Tammy, from Facebook asked, “How do I handle/discipline appropriately in regards to stealing, hitting, etc.”. Great question and keeping with the Purejoy way, let’s first look at what these provocative behaviors trigger in us. I know, for me, I was taught that lying and stealing were wrong and I would be punished for either. My parents instilled the fear of God in me and since I was a good people pleasing girl, I didn’t dare cross the line. What did this mean? I learned early on to make sure I did what I needed to do to take care of my parents and to get their love. I became the poster child of appropriate behavior and felt righteous about being better than most of my friends. I drove the car when they drank, I resolved all conflicts and I never lied, except to myself. I actually stole from myself to give to others. I learned to take care of others, over myself, and I learned that acting “appropriate” was more important than being authentic. I learned the lessons of “right” behavior, through fear based tactics, but I never understood what triggered those desires to lie, steal or hit. I buried them as deep as I could praying they would never come to the surface. Surely, I had cast them out forever. Wrong!
Unfortunately, they showed up later in my life and the mortification, I felt, caused a depression that I could hardly crawl out of. The shame and guilt I experienced were so immense I felt no one would ever want to be with me so I never married. It took years, of work, to finally reconcile with my “human nature” and to give myself a break from living for others.
I learned the hard way, so I swore I would penetrate the motivation behind such provocative behaviors. To do this, I had to own those behaviors, in myself, and see where I still exhibited them in my life. It was always when I was scared. Scared no one would take care of me, so stealing was the way. Scared no one would see how smart I was so lying was the answer. Scared no one would love me so aggression became the path. Oh, how I hated seeing the truth and yet when I did I began to understand my daughter and her behaviors. She didn’t need me to teach her a lesson by punishing her or shaming her. She needed me to be there for her, understanding and giving her love so her fear could relax. When I did, and the fear relaxed none of those behaviors arose. Together we found our way.
So how I dealt with them was to relax my trigger around the behaviors and go straight to the heart of the matter. My daughter needed me, especially when those behaviors arose. I chose to ignore the behavior and address the terrified child who I saw behind the behavior. Once she knew I was there for her and she had moved out of fight or flight mode, then I could talk with her about different choices. I learned to understand that when she was terrified she made the best choice she could, from her misperception. Over time, with loving care, her fear began to subside and so did the behaviors.
I often hear from others, “but how will she learn not to steal or lie?” and I tell them, “think about yourself when you feel on the spot and don’t know the answer to a question do you ever pretend you know the answer?” “you know not to lie, don’t you?” It is not about lying it is about the fight/flight response when we perceive we are in danger. Understanding that our children know not to lie or steal is critical. If they do, try to go under and address their fear instead of causing more fear by punishing or shaming their behavior. It’s about time that we lead the way and be there for our children when they need us the most! You can do it, I did and in the process I began to forgive my “inner child” and release her from the shame she had carried for a lifetime. As I released myself, I released my daughter and as we embraced the depth of our fear and traveled there together, hand in hand, we began to trust that we never again had to go there alone. A true miracle.
Whence do those instincts arise, I wonder? Any insight?
Thanks for all your beautiful comments. For me those instincts arise from my “survival” instincts. There have been studies done, on the brain, that when we feel threatened we move into the amigdala part of our brain which is where the fight/flight or freeze responses arise. We aren’t in the rational part of our brain, which would register cause and effect. When we are there, it feels like we are doing to die so we will do whatever we need to do to survive. Understanding this allows us to support our children in feeling safe, therefore supporting them in moving back into the rational part of their brain and then you will see the behaviors go.