Not taking my daughter’s behavior personally challenges me to keep turning inside instead of reacting out.
Furiously yelling “You are such a mean Mom – I hate you!” sure felt personal and every bone in my body registered a perceived threat, so of course I wanted to attack. Taking a deep breath and pausing, allowing my primal brain to calm down, I realized it actually wasn’t about me. Expressing what was going on in her internal experience came out as an attack and yet not seeing it as a personal attack I took responsibility for my part in the dynamic allowing me to show up for her.
Picture yourself tired, hungry or worried, sharing your angst with a spouse or a friend and they start trying to fix or change you with their agenda. How do you behave? Do your words come out kindly. Perhaps you even say things you actually don’t mean trying to get them to back-off. You’ve descended into what Dan Siegel calls the downstairs brain, or the amygdala, as opposed to acting from the more rational “upstairs” brain. Expressing from the primal brain is signally a threatened state. Your words are the weapons used to take out the perceived threat.
So my daughter’s internal experience was one of feeling threatened. By me! Pushing, pulling or forcing my agenda were a perceived threat to her emotional safety. Descending down the stairs using her words to “attack” she sought to STOP me from threatening her. Attuning to her emotional state activated my amygdala (primal brain) and quickly I descended down my staircase as well. Two threatened brains make for a HOT situation where both parties, in survival mode, are determined to take out the other.
Perhaps this happens in your life? Taking your child’s words personally you think: He’s disrespecting me and the battle is on.
Taking responsibility for seeing ourselves as an emotional threat to our kids, if we take their words personally, is humbling. And yet, empowering ourselves to show up as the adult is an incredible high. Pausing, slowing down and asking: how am I entering her room? Am I entering with an agenda? Pushing, pulling or forcing? How can I enter his world safely? This is a respectful way to engage.
Backing off and not believing what my daughter is saying is personal gives me a chance to hear her expression taking responsibility in how I engaged in the first place.
What is about ME is I clearly have a part in the dynamic and instead of trying to get her to respect me I ask “where am I not acting respectfully?” What a difference a shift in perspective has made.