In her book, “The Conscious Parent—Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children,” Dr. Shefali Tsabary says that to be more effective in relating to our children, we need to be willing to face and resolve issues in ourselves that come from the way we were parented. She states that, “In fact, it’s my experience that the relationship between parent and child exists for the primary purpose of the parent’s transformation and only secondarily for the raising of the child.”
Think for a moment about a recent time that you were triggered by something that your child did or said. If you are not familiar with the term, getting triggered is an intense physical or emotional reaction to an event or interaction. Maybe that trigger comes from your two-year-old refusing to get in her car seat after a particularly stressful outing to the grocery store. Perhaps it comes when your preteen screams, “I hate you, you never understand me” or your young adult child returns your car on empty or forgets your birthday.
Regardless of the cause, the reality is that the things that trigger us almost always connect back to wounds and unmet needs of our inner child. Instead of blaming our children for our emotional reactions, we can use this opportunity to recognize that we are uncovering or awakening something in ourselves that needs our attention as I wrote about in my blog a few weeks ago. www.coachmyrna.org/coachmyrna-blog/triggers-and-awakenings
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of helping my son and daughter-in-law while they became first-time parents. It was amazing to be able to support them as they discovered all the joys and challenges of caring for a newborn. However, at one point, I found myself becoming angry and at first, I couldn’t figure out why. As I examined my emotions, I realized that it had to do with not feeling valued or appreciated. Could it be that I was jealous of all the attention that this beautiful child was getting? If so, where is that coming from?
As I explored more deeply, I realized that this was an opportunity to revisit a book that I had been reading, “Recovering Your Inner Child.” Author Dr. Lucia Capacchione says, “Without awareness, we automatically repeat the kind of parenting we received as children…However, if we do not like the way we were parented, we do have a choice. We can change. We can re-parent ourselves…Recovery of your Inner Child is the way to begin anew and heal your life.”
If you are intrigue to explore this topic more, I encourage you to:
“Healing happens when we open the door and invite the Inner Child to come out and be a part of our lives.” Dr. Capacchione
Is there anyone in your life who seems to fly off the handle at the slightest perceived insult? Do you know anyone who throws verbal barbs and biting accusations your way any time you try to engage in conversation? If you have vital signs, the odds are very high that you do.
Success with occasionally angry people… as well as the chronically ticked-off variety… involves remembering these three essential truths:
The first truth reminds us that we maintain our personal power only when we choose to separate ourselves from the other’s anger. Empathy provides a powerful tool for accomplishing this. That's right! When we perceive the other person as hurting… rather than as obnoxious… we are far less likely to find ourselves being triggered by their ire.
The second truth reminds us that ears are mightier than the mouth. Some people remain angry and confrontational regardless of how well we understand their point of view. Most, however, calm significantly when they see that we care enough to listen.
The third truth reminds us that thoughtful, sincere questions cause others to think. Examples include:
In our audio, Putting Parents at Ease, we describe how teachers can apply these skills with difficult parents. One educator relayed his surprise at how well the skills worked with his adult son:
I was ready to use the skills I learned with the parents of my students. I wasn't prepared for how well they worked when my 25-year-old son blasted me for saying "no" to a loan. Instead of us fighting over the phone, we ended the conversation with some mutual dignity.
On our recent visit to Rome, my husband and I were greatly assisted by the Google Translate App. It was so helpful when we were ordering tickets to the Vatican Museum, knowing which direction to the ride the Metro and figuring out the difference between cream or milk in the small market near our Airbnb.
I was thinking that we sometimes need such an app to help us in our communication with those we love. Of course, an app cannot convey emotion or communicate from the heart. But often, our words to our children and other family members don’t relay the true intention of our heart even when spoken in our native tongue.
When was the last time that you said to your child, “Where were you? Do you know what time it is?” The intensity of your voice probably didn’t communicate that you were so worried and didn’t know what you would do if something happened to your child.
Or how about when you exclaimed with a furrowed brow several pitches higher than your normal voice, “What are you watching on your phone/tablet/ TV? Did you finish your homework yet?” The translation of this might be “You have so much potential. I want you to have a great future with unlimited possibilities and being responsible in school helps make a foundation for that.”
