Thursday, February 10, 2011

You are not ugly

Children who come from the hard places hate themselves.

Their very young brains try to make sense of how all of the horrible things could have possibly happened, and they come to one conclusion very early on: it must be me. I am the problem. I am bad. I am unlovable.

And they believe it.

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

You can tell them they're beautiful, but they won't believe you. You can tell them they're lovely, but they won't believe you. It's not embedded in stone, but it is definitely a tattoo. Covering it up does nothing to change or remove it.

So, they spend a huge chunk of their time doing whatever they can to reinforce what they already believe to be true about themselves. If you put a bunch of therapeutic moms together, we could probably write an entire book just listing all of the many nauseating creative ways they make themselves unappealing, which then causes others to react to them as unappealing ... thus reinforcing what they believe.

There are still certain things, food, places, clothing and activities that I avoid because of what a huge trigger they are for me. It is because of the hours I have been exposed to some of these behaviors. No matter how much I read about the shame and how our children live that lie, nothing could have ever prepared me for the depth of their self-loathing and the measures they actually take to verify said lie.

They believe they are ugly. It is not even on the same planet as how most of us feel about ourselves as we flip through fashion magazines. Not even in the same zip code as what happens to us when someone insults us. They feel truly and utterly disgusted with every inch of themselves, every word that they speak, every step of their walk, every exhale of their breath, every blink of their eye.

Even when this faulty thinking improves, we have discovered that it is still one of the biggest, ugliest hurts to cause most of the problems and hold on the longest. Shame and fear love to duke it out for the top spot in jacking with our kids.

I would tell you not to get frustrated when the shame behaviors keep rearing their ugly heads, but I might as well tell you to stop breathing. Just not possible. It is weird to find yourself wanting to scream at your child, "You are beautiful and great, damn it! Just accept it already!?!?!" heh. heh. Strange to be angry at your kid because they refuse to like themselves. But the behaviors that result from this big mess are what you really hate.

I will tell you to have an arsenal of things you can do WITH that frustration so that you stay therapeutic in the moment (even when that means walking away, curling up with a blanket in the corner and sucking your thumb - not that I've ever done that or anything). I will tell you to write yourself sticky notes all over the house reminding you that your child did not choose to be this way and they do not like being this way and they would love to live like everyone else, where they can receive a compliment without an overwhelming urge to smear themselves with Limburger cheese.

Today I did the dance with one of my kids:

We talked about how they did not get their needs met and/or were hurt when they were very, very young. We rewound and replayed the same conversation of how their hurt part tried to make sense of such a thing. We said the words, yet again, "When a child is hurt and their needs are not met, they try to make sense of it all as they grow. They assume that something must be horribly wrong with them and THAT is why all the trauma happened - they must be bad. Very bad. To the core." For the millionth time, we answered the question, "What on earth could a baby or preschooler do, that is so horrible, it would cause someone to do those things on purpose?"

As I tried my best to not sound sing-songy, I looked my child in the eyes and said, "You have done all of these things over the years because you already felt bad inside. The trauma happened first, then you felt bad inside, then the behaviors started. You were not born bad. You were born good and lovely and amazing. You are still good and lovely and amazing. This is just a feeling. It is not the truth. It is hard to believe the truth when you have believed the lie your entire life."

We discussed ways that my child can do some of this process on their own the next time the feelings get big. I know this child is not to that point yet, but I said it anyway. Just like we do with toddlers to reinforce things. You do it til you are blue in the face. The change and growth happens, just like it does with small children, but so slowly that many days it is lost on you.

My kids are not ugly. They are not bad. It is a lie. I hate the lie, and I really want to take that hate out on my kids because I can't remove the lie and drag it into a dark alley. When the lie resurfaces and I'm parenting some regression, I forget the reality of the growth that HAS happened.

The lie is ugly.

My kids are amazing.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

(photo by Alicia Thiede)


Sarah said...

Christine- Thank you! I needed this today. Actually, I may need to tattoo it to my hand for reference throughout the week.

rachael said...

I need to give the same speech to my daughter tonight. She woke up this morning in one of those moods. Thanks for giving me words to give to her!

coffeemom said...

My newest daughter from a trauma background truly believes she is ugly. No matter what we say. We dont have the language to use tho words. She doesn't have the cognition to understand them. I feel stuck. How do I help her to see her beauty? I don't know. But we hug her touch her face tickle her toes kiss her head. Over and over. Happy or angry or sad. I can only hope that time and being there will teach that lesson to her -- of her beauty. But I'm not sure we will ever get there.
So we hug pray persevere
Lather rinse repeat.
Thank you fir this!

Christine said...


You are doing it EXACTLY right. Because sadly, if I say all of this to my daughter but my tone and body language doesn't reflect it ... I do more harm than good.

Babies attach and feel good about themselves with no cognition of language. You can repair it in the same way! :)

Cathy Givans said...

