I'm finding these nuggets of clarity and understanding come through the strangest vehicles. This week it was... French Braids.
It was one of those, 'hard mornings'. Tension was high and tempers short. 6:45am rushing to get two teenagers out the door. I am still making sandwiches and 5 minutes until time to leave. My youngest has just asked me to french braid her hair, and I told her I didn't think I had time.
Oldest: says intensely, "You are never ready on time! Come on!!"
Youngest: Feeling attacked/threatened, "Stop rushing me! I am too." Says something under her breath.
O: "And you and your friend are always talking about me behind my back!"
Y: Defensively, "We do not!"
O: "You are never nice to me any more. You're only nice when you want me to give you a ride! You never want to spend time with me playing a game or ask me to french braid your hair."
Y: Defensive. "That's not true! There isn't any time. I do a sport after school and you are ALWAYS with your boyfriend!! You just want to get to school early to see HIM! Then I just have to sit there with nothing to do!"
O: Defensive. Deflecting. "You don't appreciate anything I do for you! You are so ungrateful! (Labeling)
O: Defensive/unspoken, 'Everyone always criticizes me about spending too much time with my boyfriend.' (unresolved hurt, source of pain, self-doubt)
Mom: Triggered, yells, "STOP it!! Be NICE" (oh that was helpful...NOT)
O: Storms out the door, "I'll wait for you in the car! If you're not out there, I'm leaving!"
Y: In tears, says to me, "She just wants to get to school early to be with HIM! We aren't even late!! I hate this!"
Sound familiar? Arguments and conflict are about pain, attack and defense. The crazy, counter-intuitive part is that underneath all the back and forth venum, both my daughters are vulnerable and hurting; feeling threatened. My oldest was hurt that my youngest asked me instead of her to french braid her hair. Both of them want to be seen and understood by the other. Both want to be loved and accepted. Both want to spend more time with each other and connect. But instead, they attack each other. Why?
My understanding after years of observation and research is that our Limbic Systems get triggered when we feel threatened. In our modern times, it is more often from an emotional threat than a physical threat. Yet, we react the same. When someone comes at us with intense energy, with "YOU..." we feel we are being attacked and have a deep instinct to defend or attack back.
Our blood pressure rises, our heart rate increases, we tense all over and are ready to attack or run; fight or flight. There is hardly access to our thinking/rational brains and what little there is gets caught in trying to 'win' the argument, blame the other, and be 'right'. This happens over and over and over. No one is happy. No one is understood. There is no resolution and all this hurt, misunderstanding and pain get stuffed inside us.
What if there were another way to be in our families?
What if when conflict and disagreement showed up, we could slow it down and respond in a new way. A way that connected us? To know how to work with our Limbic Systems to feel safe enough to ask for what we want, "Could you ask me to French Braid your hair?"
Yes, I want to learn more! Email: allison@TheHeartGym.org
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