THOUGHTS + REACTIVITY
Recently, a friend asked, “Do you ever wonder if your child is vindictive?”
Then she explained that her child had pushed her sibling down the steps and that was her thought: my child is vindictive.
1 having or showing a strong or unreasoning desire for revenge.
2 antonyms: forgiving
Moments like this can derail our best efforts to be calm and connected in the face of conflict. The profound need for safety rises up and we can become reactive - yelling, grabbing, prone to using a demeaning tone or words. We may resort to isolation or punishment.
One of the principle concepts that I introduce to clients is how thoughts and feelings influence behavior. Often, the thoughts we have hijack our ability to connect during conflict and lead us to reacting in a way that does not align with our values.
I am fascinated by the effect this fleeting thought can have on what the parent chooses to do next. When I work through a judgement or a thought with a client, we explore how this thought feels in the body and how he or she responds as a result.
For example, when I think the thought “my child is vindictive” I notice that I feel angry, tense in my shoulders and I feel a tightening in my gut. I raise my voice. I feel volatile because I want everyone in our house to be safe, respected and treated with kindness. I yell and even though I can see it scares her, I hope that the threat (of being yelled at, being isolated to her room or having fun things taken away) will deter her from repeating that behavior. I feel big, angry, out of control.
Then we explore how one would behave without the thought that “my child is vindictive.” We get to imagine how it would feel to see the behavior as an observer. Slowly we move into a place of curiosity - how might I have reacted differently, without that thought?
Calm, self-regulated, engaged, ready to help?
I begin wondering what it might be like for the child, what she might have needed when she behaved in a way that was scary and stressful.
She looked angry and frustrated.
Maybe she was needing to be heard?
When we connect to the needs that our child may be experiencing, we can understand that this behavior was the best solution she could come up with in the moment. And that needs are universal - I have those needs too.
Next our job is to settle into some ways that we can model and lead our child back into self-regulation and help her to explore other ways to express what she feels and needs. Pushing a sibling down stairs or hitting or biting are simply strategies. We can help expand our child’s ability to come up with more peaceful strategies while still feeling what they are feeling and wanting what they want. Having needs and wants is not a problem, it’s how we express getting those needs met that requires some attention and guidance.
When I am able to view my child from the vantage point of observation, rather than judgement or fear, I open myself to compassion, understanding and being a grounded guide for them to learn from.
Lastly, we explore how to view the thought from some other angles.
How is my child not vindictive?
How is my child forgiving?
How am I vindictive? (especially when I believe the thought that my child is vindictive)
I love how our judgements bring us home - back to ourselves.
When I believe my child is vindictive, I act in vindictive ways.
I become tense, angry, prone to punishment, blame and aggression.
I see how my reactivity (and my own vindictive behavior) decreases compassion and trust and peace in my relationship.
What I want to foster is understanding, forgiveness, calm listening and the ability to be angry without hurting another.
So I do my work first, which helps me to be a grounded guide for my children. I practice and I work through my thoughts so that I am able to choose how to respond, rather than getting stuck in reactivity.
Want to learn how to delve into the thoughts that are feeding your reactivity? Working together we can get clear on what’s interfering with connection in moments of conflict… and more. Give me a shout to schedule a free consult and we will work through it together.