No human being can build a sense of self if they do not have a "mirror" that reflects back their behavior and emotions in a meaningful manner. That is particularly true in the case of children. Whatever they do, feel or say -the very fact that they exist!- needs to be genuinely acknowledged by their parents, educators and caregivers. And yes, the key word here is genuinely. For acknowledging does not mean praising their every little move ad nausea, nor criticizing and correcting them continuously. Acknowledging means being fully, genuinely present with your child, and celebrate together with him/her the simple happiness of being. The miracle that, despite so many billions of variables, he or she appeared into the world. In your world.
Of course, it is difficult to genuinely celebrate being if we, the adults, view life as some sort of inert mush that needs to be populated with "exciting" stuff. Being, without the obsessive need of doing, is generally considered "unproductive", "boring". However, there is a reason we are called Human Beings and not Human Doings.
Children are happy just to exist. They do not need to be continuously entertained, in fact it is precisely "boredom" what stimulates their imagination and creativity. By buying them stashes of toys, by scheduling every minute of their lives for "activities", by letting them stare for hours at various screens, we drag them further and further away from their own selves. We prevent them from exploring and learning about the resources within themselves. We teach them to only look outwards, and define their identity in terms of what others believe and say about them.
When Identity and Sense of Self are defined mostly by external achievements, insecurity, fear, anxiety, and the possibility of being manipulated by others increase exponentially.
When given the chance, a child will always choose the validating, genuine presence and interaction with a carrying adult over staring at their new iPhone7. In fact, iPads, computer and TV screens are nothing but pseudo-mirrors, which return to a child not an understanding of his or her self, but only the stubborn, unsuccessful, search for belonging and mirroring. It is only the intentional and kind human presence what creates a true mirror, which allows children to successfully build a healthy and meaningful image of who they are.
Most of us do not realize until late in life (if we ever do it) that our own self has not been seen and has not been reflected back to us by our family, culture and community. It is the moment when we might feel that our whole life has been nothing but a search for that original acknowledgement. For that look or gaze in which we can reflect ourselves: the reassurance that we exist, that we are important, that we matter.
Narcissus was somehow lucky: he could afford to just sit by the lake and admire his image in the water all day long. And let’s be honest, we are all little Narcissus when chasing “likes” and approval in the mirror of our Facebook account.
But there are also other lifetime, systemic implications of lack of childhood mirroring, most of them represented by either withdrawal, either an obsession with being “first” or “best”, and an investment in titles and objects that are said to guarantee our visibility in an insanely fast paced society.
In their search for meaningful mirroring, children exhibit a series of behaviors that often lead to unnecessary (even highly damaging) diagnostics. Anxiety, attention deficit, fidgeting, irritability, anger and aggression, are often signals that they are struggling to make sense of who they are and what their place is in a world that reflects nothing -absolutely nothing!- back to them.
It is my honor and my privilege to work with people who, for one reason or another, were not seen; to help them recognize and navigate their way out of the vicious circles of the labyrinth called life.