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Delight in me: The origins of self-worth

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

― E.E. Cummings

To develop a strong sense of self-worth, we need to have many experiences of important caregivers showing that they see us as valuable and lovable, just as we are. In the Circle of Security Parenting, this need is represented as Delight in Me. In fact, this is such as important capacity of secure attachment, that it is the only need represented on both the Top and Bottom of the Circle.

Caregivers can often quickly identify with the feeling of delight in their child. What is important is that this Delight is shared with the child – young children experience themselves through the eyes of the caregiver. The come to know their value by seeing it reflected in the face of the important figures. In moments of shared delight, parent and child are communicating about their connection and importance to each other. The message is “you are so precious and captivating to me, just as you are”. When we have these experiences repeatedly, we develop a confidence that we are accepted and loved. This message becomes internalized and we come to know ourselves as worthy of connection, confident that we are acceptable at our core. This “kind of confidence- at-the-core” allows us to enter new relationships with the expectation that we are loved and lovable, approach challenges and maintain emotional balance and self-esteem in the face of inevitable experiences of failure, rejection, and disappointment.

Delight is mostly expressed non-verbally. On the top of the circle, Delight in Me moments are marked by moments of warm eye contact, mutual smiles, or shared laughter. It is sharing simple joy and genuine relaxed pleasure at being together.  Moments of gazing into Mom’s or Dad’s eyes while experiencing happiness, curiosity and glee is the start of understanding that positive feelings can be shared with beloved others and thereby sustained. This is an important component of developing intimacy and feeling comfortable with sharing curiosity, happiness, excitement and love. Having the experience of someone joining with us in our enthusiasm, wonder and curiosity allows us to trust that these experiences can be enjoyed, explored and shared.

The challenge on the top of the circle is differentiating between Delighting in who your child is and what your child does. We want our children to know that they are valued as a being, and not only for their performance or accomplishments. When only our achievements are celebrated, we learn that our value comes from our skills or performance and is not an inherent part of us. In this way, Delight is different to pride, which usually has more to do with what your child does. It’s certainly not wrong to enjoy and celebrate a child’s successes, but we want to share delight at other times, communicating that our child is delightful simply as they are.

In this same way, Delight in Me is also different to Enjoy with Me. While they may be expressed simultaneously, when caregivers Enjoy With, they show interest in the child’s exploration and discovery – it is shared engagement with the activity or game, joining in with what the child is doing. With Delight in Me moments, the focus is on the being before you and the sharing feelings of warmth and joy in who the child is.

Delight on the bottom of the circle can seem less intuitive than delight on the top, but it is just as important and carries the same tone of connection and intimacy. This need is often met through the welcoming in on the bottom for a moment of reconnection and refuelling. Touching base with a caregiver through a look, a quick smile, or a brief touch can refill a child’s emotional cup. At other times, delight on the bottom is about communicating to little ones that even at their worst, they are loved and held dearly. When children are overwhelmed, upset, angry, scared or sad, they need to know they are loved and valued. This is often expressed in the tone of the care, a soothing welcome of the child when they are struggling with painful or difficult feelings or a tender and affectionate response that says “I know you’re upset, I know I love you and I know this too shall pass”. This can be a very challenging position to hold and it is common to want to pull our children out of distress or push a child away from their frustration. But being able to remain calm and offer a kind, warm response is deeply reassuring to children and helps them to know that painful feelings can be shared in relationship without risk to the connection. The learning that we are worthy of connection and retain our value even in moments of struggle is a powerful gift of security.  

I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and individual experiences with Circle of Security. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at brooke[at]circleofsecurityinternational[dot]com