When it's hard to not take it personally
I received a comment on Tuesday's post about taking things personally that I wanted to respond to. Well, I actually tried to respond in the comments, but evidently Blogger has a character limit for comments. Who knew? Figures that I, who prefer to say something in 20 words that can be said 5 would find that out. So what follows is what I tried to post in the comments.
I agree, it's terribly difficult to not take things personally, especially when the words are so toxic. I wish I could say I always manage to do it, but sometimes I just don't succeed.
I do find there are a couple of different things going on. First, if it is a child who is just being rude, then I need to clarify that we are responsible with our words and we must use them respectfully. In this case, a loss of privileges if they can't meet my request for respect is forthcoming. Anytime I hand out a loss of privileges it is always so much better if I can do so matter-of-factly and not with drama.
If the child who is spewing is in melt down, and this usually means that child has completely disassociated from reality, then there is only so much I can do. That child cannot hear me or comply with anything I ask. Just absolutely cannot. The spewing is symptomatic of the pain and ugliness that the child is experiencing inside. I find it helpful to think of it all in terms of physical health. A child in a coma cannot do what is requested. A child with a broken arm cannot use that arm. A child in the throws of a rage is not functional and we have unrealistic expectation is we think they can be. At the point of melt down, the only thing we can do is keep the child, ourselves, and others safe. The verbal spewing is more akin to infected puss seeping out of a wound than to anything meaningful. And at least in my experience, what is spewed is nearly always the exact opposite of what the child really means.
Now, intellectually knowing this and being able to rein in our own emotions are two very different things. Because the words sound sooo personal, they do hit at a very deep level. I find it especially difficult if I am feeling a little less than adequate that day mainly because the words hit where I am feeling most vulnerable. It can hurt. Sometimes we can't help but feel hurt, but what we need to do is not to act on that hurt. It is the action that escalates the situation.
Some of the things I have done to help me overcome my tendency to react and take it personally:
-Disengage. Sometimes I just can't trust myself to say something that wouldn't add fuel to the fire. Sometimes I just have to walk away. Removing myself from the situation can give me space to think a little more clearly. (As an aside, this is also my main melt-downer's way of diffusing a situation. He has taken to leaving the room and if I give him enough space he can now usually regain control. [Hallelujah!] I used to follow him, thinking that his leaving was yet more rudeness and disrespect, but now we see it as a way he is trying to regain equilibrium.)
-Pray, pray, pray and praise, praise, praise. Sometimes all I can do is pray, "Help me Jesus" over and over. This is usually at the point where everything has gone beyond my capabilities and only Jesus can get me through it. He always does. Also, if I find myself wanting to wound back, focusing on praising God puts other words in my head that are not harmful. It's nearly impossibly to praise God and think black thoughts at the same time.
-Think critically about why this is so hurtful. (This can only happen later in quiet moments.) What was touched on that caused me such pain. Obviously it was hitting me in a place where I feel vulnerable. Why do I feel vulnerable there? Is this an accurate perception of myself? What work do I need to do in order to bring myself to a healthier place? Am I really believing that I have worth and value in God's eyes? Do I really believe that God wants what's best for me and my child? What fears do I currently harbor that need to be addressed? Usually I discover that the hurt has more to do with what I am believing about myself than what my child said to me. The child's words are merely confirming my worst fears that I had never really addressed. Being emotionally secure in who I am, in my role as a parent, and in my place as a child of God goes a long way toward putting me in a place where I can weather the ugliness coming out of my child's mouth.
These things are not something we do naturally, but take practice. In order to practice them you have to have a plan, because in the moment of yuckiness, chances are the parent isn't really thinking much either. Success won't be 100% and you will fail. Probably more than you want. But you also have to give yourself permission to try again. Progress will eventually be made.
Parenting can be a tough, tough road sometimes. I'll be praying for you.