You are so, so, so, so right my friend. And I promise, your efforts are making a healthier adult every single solitary day. I so wish you had been my Mom when I was a kid. ;)

But seriously, the distaste is ingrained in every single solitary thought, movement, and breath. It is real. It is consuming. Me, I am still healing. Still realizing that I am okay. Still realizing that I am not horrible, ugly, or unloveable. Thank you, all of you, for treading these waters for your very beautiful children. I can't even explain how much you are giving them.

Sunday Koffron Taylor said...

I really do find your philosophy on parenting fascinating, I can relate to a lot in this post. I wish like heck I could have sorted more of it out as a kid, It may have saved me a lot of heart ache. I hope you can help do that for your kids.

robyncalgary said...

love the picture, great looking kids and theyre getting so big!

Anonymous said...

You continue to be one of my heroes.


Anonymous said...

nothing to do with this post---

totally random---

just watched the Make Your Own Fitted T Shirt and it made me smile---second smile today.

first was listening to ABBA.


Anonymous said...

nothing to do with this post---

totally random---

just watched the Make Your Own Fitted T Shirt and it made me smile---second smile today.

first was listening to ABBA.


Lisa said...

Every very true.

I hate the lie.

Brenda said...

Satan is the author of lies. He screams "You are ugly. You will never be good enough." God speaks in a still small voice " You are a beautiful and unique creation. I love you." We all tend to listen to the screams from time to time. Our children listen to the screams every day.

Erika said...

This is what makes the school environment so tricky with our kids. If the staff leave it to the kids to set the tone (as so often happens) - it's just impossible. I can't send my kid into those hallways. I can't help her see her own growth and beauty in the context of all of that mean stuff that goes down in school. Between that and the unpredictable noise and threat of physical violence, school is a NO GO. But f-un-school - now that's fabulous.

Amie said...

those ARE some beautiful children!

malva said...

wish wish wish we could leave satan out of this.

nancy said...

When those of us without trauma in our backgrounds suffer at times with some of these feelings, it's not difficult to imagine that kids who have lived through such horrendous things have to fight this huge fight to believe in themselves. beautiful and special and so worthy of being loved. Watching the tender treatment, the protection, the love our first grandchild is receiving from our daughter and son-in-law (11 days old today)has reminded me of the contrast between his life and so many other children in the world. He is so blessed to be loved and nurtured, and shown he is a treasure from the start. Our five adopted internationally all entered care by 18months, none suffered abuse, and all received loving care by consistent caregivers. But watching our daughter's new family of three still reminded me of what we missed together (with our last four kids (we have 8)...the time, the cuddles, the early bonding, the history. Top that off with the abuse and horrors many other children have had to endure, and I simply cannot fathom the long lasting effects to a child.

I'm a lurker, reading your blog since the vaccum cleaner incident, which was a visual lesson to our newest at the time (11yrs at homecoming, now 14). That hit home with her, and an embarrassed smile came over her face, seeing herself in your unsuccessful "button pusher".

I know your blog is a huge encouragement to others going through the fire with their hurting kids. I've learned calmer ways to address some of the bonding issues/stubborn and rude attitude with our last daughter.

And that photo? Proof that everyone of your kids is gorgeous!

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

My daughter loves compliments, but she does think of herself as bad sometimes. Thanks for giving me some tips to deal with this.

Sharie said...

I grew up in a 2 parent home, my parents were married nearly 50 years when my father passed away, but as a child growing up with depression I often felt the same way - UGLY - and HATEFUL. I did everything possible to over compensate for the jealousy I felt for others. I tried to never get in trouble. I'd make fun of myself before others could do it. I didn't come from a traumatized background and this was my pain...I can easily understand how hard it is for kids who don't have a history of consistent family - and a history of being loved. Keep reminding them of what wonderful people they are, it is still hard for me to hear.

jendoop said...

Thanks for this post. We're waiting for our next foster child. I'm getting impatient, knowing that they are out there right now hurting while I have an open bed and heart. Still, I'm nervous about what ugly lies that child will carry. Thanks for giving me the insight that calling lies lies and treating the child as the good person they were born to be is the best course of action.

autumnesf said...

Great post. We are dealing with this hot and heavy right now and it is kicking my butt. Thanks for sharing how you are dealing with it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Christine,
One of mine cylces through this as well. It gets to the rejection. It's so tough and ugly sometimes. I hope you find more time to dance and to lather, rinse and repeat!

Lindsay Mama to Nine said...

I have just found GLAD I have. We have 9. Five beautiful Haitian kiddo's with MAJOR attachment, that came hone post domestically adopted angry fella...and 3 trying to survive teh trama the newbies try to inflict. THANK you for your honesty, insight, raw pain...and how beautifully you inllistrate your idea's. We are full blown into the trenches of self HATE. Ex: 17 year old hiding in closet today...5 year old spitting all over herself...and much MUCH more. SO SO Happy I'm not alone in all of this! THANK YOU for your blog , video's and not giving up....reminds me that I too can help these angry elves heal!