Self-Esteem

What advice do you have for a parent who often is hampered by their own low self-esteem?
All parents hope their children grow up with abundant and resilient self-esteem to help them navigate the bumps and bruises of childhood and beyond. In pursuit of this goal parents provide, guide, and sometimes hide their own self-esteem deficiencies. But try as they may, low parental self-esteem tends to surface in harsh ways incompatible with healthy self-esteem in children or teens. This often neglected ingredient can be more impactful than the sacrifice parents' bear when offering kids so much opportunity for success in life. The shadow of a parent's insecurity, and the pathway it takes in the parent-child relationship, can tarnish the positive self-worth children derive from their own accomplishments.
If this thorny situation impacts upon a child or teen you love or care about read on for ways to help the self-esteem challenged parent find some relief:
Gently suggest to the parent that ego wounds get in everyone's way at one time or another. When they sabotage our ability to be our best at parenting it's time to take an honest look at our strengths and struggles in the job. Projecting unfair and/or extreme blame upon the child, insisting upon one-sided apologies, defending oneself in a manner that stoops down to the level of a child, demanding unswerving loyalty from the child, or unleashing tirades of condescending tongue lashings, are some typical signs of a parent in need of ego first aid and strengthening. See if the parent in question is capable of identifying if they fall into these traps of ego vulnerability.
Recognizing the source of these ego wounds is the first step towards establishing control over them. Often times the parent's own childhood relationship with their own parent sets the stage for a reenactment later in life. Other times the wounded parent compares them self unfavorably to the other parent, feels lacking and inferior, and unwittingly creates conditions that make their child feel like they must reinforce their ego. Being dissatisfied with the circumstances of one's life, and placing too much pressure upon the child to replenish one's ego, is another possible source. The challenge is to introspect and analyze where the self-esteem slippage is rooted, talk it out with trusted confidantes, and use effective tools for self-monitoring.
Self-monitoring ego wounds is similar to watching over one's emotional temperature so that words and actions are not determined by hurt parental feelings. It's critical to consider painful patterns in the parent-child relationship that point to easily triggered ego wounds. Disproportionately negative feelings about normally occurring family events, such as a teen requesting privacy or a child's preference for the other parent, is especially instructive. Such strong hurtful reactions have more to do with the wounded parent's fragile self-esteem than the nature of the present event. This is also true if the predominant reaction is anger since this feeling is often the mask worn by the wounded parent.
Encourage the wounded parent to seek feedback from trusted others about what they observe in their relationships with children. Challenge them to keep an open mind to what they hear and reflect upon it in the future. Emphasize how helpful it could be to improving their parenting role.
Dr. Steven Richfield is a clinical psychologist and author in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at 610-238-4450