Why saying ‘I love you, but I don’t like you’ damages Self Esteem?

I have a book on my Kindle, ‘Liking the Child You Love’ by Jeffrey Bernstein I am dying to read as this topic is an important one to explain to parents when trying to help them bridge the canyon of disconnect between them and their child.

Parents often carelessly say that they love their child but don’t like them. This is extremely hurtful and gut wrenching for a child to hear. Love is not a tangible, measurable entity but like or dislike is often something easily detected. Saying ‘I love you!’ often, but it is evident that you don’t like your child will cause them to feel unloved.


For a child who believes that their parents dislike them can cause a range of emotional scarring that etches into their soul, thoughts that they are not worthy, lacking  or ‘OK’ as they are influences behaviours and poor decisions that perpetuate into adulthood.

According to Rebecca Eanes  (http://www.positive-parents.org) blog post entitled Liking the Child That You Love :

“There is a lot of talk about unconditionally loving our children but perhaps not enough about how important it is to like them. As our sweet bundles grow and test boundaries and stretch our patience, it can become all too easy to fall into the insidious trap of looking at that child through a negative lens. Because we only see what it is we are looking for, we begin to only see the testing, the misbehavior, the whining, the aggression, the child who just will not go to sleep. Then ever so slowly, without us mindfully realizing what is occurring, we begin to feel a pang of resentment – of dislike. At this point, it becomes very difficult to notice the good, to see beyond the faults into the heart of that child which beats with goodness and love and purpose. Resentment is blinding.

While it’s true that children need our love to thrive, what we’ve generally swept under the rug is that they need us to like them, too. They need us to see them, see who they are, and to like what it is that we see, because this ultimately is how they come to see themselves. Therefore, it’s essential to the well-being of our children and to the peace and contentment within our homes that we learn to see through a positive lens, even through times of trial.”


Often we are caught up in the negative cycle of how we engage with our children to even pause and reflect if we (the parent) contribute to this dynamic, as its easier to blame someone else (child, spouse, in-laws, work etc). Rebecca says that we need to examine the reasons why we resent our child so we can seek the necessary support, make the changes we need to prevent further damage to the child’s self-esteem and our relationship with them. These could be possible causes :

“1. You were expecting/hoping for someone different, easier, more like you, more like your spouse,       a better sleeper, not so intense, etc.

2.  You’re worn out, exhausted, and stretched too thin.

3.  You’re focusing too much on the negative characteristics.

4.  You’re distracted, juggling too much, and not able to take the time to connect.”


So, start by doing a new daily ritual :

  1. STOP saying you love them but don’t like them.
  2. CHANGING the “lens” you look at your child with, will enable you to make the shift to focus on their positive attributes.
  3. CATCH them doing  one thing good/right and comment.
  4. AVOID constantly criticising and reprimanding them.
  5. BE PRESENT, or none of the above is possible!


Comments 2

  1. I cannot imagine even being tempted to say this to one of my children.

    Unfortunately, my brothers and I heard it a lot growing up. Apparently my mother resented our existence because our needs seemingly impeded her ability to thrive on her own terms, rather than see her children as the product of a loving, nurturing mother.

    We’ve all managed to live as sober, law-abiding family men who’ve never had problems with the law or our own families. Finding other people, and other avenues away from our mother helped us immensely.

    1. Post

      That sounds like it was a really painful and challenging situation growing up. You should be proud of overcoming and not repeating it with your kids.

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