The other day I received an email from a wonderful inquirer who had taken my parenting class in the past.
“How do I handle such disrespect!?!” she asked.
That moment when a child, whether age four or age fourteen or twenty-four, says something disrespectful and your reaction is instant, big and full of feeling….what’s going on there?
What is actually so disturbing about this disrespectful moment?
And the reaction is so fast, so strong….it’s like there is an immediate “NOOOOO!” rising up from the inside somewhere.
How dare you say that! You will not speak to me that way! Go to your room! Get out of my sight! You are grounded! Arrrrgghghghgh!
Not that I would know anything about that kind of reaction. But I’ve read quite a bit about it and seen it in the movies (heh heh).
The most wonderful way of looking at this split second of reacting with the massive No is to break it down in very slow motion, and of course, inquire.
So, here come those words, that facial expression, that behavior. They are expressed out of that person over there (who happens to be someone you love, your child).
If you turned the sound off of the movie, and replayed the moment, and looked at it from every angle…what do you think it means when someone is doing that?
For me, I had to become quite still when considering this, so that I wasn’t reacting anymore. It was lovely to become still. And hard. Something inside me wanted to stay AGAINST that scene, and that person.
If you become still, you can’t be so against the situation. You are more objective, you are looking. Almost like you’re a scientist studying human behavior and wondering what is inspiring this particular kind of behavior.
So what does it mean when that beloved child of yours says that “mean” thing (that you are interpreting as disrespectful)?
Usually, I noticed that when I had the surge of anger, frustration, defense coming through me, I was believing the following thoughts:
- she doesn’t respect me, and that means I haven’t earned respect by becoming scary, powerful, angry, firm, brilliant or kind enough
- she is defying me, so she thinks I’m stupid, wrong, mistaken, or unimportant
- he doesn’t love me, he doesn’t care about me, he is not motivated to have concern for my feelings so this means I am not interesting/helpful/powerful in his life
- she thinks I am a bad parent, she would prefer another mom
- chaos is occuring, I don’t know what’s happening, and this scares me
- he thinks I have no worth
- I don’t matter
- she is not doing what I say, so this means I will not get what I want or need
- I will be abandoned, I am alone
- I can’t handle this
- I am not lovable, smart, or mature enough
These thoughts create a deep, sinking, gut-wrenching feeling that almost has no words. The beliefs are all piled and stuck together like a ball of yarn, intricately connected.
The ultimate view of the self is “worthless” or “powerless” and being someone who has no control over this child, this moment, this experience, this commentary.
The thing is, it’s TRUE that we don’t have any control.
Every life lived in its own unique way, with a unique timeline. We can’t save them, or they save us. In the big scheme of things, in the matter of life and death, we are basically powerless.
In questioning these thoughts and looking at them from every angle, turning them all around and considering the opposite views….what does that look like? What happens with our feeling of being so against that moment of “disrespect”?
What if we stop believing that those words, behaviors or actions MEAN we are bad or that THEY are bad or that this is a big disastrous mess?
I notice fear, simple fear, is inside the core of these beliefs. If I look with care at this moment when I am feeling the fear, and look at every thought with acceptance, and turn it all around:
- she does respect me, she is expressing herself to ME, she is exposing her true inner anger, fear, sadness, terror to ME, she is inviting me in, even if it seems brusque or harsh
- she is defying me, so she thinks I’m smart, right, NOT mistaken, important–she cares about my opinion, she wants me to KNOW her sincerely and that she does not see things the same as me–she thinks I’m powerful enough to defy
- he does love me, he does care about me, he is deeply motivated to have NO concern for my feelings because he is finding his own opinions, or knows my opinions are not right for HIS particular world. I am, in fact, very powerful and interesting to him, so much so that he needs to detach himself in order to find his own way.
- she thinks I am a good parent, she loves me inherently and wants no other mom (I am the one who thinks of myself as a bad parent, imperfect, not doing it right)
- chaos is occuring, I don’t know what’s happening, and this does NOT scare me
- he thinks I have great worth, that he has great worth, and wants me to see this as well
- I do matter, so much
- she is not doing what I say, so this means I need to get what I want or need in some OTHER way, to take care of myself and show that I am doing this, to model self-care
- I will always be connected, I am never alone–I am with myself if I am not with my child
- I am lovable, smart, and mature enough to be in the presence of this younger human
- I can handle this
Byron Katie suggests that anyone who is yelling at you may need to be speaking loudly for some important reason.
I know with my daughter, I would guess what she liked, wanted or needed before she could even tell me.
I haven’t liked it when someone assumes they know something about me.
I stand before my children and feel what it is like, from the inside out, to be OK with who they are and who I am, even when they are very angry with me.
One of my favorite professors in graduate school for Applied Behavioral Science long ago said in a lecture on Family Systems Counseling “You know what it takes to be a parent? Being willing to be hated.”
Funny, as I do The Work and “allow” them to be furious, or to correct me, or to say what they really feel….they turn out to not need to say it so loudly, or slam a door, or hide from me.
And I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity again to “work” on it.
“Our parents, our children, our spouses, and our friends will continue to press every button we have, until we realize what it is that we don’t want to know about ourselves, yet. They will point us to our freedom every time.” ~ Byron Katie
One thing I know…is that I want to know everything about myself that is possible to know.
Even if you’re not sure you’re going to like what you find out about yourself, try it anyway. You may find much compassion for yourself, and love.