The Moral of the Story Part 2: The Foundation of Our Self Worth
In my last blog, The Moral of the Story Part 1, I shared my grandmother’s gift of storytelling and how she used her gift to tell her grandchildren beautiful stories of their early years, of the family ‘laying their eyes’ upon her grandchildren for the first time; of adorable and silly antics we all did as little ones. I also shared how much these stories meant to my siblings and I. The stories told us we were treasured, longed for, precious for being our unique little selves, and that we belonged to this family.
In part 2 of this story, I wanted to share more about my grandmother’s gift of storytelling and encourage you all to consider storytelling to your children — big and small. Truly, it seems like the older we get, the more we love to hear stories of our value, our worth, our belonging in this world. Hearing stories from our parents, grandparents, and caregivers — those adults whose perceptions of us matter so deeply — are a crucial part of knowing our worth. When we hear about ‘the first time we laid eyes on you’ — the story of our preciousness — we realize,
Wow, my family couldn’t wait to meet me!
And they loved me exactly how I was and for who I was.”
This realization builds in children of all ages the awareness that they are unique beings, full of worth precisely because they exist in this world. Let’s consider taking this a step further. What if we continue storytelling with our children, encouraging them not only to understand their value for being exactly who they are, but also, for who they will continue to become? What if we let children know that their individual greatness and unique character — strengths, talents, abilities, quirks, and even self-perceived flaws — are all contributions to the beauty of who they are?
My grandmother used to tell me this story over and over, of how I was this little genius as a toddler ?. OK, she never exactly used the word “genius”, but I felt sooo smart as a child growing up when she would recount how, as a little toddler, I was learning about colors, and, my goodness, I could tell anyone the eye color of each of my brothers and sisters, as well as my parents. My sisters had blue eyes. Two of my brothers and my mom did as well. One brother had “hazem” eyes (translation: “hazel” … come on now … adorable ?), as did my dad. But I had, [drum roll here] eyes that were “chocolate canny”. [Yup. Even then, I kind of had a thing for chocolate. Gosh, even my eyes were that deep, dark brown color. Dark chocolate anyone?] To this day, I smile when I recall how special I felt whenever my grandmother would brag about me and my super smartness at knowing all of this as a little toddler.
Truly, it wasn’t because she was saying I was a genius … although, I do believe she thought that was pretty clever of me at that young age. It was more about how I felt about me, hearing about myself through the eyes of my grandmother. She loved me, adored me, delighted in me … not because I knew my colors or the colors of my family members’ eyes … she delighted in me. Period! End of story. I always knew that, and I always will.
There is a little boy I saw, up until very recently, in counseling. He was adopted as a very young child by his large, loving, incredible family. He would come to session, and mom would join for some Theraplay®-based activities to help increase attachment between them. This little guy was completely amazing — beautiful outwardly and inwardly — and very much loved by his family. And yet, the early wounds of his very first months of life were present. They were wounds that did not take away from his absolute beautiful self, but created a lot of anxiety and fear in him. He struggled with so many fears, and insecurities that, at times, he couldn’t go outside to play without a great deal of support, due to overwhelming anxiety of what might happen outside. He also struggled tremendously with sleep, and would get up throughout the night, waking his siblings so that he wouldn’t be alone and afraid. His parents were great, and tried to brainstorm strategies that could help him feel safe and supported, so that he could meet his needs in the night without waking his siblings, and feel comfortable going back to sleep. As you can imagine, this was an exhausting situation for all of them, and one that this little guy clearly wished did not happen, night after night.
Through his child-centered play therapy, I could observe very clearly his repeated themes of play involving danger/fear and how he would play out scenes where he would become the hero. He would be the brave one and he would not let the “bad guys” get his siblings. He’d rescue them, repeatedly, scary scene after scary scene. He was working through a lot of the fears and the anxieties, working toward feeling safe and overcoming the fears in his own six year old way through his play.
At the same time he was working through his story, his mom would join in a piece of each session and engage in a nurturing Theraplay®-based activity where she would put a little lotion on the palm of his hand, and, as she massaged it into his hand, she would tell him stories about what she could see in him now for his strengths and uniqueness, and what she saw coming in his future:
I see you so kind and caring, and I see you getting stronger and braver every day.”
He would absolutely glow with pride as she shared: what she saw through her eyes; how she treasured him and valued him for exactly who he is; and how she saw even more of his greatness coming!
Over time, this little boy began coming to session proudly reporting “I stayed in my bed all night long! I didn’t even wake anyone up!” He felt so brave, and so proud of his accomplishment! What a joy to see him developing “felt safety” and with the lovely nurturing support of his family. He began to see, more and more each day, the story of himself — his worth, his value, his belonging and safety in his family.
His parents gave him the message “You are so loved. You are adored. We delight in you for being exactly who you are”. And, they said through their actions:
We see there are parts of you that you struggle with and we are here to help. Let us help you so that you can feel stronger, braver, more courageous and more ‘you’ every day. And every night because, yes, we’re all tired. So let’s figure this out together! If that doesn’t say "you belong" what does? Let’s all figure this out together as a family who belongs together!”
I’m imagining a day in this child’s future, when his mom and dad will tell him the story of his great courage, his great strength, his great kindness and care for others, and the many ways he showed this as he grew up in their loving family.
Please tell your children the story of their uniqueness — their gifts, their talents, their cute little quirkiness, the little and big ways that you see them as being precious human beings precisely because of who they are in all the ways they are themselves. The human need to be accepted for who we are, not for what we do or how we act, is central to our self worth. We crave to know we are seen, heard, valued — accepted for who we are and in all the ways that we are. Tell your children their story of who they are and how wonderful they are in your eyes. Just as I’ll never forget my Grammie for her storytelling about me and my specialness in her eyes, your children will never forget the storytelling you give them about their specialness and value in your eyes. This is the very foundation of self worth, and this positive self worth is what we crave for each and every one of our children.
Written by Debra Levenseller, LCSW, RPT-S
Clinical Director at the Maine Children's Home