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Posted by on in Parenting Dynamics

1. We are all living growing beings.

2. Growing people make mistakes.

3. Anger and punishment inhibit growth.

4. Well thought out consequences promote growth.

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MIRROR - I see that you are feeling.................

VALIDATE - I can understand how you might feel...........

EMPATHIZE - I might feel the same way in your place............

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Posted by on in Parenting Dynamics

A mistake is any behavior that causes deterioration in the quality of one’s life!  Sometimes the undesired outcome is immediately evident, as when you hit your thumb with a hammer.  That behavior is generally recognized as ill advised rather quickly while at other times an undesired outcome can take a long time to materialize, as with cigarette smoking.

Human beings are born with an internal guiding device designed to create a life of satisfaction and enjoyment.  Every behavior is automatically evaluated in terms of whether it brought pain or pleasure.  Behaviors that bring pain are not generally repeated; though, admittedly, there may be a few slow learners among us!  But it would require a mental illness to cause a person to repeatedly choose behavior that brought us PAIN!  How many times have you stuck your finger into a wall outlet?

We begin life as a helpless infant and our earliest attempts to gain personal satisfaction are poorly conceived and impulsively implemented.  Those poorly conceived and impulsively implemented behaviors are usually done in the general company of adults (parents) who are supervising the infant. 

And sometimes these behaviors cause inconvenience or distress or even PAIN to those adults.  Until we have matured and developed to the point of understanding the nature of all behavior (subject to pleasure principle), parents have a tendency to become angry when inconvenienced or in PAIN.   Angry parents can be damaging to infants.

As children begin life, they see their parents as Gods.  After all, the parents are, relatively, HUGE.  Additionally, they can read minds, predict the future, see through walls, have eyes in the back of their heads and can understand mysterious forces that baffle a small child.  And they have the power of life and death over the small child.  Having God be angry with us when we are small can be pretty frightening and makes a big impression that we don’t quickly forget.  An angry God who makes negative demeaning statements about who we are is real big stuff!

The combination of a critical angry God at a time when we realize that we’ve made a mistake can be devastating.  In fact, a child who has just made a mistake is very much in need of a forgiving tolerant God.  (Perhaps we all are! Having a tolerant and forgiving parent doesn’t necessarily mean that mistakes don’t have a consequence.  They do.  God may forgive us for hitting our thumb with a hammer but that doesn’t mean that our thumb doesn’t hurt!  Children can be held accountable for their mistakes without being demeaned or devalued.  It may not be easy for a frustrated parent to watch their tone, but it is important.  A demeaning tone can be a form of child abuse.

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A baby tends to experience the world in one of two ways; the world is pleasant and he is happy or the world is unpleasant and she is very unhappy.  There are few gradations or subtle variations.  The child may be either content or in a rage.  The world and the people in it are either good or bad.  This condition continues for years (sometimes for very many years).

This situation is seen with six year old Robert and his friend John.  Robert and John are neighbors and they are inseparable.  Any time you see one, the other is likely near by.  They play together every day and often eat lunch together and sleep over at each other’s houses.  They plan to grow up and be firemen together or astronauts.

One day Robert goes next door to find John.  When John comes to the door he tells Robert that he can’t play with him.  John’s cousin from out of town has come to visit.  He has brought some neat games with him but they are for two people only and so John can’t play with Robert today.  Robert comes home in tears and loudly proclaims John to be a no good ratfink and he will never like John or play with him again.  He hates John!!!  John has gone from being his best friend to his worst enemy.  This is splitting.  The day after John’s cousin goes home, he and Robert are playing happily together again. 

As Robert gets older, he will learn that the world is not so simple. The world is not just black and white.  There are shades of gray.  A classic question relates to the man who steals a loaf of bread for his starving children.  Would it be more wrong to allow the children to starve or to steal the loaf of bread?

Hopefully, adults learn to suffer the inevitable disappointments and unhappiness of relationships without seeing the world or the people in it as “bad”.  The ability to understand other people through empathy and identification is essential to successful relationships.

However, when stressed, anyone can regress to an earlier ego state and engage in splitting.  This is routinely seen in political strife.  Reagan pronounced the USSR as an “evil” empire and currently some in the Muslim world are described as evil.  Those same people describe us as evil.  This is known as “demonization” wherein the person who is seen as behaving outrageously is written off as a bad person.  In a sense, this is a lazy person’s attempt at understanding a problem.  We all want to understand.  Not understanding is very stressful.  We don’t like being “in the dark”.  So we grab at an easy solution. The other person is bad.  There!  That explains it.

The opposite of splitting behavior is to cultivate mature and genuine understanding on a deep level.

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Posted by on in Parenting Dynamics

Verbal and non-verbal messages given to a young child by the parent or other trusted adult are accepted as gospel and stored directly in the storage bin of the child’s unconscious.  Long after the child is no longer consciously able to recall the words of the parent or trusted adult, the message remains in storage and plays subliminally during times of stress.  A negative introject is like a splinter in the soul.

Introjects could be compared to the plant fertilizer stakes that were sold at supermarkets and drug stores.  Popsicle sticks had been dipped in liquid fertilizer until the stick absorbed the liquid and then hung up to dry.  Then they were packaged and sold to the consumer to take home and put in the soil of their potted plants.  Then, every time the plant was watered, the plant stake would release fertilizer and feed the plant.  Every time a parent acknowledges a child’s effort it is like fertilizer to the child.  Years later, during times of stress, that child (now grown) will play that message subliminally and   will feel heartened.  Acknowledgement, praise and messages of love form positive introjects.

Now imagine that Popsicle stick being dipped in liquid poison and dried and packaged to put in your plant.  Every time the plant was watered it would release toxins.  That would be the equivalent of a negative introject.  Calling our children names or yelling at them or generally treating them with disrespect creates negative introjects.

Since children are so fragile and parents are so human, perhaps some negative introjects are inevitable. Even if one’s parents are perfect, there are still Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents and neighbors, teachers and community people to contend with.

Generally, no one gets out of childhood with out some negative introjects.  If they are sufficiently numerous or painful, one can  see a professional who can help remove them.  Negative introjects are removed much the same as wood splinters are removed.   They can usually be located by following the pain.  Once located, they are dug out and removed through counter programming and reframing.   Susan Forward wrote a book that can be very helpful in that regard.  It is called Toxic Parents and I recommend it highly.

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  • Charles Gustafson, MFT
    Lic.# 5983
    599 S. Barranca, Suite 224
    Covina, CA 91723
  • 626-966-2662
    Email: charles@cgmft.com
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  • 599 S. Barranca, Suite 224
    Covina, CA 91723
  • 626-966-2662
  • charles@cgmft.com