Have you ever said, “Don’t be so lazy; you have to work hard to amount to anything” when what you really meant was “I want you to be better than me, to have more opportunities than your father and I did. We want you to have an amazing life.”
Although there is not yet an app that can translate our true heart, there are some steps that we can take to help us as parents. My friend and author, marriage/ relationship educator, Bento Leal III says in his new book “4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication” that we need to start with empathy as the essential relationship ingredient in communicating with others.
Mr. Leal says, “Empathy is a powerful state of mind, but it’s not something we try to pound into ourselves, it’s something we want to cultivate and let out—it’s our capacity to have compassion and concern for ourselves and others.” His book gives practical tools on how to work on developing empathy and includes steps for a 12-Day Communication Challenge. Check out Mr. Leal’s book here: tinyurl.com/y3g58aqy
Other things I suggest are:
• Write a gratitude list for all things that you appreciate about your child/ren
• Write a note or a letter to express some of these appreciation to your child/ren
• Make time to sit down and talk with your child. Make a date to spend time with him or her one-on-one. Do more listening than talking.
• Say “I am sorry.” If you blow it, explain that you were too intense, what you really meant to say was….
• Practice modeling what you want your children to inherit by saying, “I am really upset right now. Let’s talk about this later when we are both calmer.”
“If you want to get good at anything where real-life performance matters, you actually have to practice that skill in context. Study by itself is never enough.” Josh Kaufman
In his book “Tribes” Seth Godin tells the story of the Balloon Factory and the Unicorn. The people who work in the balloon factory are timid and afraid of pins, needles, porcupines and other sharp objects. They don’t like sudden changes in temperature either.
It wasn’t a bad place to work except when the unicorns show up. Usually, the balloon factory folks shush the unicorn and are able to shoo him away. But sometimes, the unicorn wanders into the factory anyway. That’s when everyone runs for cover as explosions occur right and left.
Godin uses this story to talk about change—the balloon factory is the status quo and the unicorn represents the impetus for change. However, I think that this story can be applied to how we deal with our emotions. Most of the time, we go through life trying to be nice and helpful, keeping our anger, frustration, fear and sadness under wraps. But sometimes, someone says something, and we pop just like a balloon.
In the world of therapy and healing, this is referred to as getting triggered. Triggers are anything that reminds a person of a previous trauma or painful situation. In more extreme cases, it is referred to as PTSD or posttraumatic stress disorder and usually involves experiences from wars, disasters, and horrific crimes.
However, Greg Baer, author of “Real Love and Post-Childhood Stress Disorder” says that most of us suffer from a form of PTSD because we experienced numerous traumatic events through our childhood and beyond. From early childhood, our brains are literally molded by love and when we are misunderstood and not loved unconditionally, Dr. Baer says we gather many minor hidden wounds. Most of the time, we are initially blind to the injuries they cause within but overtime, they can become troublesome and even unbearable.
Recently I became aware that I have a trigger around not being acknowledged. Somehow, as a child, I did not feel recognized for my own unique gifts and talents. My parents were loving parents who were overwhelmed with trying to balance work, church, community and family and as the oldest, I felt that I had to play the role of the responsible daughter who downplayed her own feelings, ideas and wishes. How many times have I reacted badly--allowing my balloon to pop--with my husband, my children, my friends when I didn’t feel appreciated or acknowledged without recognizing that I was connecting back to childhood pain?
I am realizing that being triggered isn’t something to be ashamed of or to keep hidden. Rather, it is an opportunity to become aware of my need to healing. I would like to conclude this post with an excerpt from an article by Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farm www.beccastevens.org/
“I would like to test the word ‘uncover’. Something happens that ‘uncovers’ something in me. That something awakens something I already knew deep down, and this something has allowed me to see what was lurking in the shadow part of me. This uncovering gives me the opportunity to see it. It has been uncovered for me. I can now choose to put it aside for a bit, I can choose to let it overtake me and ruin my next patch of life, or I can choose to look at it straight on and see it with all its fear, untruths, and destabilizing qualities that I carry like precious pearls. I then asked, “What other words are out there waiting for us to use them to aid in trauma healing?” Some of the great words that were offered were: disruption, stirring, alert, and awakening…It reminds me that as we do the work, we can reframe, rename, and redefine how we experience healing.”
If you would like support on your own journey of healing, connect with me here: Contact Me