I don’t deserve good things. I’m a piece of crap- I do crappy things to other people, I think crappy things. I don’t deserve anything more than crap.
Crap attracts crap. I behave crappily, so you’ll respond in a way that confirms my crapiness. It’s not a circle of life, it’s a circle of crap. And there I stand in the middle, a monument to crap.
From this place I find it so hard to do anything that doesn’t confirm this view of myself and mostly everyone else’s view of me. At least this way there are no surprises for them or me. There’s a weird stability and security in choosing to swim through a river of crap rather than stand up, put some shoes on and find a nice dry sensible path to walk on. At least I know intimately what crap looks, feels and smells like. I’ve forgotten what a path is like, why it is worth choosing to walk there rather than swim down here. And so I have to ask you. Please show me, please remind me because deep down I kind of sense that the path is the way to go. I just have no idea how to get myself from down here to up there.
And what will get me walking, or even considering the path? As pathetic as it sounds, anything that makes me feel better about myself, that lifts this weight of hopelessness of uselessness off my chest. I can’t climb out the river of crap when I’m weighed down. It’s more than I can possibly manage.
But how do you begin to show me that there is something other than crap within me, that I’m not a lost shitty cause? Simply, see the good stuff, and help me to see that too. Take off your crap-tinted spectacles that cause you to only see the bad stuff and cause me to only see it too.
Acknowledge me when I get things right. Like when I turn up, or turn up on time, or actually do some work, or do something helpful, or remember to bring something I was asked to bring. But don’t do it in a skin-crawling creepish way. Or in a way that draws attention directly to me in front of my mates. I’ll take it the wrong way. I may well deflect the attention by being gobby back. And you’ll end up wondering why you even bother. That I really am the crap I think I am.
You can show me that you see my goodness just by giving me some positive attention when I have got it right. So if I turn up on time rather than saying in front of my mates, ‘well done on getting here on time’, (death inducingly embarrassing), just say something like ‘great to see you’ or go to the door, look out and make a joke of it by saying ‘where’s the blood-thirsty lions?’
This way you tell me you’ve noticed I’ve go it right but without making me squirm. And you know what? If you use humour like this every time I turn up on time or get something right then we might end up with a running joke, and me racing to get there on time so that I can come up with my own line. This is the stuff of relationship -building. And my sense of self begins to lighten. The possibility of fun and goodness, of something other than weighty crap becomes apparent.
And it’s giving me acknowledgement for the little things that really makes all the difference. When you notice the little things that I get right (which lets face it is often all I stand a chance of getting right at first), you are in some ways letting me know that you realise that I find the little stuff harder than most other kids.
I know some workers and teachers think that they shouldn’t praise for things that should just be expected, that it’s somehow mollycoddling me. But it really isn’t. It’s acknowledging that we all come from different places and it’s about meeting basic human needs. We all need acknowledgment for our achievements.
For the ones who get regular positive attention and acknowledgment at home, they don’t need acknowledgment for the little things in the same way as I do. Their need for positive affirmation has already been met. Instead you praise them for the bigger things. But for me and all the other kids who are starved of positive attention and affirmation, who are portrayed and repeatedly told explicitly or implicitly that we are useless shits, that basic human need has not been met.
We have as much of a right for it to be met as any other kid and if we can’t get it from our parents or carers then surely it isn’t going to cost a worker or a teacher much to at least try to do it instead. Admittedly, we won’t often get it for a ‘big’ thing, like producing an excellent piece of work, but if you can make us feel just an ounce better about ourselves by acknowledging when we do get the little things right, then you will probably find that we will start to step out the river of crap and will give you bigger reasons to positively acknowledge us.
Positive affirmation is addictive, everyone needs it and once we get a real taste we will search for more. So turning up on time, for example, won’t be a big deal anymore, it’ll become the norm. It’ll go by unnoticed cause you’ll be praising us for actually doing something more in our time together. Little steps out the river will turn into bigger steps and hopefully we’ll end up on the path. From little things, big things grow.
And another thing. If you despair that I can’t even get the little things right, please stop and consider whether there are practical reasons why I might not be able to. Are there things that you can practically help me with?
Like am I hungry? Is a low-blood sugar making it difficult for me to keep control of myself? Do I have a watch? Can I tell the time? Do I have way more responsibility for parents/siblings at home than you could possibly imagine, so turning up anywhere on time, with right equipment, enough sleep and therefore enough self-control is a virtual impossibility? Am I actually, behind the scenes showing a massive heart of goodness and selflessness that goes beyond what any kid should do and I just don’t have any goodness left for anyone else? Am I running beyond empty?
Do us a favour. At least try to scrape beneath the surface. You may well find I am trying harder than you think and I am just lacking the skills and support to find out how to do my life a different, better way. Please show me some compassion. I have little for myself.
By starting out with acknowledgment for the little things I get right, you gradually introduce me to the idea of more explicit praise, to the direct ‘well done’. It’s easier for me to handle direct praise when away from my mates, but even so, at first I might not be able to cope. Kids like me who have been starved of positivity in their lives often find it hard to handle direct explicit praise. It’s like offering a half-starved child a lavish three course meal- they won’t want to eat it all and besides, eating it all would make them ill. Crumb by crumb is what’s needed and you just need to gradually increase the size of my acknowledgment/praise meal every time.
To speed up this process, provide me with opportunities to get it right. Opportunities to help, opportunities to contribute. And if you get me involved in something I enjoy and am good at, be it sport, arty activities, music, whatever, then I will begin to feel better about myself, whether I get praised or not. Chances are though that I will receive positive feedback, which will also improve my praise tolerance levels.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need an over-inflated big head. I just need my puny under-inflated one to get to normal size so I can function normally. You just need to introduce me to the whole idea of positivity- in how I see myself, in how others see me. Help me to see that I don’t have to swim in a river of crap, that there is a better alternative, that I can make the change. I can climb out the river, stand up and walk a ‘normal’ path. That from my feelings of crapness, good things can come. From crap, plants and flowers grow. You just need to water me with a more positive view of myself and my potential. Please, please water me.