Many times, when a client reports feeling unworthy, they may be able to pinpoint specific instances when they received messages that they weren’t good enough.
But there are also indirect ways that this message can be conveyed and passed across generations – even in loving, connected families.
In the video below, Lynn Lyons, LICSW, will tell you how.
Have a look.
I think that that’s an important thing to pay attention to. The way that this thing rears its head, the way that the thing gets passed down or modeled is not always based on an insecure attachment. It’s not always based on neglect, it’s not always based on being unloved. But it is often based on how the parents themselves model their own high self-standards, their own self-criticism, and their own perfectionism.
So one particular family I’ve had, they’re an incredibly loving, connected family. I’ve known them for a while. There are several siblings, and these parents would do anything for their kids. But they themselves are very critical of themselves.
So what are the first things I’m going to do? When I see this dynamic in a family, where this unworthiness is something that’s being modeled, where I am looking at the parent and seeing their own perfectionism and their own self-criticism, what’s the first thing that I want to do?
The first thing I want to do is some psychoeducation of how things get modeled, sometimes just bringing it to the parents’ awareness and talking about it as a family pattern. I find it to be enormously helpful to talk to parents about what they learned from their parents – what is the generational transmission of this?
The reason that it’s so helpful to do that right from the beginning is because it takes away the blame that they might feel, it helps with their own shame. If these are parents who are really self-critical, and as soon as you come at it and say, “Look, your kid is struggling,” of course they’re going to put it on themselves. But we really want to look at this as a generational pattern.
Then I want to have family sessions to talk about how this thing shows up and what’s the language that they use. We really want to talk to families about, how do we look at this from a perspective of, how do these norms, how do these ideas, how do these strong feelings and social requirements get passed down to families? What is the culture of the family? You’re not doing it on purpose, but what’s the culture of a family that really sets the stage for this?
One of the examples from a family I can remember is, the daughter was really struggling with body image and felt incredibly insecure about her body. And the mom came in, and truly the mom said, “I make sure that she feels good about her body. I give her the message all the time that she has a lovely body, that this is the body that she’s in.”
Then the mom said in front of the daughter, “The reason I want to make sure that I do that is because I struggled with my body issues.” But then in talking to the mom, the mom is horribly critical about her own body. The mom was always beating herself up, looking in the mirror, going on diets.
So I want to talk to the parents and say, “This is about what you model. You are not saying to your daughter directly, ‘You need to lose weight,’ but you are saying to yourself all the time, ‘I’m not good enough.’ And that’s what your daughter is seeing.”
When we put it in that context, when we begin to look at it as patterns and bring it up to awareness, then we can make some progress.”
What drives a client’s feelings of “never good enough” isn’t always straightforward.
That’s why we created this program designed to give you concrete strategies for working with this tricky emotion.
You’ll hear from Pat Ogden, PhD, Dan Siegel, MD; Steven Hayes, PhD; Marsha Linehan, PhD; Ron Siegel, PsyD, and other top experts in the field.
Now we’d like to hear from you. How do you work with clients who feel “never good enough,” especially when the sources of those beliefs might be more subtle? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.
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