I have 4 children at home, and each of them is so very different. Parenting, even disciplining, looks different for my generally accommodating oldest son than it does my charming youngest. In between those two, I have two very differently tempered girls – one who has instant access to anger at any given time, the other much more prone to sadness. For these reasons, it’s imperative that I know and understand the character structure of my kids in order to best help them grow and mature.
Reality is the character structure that has to do with integration. It entails the ability to grieve losses and hold the good with the bad in yourself, others, and the world. Those with deficits in this area are prone to feelings of shame and low self-worth. They can experience “I am bad” versus “I did something bad.” They also tend to have a harsh, inaccurate inner judge reminding them of their failures. While we all have a conscience that helps us navigate life, this conscience is designed to be warm and accurate, yet those with deficits in this area experience quite the opposite. In order for growth to happen in this character capacity, one needs to experience warmth from another human, outside of themselves, even as they feel they are “bad.”
This is a very fun thing to build into my daughter. As she tends to be harsh toward herself, we get the joy of watching her internalize our genuine delight in her, even as she breaks rules and makes poor choices! Sometimes we even encourage her to break rules so that we have the opportunity to love her in her imperfections! One evening at dinner she was feeling particularly low, hiding her face in her hands and sobbing because she had been mean to her sibling, and no one was as upset about it as she was with herself. One by one we challenged her to look around the table at each family member and ask them “Do you think I’m bad?” While it was hard for her to do at first, one by one each family member responded with a very different message than she had been feeling. “I don’t think you’re bad, I get frustrated too sometimes, and even though you yelled I still like you and I’m glad you’re here with us.” “I know you feel bad for doing that, but I also think about all the times you’re really nice to me and I like playing with you.” “I love you even when you make bad choices! I make them all the time!” As she went around the table hearing from each of us, our affirmations increasingly outlandish, she sat taller, tears subsided, and finally, her frown turned into roaring laughter. Had internalized our love for her. She experienced that, while she was not perfect and clearly had been in the wrong – she was enough, and she was loved.
This is the awesome work we get to do at Compass Rose Academy. We get to give parents a breather while learning about these character capacities and how to build those in, and together we get to bring experiential awareness to the young women that we serve regarding their worth. We help them grieve both their own mistakes and those made against them, holding the good and bad in themselves and the world- and amidst it all- embrace that they are loved.
Director of Admissions
Madeline Spring, MA, LMHC