Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Reply to Missy

I received a really sweet and thought-provoking comment on my post about Therapeutic Parenting 501. Missy brought up a whole lot that really struck a chord with me. Missy said:

As I sit reading and examining my relationship with my 'strong willed' child, I ask myself - could there be an underlying trauma, about which I am unaware? I've examined several other possibilities and have come up empty handed. Still, the daily interactions with 'SW' child leave me drained, taxed, flustered, confused, and sometimes tearful. Thank you for reminding me about the patient and compassionate part of my role in his life.

Let me just start by saying: Everything I ever learned about human nature, I learned from Cupcake.

Cupcake changed everything for me. Her life is an exaggeration of human nature. A "normal" kid can absorb a lot of hurt and carry that around without it affecting behavior. Cupcake can't do that. When she feels rejected, insulted, threatened or {name your hurt here}, it comes out in her behavior.   The night-and-day difference in her demeanor when she feels safe and loved is undeniable.

What I once saw as pesky, disobedient, undisciplined, or spoiled, I now see in light of a hurt, fearful, and self-protective worldview. Karyn Purvis stated at Empowered to Connect, that she assumes every child she works with is wounded.   I found this viewpoint to be very helpful in dealing with all kids.  There are times when I have no idea why a behavior comes up, but if assume it's from a place of hurt or fear, I can respond in love, rather than react in anger.  When you see a child (or adult) as fragile, you treat them with much more gentleness, compassion and respect.

I strongly suspect that most strong-willed kids feel the need to be in control because their world feels unsafe. According to this article by Esther Giller, psychological trauma is created when a person experiences a traumatic situation or event and it overwhelms their ability to cope. That means that any event or situation that leaves a child feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, scared, or unsettled can potentially result in typical trauma behaviors (defiance, aggression, seeking control, and manipulation). The existence of trauma and the level of harm, then, lies within the one who experienced it.

What I mean is: The same event can affect two people in completely different ways, and seemingly small hurts can severely distress a child. It doesn't have to be a big "T" trauma. For instance, when I took Driver's Education back in the day, my instructor was a football coach. He taught me like he taught everybody.  Using reverse psychology, he would insult us and forecast a bleek future, hoping we would be motivated to prove him wrong.  I heard, “You're never going to learn to drive." Or "If you don't get this right, I'm going to flunk you." My classmates just shrugged it off - That's just the way he is. But not me. I was so intimidated, I couldn't think. It affected me physically. And once I grew up, it still had a hold of me. I've forgiven him and worked through it, but, even now, I still feel stress in my abdomen whenever I think of Driver's Ed.   And that's a little 't' trauma, for sure.

One other thing that I've learned on this journey is that trauma and the feelings of the world being unsafe can happen very early in life - prenatally. This is so hard for us to wrap our heads around, but if a pregnancy is difficult, high-stress, or if something happened to the mom that was traumatic or stressful during pregnancy, the child has a significantly higher risk of being anxious, hyper-vigilant, fearful, aggressive, dissociative (withdrawing into themselves), depressed, etc. This stuff can be hard-wired at birth. The good news is that the brain is amazing and can be re-wired to a certain extent.   It'll take a lot of work and the right information, but it can be done.

I also believe that the kids that are the most "out of whack" are the most sensitive. They have been hurt the deepest. They require the gentlest care. The ones who are aggressive, defiant, self-harming, even those who appear prideful and self-centered, are the kids who have been hurt so badly that they feel they can't afford to let anyone ever hurt them or control them again. This is also true for those who shut others out and withdraw inside themselves. These kids need more nuture, not stronger punishment.

Well, Missy, I bet you didn't know your comment was such a loaded question. ;-) Thank you for inspiring me to get on my soapbox. J

But wait! There's more…the second part of Missy's comment inspired even more thoughts.

Blessings to you,



1 comment:

Kim said...

WOW - This has helped me to think so differently about our granddaughter who has within the last 2 years lost both her mom and her dad. the behavior is an overshadow for the inside hurt...thanks for this!