In a soft moment a while back my child told me, “You’re scary because you shout at me.”
I tearfully told a loved one what my son had said and she generously replied:
“Oh well done! My kids are too scared of me to tell me I’m scary.”
And we laughed until the tears came.
Because it hurts. It hurts like crazy when I see I’m causing my precious, vulnerable child harm in any way. And I remember being small and very, VERY scared of my own shouty parent. In those awful moments of being shouted at I was either wide-eyed, frozen with fear, body tight and tense waiting for what might come or I was burning with shame from the angry humiliating words that were lashing me.
And now I do the same to my own child?
It really hurts to see it and I need courage to look at it in the face.
I already know about my shoutiness. I promise you I don’t do it all the time but those times when I ‘lose it’… that’s what comes out. I’ve been working on it because there’s never an excuse to ‘lose it’ – no matter how much I feel justified in the moment. So my child’s comment came as a surprise precisely because I’ve been working so hard not to shout. And I thought I was doing ok… although maybe that’s why he felt safe enough to tell me.
That would be a soothing interpretation…
It’s so incredibly difficult to unlearn what you learned as a child, isn’t it? But it IS possible.
This is what I learned as a child from my adult’s behaviour:
When a child does something that makes an adult aware of their own personal pain, the adult punishes the child – in order to make their own pain stop.
Isn’t that just screwed up?
But it’s what most of us were wordlessly taught.
The unconsciousness of that, is why I write what I do.
When my child told me he’s scared because I’m shouty, it would have been SO easy for me to minimise it and tell him, “Oh don’t be silly. I’m not that bad. Look we’re loving now aren’t we?” It would have been SO much less disturbing for me to push aside that painful piece of knowledge he was offering me and get on with life.
Because it makes me feel pain. It reminds me of being small and scared in the face of shouting when I was a child. It reminds me of feeling powerless in the face of shouting – both when I was shouted at back then and also when I shout now. So ironically, shouting caused me to feel pain and powerlessness when I was a child and now I use it if I feel pain and powerlessness in the face of my child’s behaviour. So it’s become both the cause and effect of my pain and powerlessness.
Even with my consciousness work.
If I want to stop shouting – which I really, really do – I need to break that association. My reaction shows me that I still hold within me the terror of being a powerless child in pain. To heal I must feel it and release it.
So instead of shouting at my child to protect myself from those old feelings of mine, I could allow him to help me with my healing by OPENING to the feelings he raises in me at those most difficult moments.
This is how I will empower us both.
I hope I can remember…
But what am I saying? He will keep reminding me until I learn.
In my next few posts I’ll be sticking with this theme of anger and how to open to the feelings and do that all-important inner healing work. This is the stuff that can help us feel better – as people and as a result, as parents.
If you know others who might be interested pass this on to them. Let’s spread the healing far and wide. Give frazzled parents hope…