Evidence of children

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The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.

~ Fred Rogers

Yesterday I argued with a family member.

We’re not especially close.  (The argument, in fact, was just an exchange of angry texts.)  We don’t see each other often, and I’m not especially concerned about what this person thinks or feels about me. 

So I was surprised at the strength of my reaction to the fight. 

I was upset.  I felt like crying.  I was also furious.  I couldn’t stop raging, replaying the argument in my head over and over.  I was also confused.  What this my fault?  Was I missing something?  Nor could I stop imagining what would happen if we were to resume it in the future.  What would I say?  How would X answer?  How would I feel?  

I did this so much I couldn’t sleep.  I  mean, at all. 

So at 3:40 AM I’m lying in bed and wondering Why the hell is this happening?

And my smarter self answered,

Because you feel like a kid.

*

This happens every day in my therapy office.   It’s just not me it usually happens to.

It happens to the wife who hates her husband and is desperate to end their marriage but looks at me helplessly and says, “But I don’t know how to start.”

To the mom whose daughter bullies her and to whom she cannot reply because she’s afraid she’ll lose the girl’s love forever.

To the husband who vents endlessly in therapy about his wife’s drinking but finds her anger so unnerving that he has never said a word to her.

To the adult son so desperate for his father’s love and approval that he bites his tongue whenever Dad launches into a racist political harrangue.

To the boyfriend whose fiance makes all the couples’ decisions unilaterally but who doesn’t complain for fear she’ll break their engagement.

To the nurse who’s afraid to seek a better job because of how scared she gets in interviews.

To the teacher who’s worked herself into chronic health problems by overworking and never saying No to any demand. 

To the therapist whose need for clients to like her is so great that she regularly extends their therapy hour, reduces her fee, comes in on weekends, and takes crisis calls at all hours of the night.

I could go on, but you get the picture. 

I imagine you’ve seen versions of it yourself.

Maybe you’ve lived those versions.

Anxiety.  Terror.  Sadness.  Helplessness.  Bewilderment.

Regression to the most vulnerable emotional state you know.

Evidence of the kid you carry inside.

*

First in a series about inner kids, adult children and control addiction.

Watch this space.

 

   

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11 responses to “Evidence of children

  • Pete Sullivan

    Steve, I feel the same, often. It feels very familiar. The voices trying to keep me safe, then in fear. Yes I am an adult child that is recovering and still the inner critic has an effect on me, almost constantly. And I am learning from your posts, your book and other types of recovery that feeling the feelings and not judging them is key.
    Thank you for what you share and I look forward to reading your new book.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Thanks so much, Pete. That’s always good to hear. And I hope you’ll keep contributing your feedback as this series progresses.

  • Dwyline Kruger

    WOW!

    I could see myself in many of these examples. I have struggled with setting boundaries AND keeping them for my whole life. My parents rarely did this either. I am actually fearful of other’s anger or displeasure when I don’t do what they want. Sometimes, the situation isn’t all that serious or important, but it still brings up feelings of fear, frustration, anxiety, anger (many times with myself), and resentment.

    For the last four or five years, I have activity and determinedly immersed myself in healing my “inner child” over the issues of : setting boundaries and following through with their consequences; thinking about what’s best for me, even if the other person gets angry; not trying to change people, and given that acceptance, deciding to have them in my life or not; and trying not to be a people pleaser, when to do so, will be damaging for me.

    I’m currently in a particularly challenging situation (which I’m trying to view as an opportunity to work my program around codependent behaviors, feelings, and thoughts). When I finally was able set boundaries with my long-time friend, which I feel is a toxic relationship for me, and ask for a six week complete break from all communications, he told me he has Lymphoma. He wants to stay at my home, since it’s a much more conducive environment for his recovery and emotional healing (and it probably is). He wants me to be with him during some treatments, for emotional support. and be there for him in genreal. Even though he shares his good friend’s house, and has many other friends and family, within a 100 miles, he only feels comfortable with me. When I first heard about his illness, I spoke to him about how many days after each Chemo treatment, he would be staying at my house. He said he thought it would only be five days. He was at my house for three and a half months before I could get enough courage to ask him to go home two days a week! My single and really do not want him, or any friend, staying at my home overnight.

    I think your post will be able to help me grow and heal while experiencing the opportunity!

