Evan was a hard worker. Ever since he was young Evan never settled for less than excellence in whatever he did. When he did not feel he could be excellent in something he would often lose interest in it or disengage. This strategy for life served Evan very well in many respects. After all, people respond well in our society to excellence. However, Evan's emotional state was a fragile one. He was terrified of feeling he was underperforming but also simultaneously over burdened. He struggled to allow himself to relax. In fact it seemed the only way he could feel good was by achieving something or doing something or by totally numbing out (an act that left his wife and friends feeling ignored).
Brian was a good manager, his people liked him, felt supported by him and trusted him in times of conflict. Brian gave everything to his employees; always willing to take calls at any time, going above and beyond with praise and incentives and rewards. On the flip side though, Brian constantly felt like he had to be, "on". A racing pace or a totally off pace were the only modes he knew. At times Brian could even feel resentful towards his team, like they didn't appreciate him enough and could take him for granted. He especially hated it when he felt someone on his team disappointed or saw them under performing and he knew he'd have to confront them. In normal language Brian would say he was a "pleaser" and that was what kept him always scanning people and places to make sure others were okay. This, he said, helped him feel good about himself. Brian has a strategy for relating that would fall in the anxious/pre-occupied attachment style. He leads from a place of serving others to the detriment of his own independence and needs.
We all want our kids to be happy and healthy but what does this mean? A seductive answer is, our kids are well behaved. I say seductive because well behaved kids are much easier and more pleasant to be with so we often want to say that good behavior is the barometer for good parenting. While controlled behavior can be a sign of strong psychological health in a child it can also be a mask for a child who is needing help on the inside but has gotten the message that their feelings are not welcomed (spoiler alert: this does not equal happy and healthy).
It can actually feel terrible to have our buttons pushed by our kids. We can end saying and doing things we never intended to including: screaming, rashly reacting, walking out dramatically, crying, etc. Kids seem to have a knack for needing us in the places we are least equipped to give. This is no surprise. Kids are really hard (especially sensitive and strong willed ones!) and adults often get overwhelmed by their behavior. When this happens they react in ways to shut down the behavior in an effort to stop the overwhelming. While this helps the parent rebalance (an important element) it also shuts down important and developmentally appropriate needs that are being communicated in really difficult ways. Then when that child grows up and has children of their own the pattern often repeats.
Two quick suggestions for thought:
This is a process I've developed based on Ekman's and other's research on emotions. Taming triggers begins with reflecting on triggered moments.
Step One: What triggered you?
It's important to reflect on the particular moment of flipping your lid and losing control. What pushed you over the edge? Was it a look, a tone, a movement, a phrase, something physical like getting pushed or touched. Or was it an environment, a situation that you didn't expect.
Continuing the series about Paul Ekman's book, "Emotions Revealed" this post will highlight his research conclusions of the nine ways emotions get turned on in a human. Ekman points out that most of the time we can't control or predict becoming emotional but that one of these nine are most likely to leave us feeling regret.
Often a couple will come in and talk about a fight they're having. The problem usually is, they are talking about the issue but they're also not talking about the issue. Our fights, I mean our repetitive deeply felt fights, are about more than what's one the surface (unloading the dishwasher, helping with the kids, making plans, cleaning the house, sex, in-laws, etc.). The surface issues are really houses for the core issues. They do matter, otherwise you wouldn't be triggered by them, however just talking about the surface issues will never solve the problem.
All of these styles are not good or bad, they are amoral and simply the ways that our young minds devised was the best way to get our needs met in our initial environments. Problem is, these schemas (attachment theory calls them, Inner Working Models), become outdated as we grow up and encounter new environments but because we operate out of them unconsciously we continue to react to our world as if it was the same as the one we grew up in (an act that tends to turn our current environments into our initial ones).
Trauma is a word that probably gets thrown around too much. When that happens words often lose their accuracy and impact. So what is trauma and what does it have to do with repetitive relational struggles?
Does this sound familiar? Your wife or your friends or family are telling you that you have anger management issues, that you’re a scary person! Often times, men come in and say they have an anger issue and often times by the end of the first session I respond by saying, “you don’t have an anger issue, you have an outdated strategy for dealing with emotions”. What the heck does that mean, right!? Let me explain…
While fighting is inevitable and can even be a healthy thing in a relationship, bitter or habitual fighting is indicative of something deeper, something older. We all have a past and that past impacts our present thoughts/feelings and behavior. If someone hurt us in the past it primes us to (before we think) quickly put on our fighting gloves or hide behind our protective walls when someone in the present does something that reminds us of that hurt. Often these ways of relating ("gloves on" or "retreating") become so ingrained that we don't even know the patterns that are there.
Are you ever confused at why your spouse or partner can show more emotion with their favorite sports teams than with you? Often boys and sometimes girls are subtly told to ditch their vulnerable feelings except for in the confines of sports. Leaving dullness on the inside save for sports, sex and alcohol. Let me explain.
In pretending we’re perfect we get a shroud of security that we can use in order to feel less needy. In short, we project the picture-perfect because it makes us feel more desirable (and more secure about keeping our relationships)...not the craziest idea I’ve ever heard.