Despite the countless reminders in life that they are not special, some people manage to stay in touch with their sense of self-worth. As a result, they find it easy to feel valued by ‘the tribe’, even if there is no one around who actually loves them! Just feeling loveable is enough to keep the ‘inner flame’ healthy, because feeling loveable allows us to receive the love we need from anywhere.
Here is a popular excerpt from Margery Williams’s children’s book, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, in which toys are talking to one another:
‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick out handle?’
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.’
‘I suppose you are Real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
‘The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,’ he said. ‘That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.’
In case you missed the message, it was love which made the Skin Horse real, which gave him substance. And that’s how it is with children.
It’s not enough to tell our kids we love them. They need to actually feel it, just like the Skin Horse needed to feel its owner’s love to become real. One big way for a kid to feel loved is for its parents to spend time with them. Not watching television together, but actually inter-relating: talking, debating, playing together, doing tasks together . . . or just listening. (Kids need to feel, at least once a day, that someone is actually paying attention to what they are saying.) If every day, for just half an hour, a parent were to switch off the television, tablet and phone, and ignore all other distractions while giving their child undivided attention, their child’s feeling of wellbeing, and behaviour, will improve markedly. (Even if the child already behaves well.) That’s because the child gets to feel ‘real’.
‘Beware the unloved, because they will eventually hurt themselves. Or me.’
Actor Jim Carrey.
I suspect it’s the ones made ‘real’ who retain their self-worth into adulthood.
But if we are not one of the lucky ones, and struggle to be in touch with our self worth? What can we do? How can we feel valued on a sustained, day-to-day level, and satisfy our deep need to belong?
I’ve listed five ways in the next five chapters.