I posted last week on being alone. I spoke of how horrible, common, and historical it is. I want to share with you today another component of it. It is very sneaky, insidious, and real. It affects those at very weak and vulnerable moments in their lives. It grips those old and young and those in between. It is being lonely…while you are afraid, or even angry.
Once again, I learned this through a parenting moment but it certainly translates and applies to all people who are suffering momentary or continued fear or anger. It started when we were in training down in Texas at the Center for Relational Care. We were going over the different manifestations (2 bonus pts for me for using a pentasyllabic word) of hurts (anger, fear, guilt, self condemnation). I brought up how our oldest boy Joe was afraid of dogs, clowns (who isn’t?), and anyone in a costume and we began to talk about irrational fears. I asked (probably driving our instructor nuts as I figured it had nothing to do with where we were going) what we could do about it. I mentioned how frustrating it was and that nothing we did “worked”. I confessed to growing frustrated and even, at times, showing my frustration towards him. What he said was nothing short of brilliant.
“You cannot rationally discuss an irrational fear.” He answered. This made total sense, outside of the moment. Yes, we had two dogs that were really big when he was a baby/toddler. He loved them. Yes, he gets it, there is a human inside of the costume and a hand inside the puppet. They certainly mean no harm. As it is, he wants nothing to do with it. He understands that it makes no sense, that probably freaks him out all the more. Yet, it scares him.
In a lot of ways, our Bella’s anger is same way. “Why do you get so angry?” we ask her. “I don’t know” is very often the answer. Why? Well, because she doesn’t know. Me, the brilliant understanderer (-2 for making up a pentasyllabic word, dadgummit) of emotional/relational needs goes right to facts/logic/reason and working on behavioral ways to “fix” this anger problem. We do everything from positive reinforcement for not getting angry to negative consequences for flipping out. We have tried to prep her and equip her with ways to deal with the anger before she erupts all to little or no avail. The other day I realized that her anger was just like Joe’s fear. It was the second brilliant thing that Dave, our instructor, told us about his fear.
“The key is, to let him know that it is ok to have these feelings. Don’t let him feel alone and ashamed of his emotions.” It hit hard. Trying to “fix” this problem resulted in me making him feel even worse about himself and yes, alone. He didn’t know why he was afraid. He just knew that it bothered us, that it inconvenienced us, that he wasn’t like everyone else, and that he was all alone in this. Now, he was scared and alone. Dave continued, “Better you just do your best to keep him from these things that really freak him out and let him know that it’s ok to feel scared, even if it doesn’t make sense. Let him know that you are with him, that you love him. The security that he will derive from that will go a long way toward helping him deal with the fear as he is ready.”
The other night it occurred to me how similar Bella’s anger was to Joe’s fear. Was it ok for her to flip out and disrespect Rachel or hit Joe/Trey whatever? No. But it was ok to be angry. As I put her to bed that night after a rage filled episode (induced by an extremely exhausting day at Idlewild where she just had no capacity to regulate emotions…none of us did really) I said to her, “Honey, I want you to know that it’s ok to be angry. It’s ok. Mommy and Daddy love you very much all the time. Is it ok to do some of the things you do when you’re angry? Of course not. But IT IS ok to be angry and we are here with you.”
If we constantly made them feel ashamed for their fear/anger by always correcting, explaining, yelling, punishing, redirecting them they would learn to be ashamed of their feelings. They would learn to hide their emotions and that emotions were bad things that made them feel alone and different from everyone else. They would learn to hide things from us for fear of rejection. I could only imagine them being 16 and us asking them to tell us about their feelings then when they are really confused about most things they feel. I cannot see that going well.
He was not, and neither am I, saying that we are to allow the kids to do and say whatever they want and to just give them a hug and tell them it will be ok. No, there are still consequences to our actions no matter what. However, they need to know that it is ok to have these feelings and that they are not, in fact, alone.