How Healthy Self Awareness in Adolescence is Key in Halting Narcissism in Adulthood
How Control Stifles Self-Awareness
"You're fine!" An angry mother hisses as she pulls her bawling toddler up by his arm from the pavement after he sustains a hard fall. She quickly begins to walk, dragging him along at her side with his cries bellowing as they disappear around a busy street corner. It is evident that the child is clearly upset and not fine, but the mother, in a stressed reaction to "fix" the issue as quickly as possible tries to tell the toddler how he feels so he will stop crying and go back to being his pleasant and "normal" self. Never mind the fact that he fell against the pavement in an attempt to keep stride with his mother as her agenda overpowered his feelings in every way.
A person who is trying to control another will usually try to distort the current reality for someone by stating an opinion as a fact. For example, have you ever had someone tell you that you really didn't believe something you actually did? Or try to to tell you what you're thinking as if it were a fact instead of a assumption? These are tactics used to overpower and manipulate, yet the controller is usually unaware that they are doing such a thing. Sometimes they are aware, but most people aren't that in tune with their own emotions to understand why they feel the need to control a person.
From a parent's point of view, control in this manner is almost always fueled by a subconscious fear. However, the parent does not realize- or possibly even care that their child is beginning life learning that their opinions and feelings are not only unheard but unacceptable. This fosters the belief that the natural feelings they have that allow them to get to know or understand themselves are shameful and should be hidden from the world.
This starts a secret "underground" world of shame within the child, especially when they are micromanaged, manipulated and doubted every day of their lives. Their sense of self begins to wilt and they begin to take on other personas to protect their fragile and wounded self.
How Shame Stumps Self-Awareness
According to psychologist and theorist Erik Erikson, a child’s ego begins to form as soon as she is born, and the creation and successful molding of a personal ego relies on the parents between birth and one years of age. Erikson stated that the child having hope was paramount for them to successfully move from the trust vs. mistrust phase, pushing them to build a positive ego. However, if a child at this stage felt certain basic needs being unmet, or that their cries were reacted upon with negativity, they would no longer communicate with their natural voice and the budding of a backward sense of self emerges.
Children are energetic beings who can sense positive and negative emotions. They can sense when they are wanted, loved and cherished. They can also sense when they are perceived as a burden and their presence is subdued or avoided. This is when children begin to form their responses based upon how they are liked and treated. If you slap a child’s hand every time he reached for the television remote, he would be conditioned to either stop reaching for it when you were around, or devise another method of getting the remote. Even then, a child will still have negative emotions associated with the remote due to the conditioning by slapping his hand when he attempted to touch it.
If a negative reaction emerged when a child cried or displayed innocent behavior, he would realize that this action is undesired, therefor looking for other ways to get the preferred type of care or attention he needs. The child will start to believe that crying and innocence are not acceptable. It also shows children that they have the potential to be unlovable if they display their natural selves. Therefor they make a personal resolution that showing natural emotions is not acceptable and they, in time will begin to look down upon others who display unacceptable emotions, even if they are natural.
This is where empathy is stifled and the creation of what they are “supposed” to be emerges. Yet, their cognitive development is stumped and they completely have halted their brains from progressing emotionally and morally. While their logical mind may flourish, their emotional intelligence has taken a back burner. This is where they maintain that emotions are harmful, even when they see their peers and other adults displaying them. They may pretend to understand such emotions, especially if they see gain is involved in some way, but it will not be genuine.
Moral Reasoning Cannot Progress in a Shameful Environment
Moral growth is also harmed due to the stifling of the natural state of being. Jean Piaget, a cognitive psychologist theorized that children have to undertake stages of moral growth to realize right and wrong behavior. Pre-moral development occurs before the age of 5 years old when a child is said not to know right from wrong regarding Piaget’s theory. When children hit the moral realism stage between the ages of five and 9, they start to obey rules because they model others and also because they are given rules to live by. Children reaching the third stage called moral relativity where they see that rules are malleable and can be broken.
If a child does not see the benefit of right and wrong and had a mentor or guardian as an example who had intentions that were molded only in his gain and egotistical supply, this sets the stage for skewed moral perception. This child will now do what he can get away with, living by his own code of rules, flying under the radar to do things secretively as he pleases, yet pretending he lives by the same moral code as everyone else. His brain function is still stumped in the moral realism stage where children focus on consequences rather than good or bad intent. He will stay in this stage for the rest of his life because he knows no wrong or right, good or bad. Now he will be worried about being caught instead of worrying about why an act is wrong.
Because a child has been conditioned this way, he has a greater challenge before him. All of his true perceptions as an emotional being are shattered and he faces an unforgiving world where he now has to survive while living a huge lie, putting mounds of time and effort into tricking people everywhere he goes while evaluating how much he can use them for his own gain. He will clash with people he perceives are strong in personality and that he cannot easily manipulate or control. He will be drawn to more subtle, empathic people who will see the wounded child within and accept him as he is. He, in turn will manipulate this person until he is done with them or they get mad and leave the relationship.
He will not readily connect well with children unless he perceives gain from the relationship with the child. Emotions from children will be easily shunned and he will begin a similar cycle that he knew, training them to be who he perceives as normal, loving them in a backward way.
Why Healthy Self Awareness Disarms Unhealthy Ego
When a child is reared in an environment where they feel honored for who they innately are, their sense of healthy ego can immerge. This helps them to feel safe to learn their own talents and gifts as a person, instead of piggy-backing their parent's expectations of them. This allows the child to also practice empathy for others and begin to learn to love in healthy ways with all different kinds of relationships.
The issue with a child that lacks proper self-awareness is that he/she sets goals continually that keep them in a stagnant place where they cannot grow or learn. This in turn robs them of healthy empathy because they never knew how to honor a person for who they really are. Their love is measured by how much approval they receive instead of feeling they are lovable no matter what.
The following are ways to foster healthy self awareness:
- Allow children to form likes and dislikes at an early age -even if you don't understand.
- Do not perceive or assume to know what your child is thinking.
- When the child expresses feelings, do not tell them they don't REALLY feel that way. Stop Trying to distort their reality.
- Allow them to make mistakes.
- Allow them to endure consequences of their own actions
-Realize when your actions as a parent are being carried out by fear rather than healthy judgment.
There are many ways to help children become confident in who they really are. More importantly, they need to know that they can be loved and are loved no matter what their feelings are. It is our job as parents to help them to grow into productive members of society one day, relishing in the ways that their talents benefit the world. If we want them to be able to grow into those types of people, we have to be willing to let down our own ego and be proud of who they are at that very moment, no matter what our expectations of them are.