    Dwyline
    63 years old

    • Steve Hauptman

      I feel for you, Dwyline, and I expect that others who read your feedback will too. My first thought is that there are people — and your toxic friend may be one — who seem to have a sort of radar which tells them who they can exploit and manipulate, like pedophiles who know instinctively which kids to target. Actually it’s not magical; what really happens is a kind of testing which tells them who’s scared of conflict, or of hurting anyone’s feelings, or in need of approval or validation, or in the habit of valuing the needs and feelings of other people more than their own. Codependents, in other words, addicted to trying to control people places and things. It’s a damn hard addiction to recover from, but recovery is possible with the right professional help and emotional support. I hope you’re getting enough of both. And I hope you keep sharing feedback as this series progresses.

  • alisonlowrie

    When I read your post it reminded me of how I feel with all the doubts and questions in my mind that come from a feeling of helplessness especially in situations that happen unexpectedly- out of my control!
    And yet by practising the 3 alternatives you talk about, allowing my feelings and responding to them in a kinder way I feel I am recovering. The helplessness feelings are as intense however I am better able to stand back and go with them, work in progress that I would not change for a second.
    Thankyou

  • Steve Hauptman

    Thanks, Ali. I’ve found it helps enormously for me to have an intellectual place to go (like remembering the three alternatives to control) when the helplessness sets in. It’s at moments when my wounded inner Kid gets triggered and panics that I most need my Adult (the “smarter self” I mention in the post) to step in and share what it knows. I’m working hard to increase the arrows in that quiver, and you’ll be interested to know that the conclusion of the book I’m writing now will be a section devoted to twelve (so far) Rules for Grownups. They’re kind of cool, if I say so myself. Stay tuned.

  • Mike Trahan

    Hi, Steve. I was browsing through your blog and stumbled across this one. I have so many questions and I hope you can enlighten me on a couple of things. You stated that this family member wasn’t all that important to you, so why even get angry? I know you stated it’s evidence of your inner child but for some reason I don’t believe that. I feel like as a seasoned adult (by looking at your picture) you would come to grips with your childhood by now. Most people didn’t have the best upbringing but what makes it a positive is that you learn from the mistakes your parents made. I know that’s how I’ve done it over the years. This is coming from a parent of a 5 year old and 2 year old. (So a new parent). When my son was a newborn, I changed his diaper in the hospital. I already surpassed my father because he never changed a diaper in his life. My feeling is that you can’t live in the past because you lose out on the present and the future. Your adult life is what you make out of it, not what your parents did to you. That’s just my opinion.
    But let’s get back to this family member. Can you elaborate on the agrument you had with them because that would help understand it a bit more. Why did you get so angry? Why did you let it bother you where you couldn’t sleep? You said yourself you don’t really care about what this person thinks about you. Please feel free to comment back this. I’m just interested. Thank you for your time.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Thanks for your feedback and your questions, Mike. They’re good questions, so I’ll try to answer them one by one.

      You stated that this family member wasn’t all that important to you, so why even get angry?

      The short answer: I had a transference reaction.

      Transference is when one relationship feels like another. (I explain transference here:
      In that moment the Kid inside me got triggered and confused this family member with people who hurt me in the past.

      Not for the first time, of course. In the past it’s happened most often with authority figures, men who reminded me of dad or women who reminded me of mom – people I thought I needed something from, like understanding or acceptance or approval. So although it’s true that on the Adult level this person and I don’t have a very close relationship, in that moment he felt as important to the Kid as a parent does.

      That sounds a bit crazy. But decades of transference reactions have taught me to recognize them by the slightly crazy feeling (What the hell is going on?) that accompanies them. It tells me something old and unconscious has been triggered, and that if I want to understand my overreaction I need to figure out what the hell my Kid is being reminded of.

      I know you stated it’s evidence of your inner child but for some reason I don’t believe that. I feel like as a seasoned adult (by looking at your picture) you would come to grips with your childhood by now.

      I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a completely grown-up human being. I think that no matter how big or old or successful or experienced we become we each carry a Kid part inside, that this Kid is almost always wounded and needy, and that remembering that is essential to understanding why we feel and behave the way we do as adults.

      I also believe we don’t have much choice about this. The only choice we have is to either acknowledge the Kid part and learn to take care of it or deny it and go around confused by our own reactions. I know that’s true in my case.

      Most people didn’t have the best upbringing but what makes it a positive is that you learn from the mistakes your parents made. I know that’s how I’ve done it over the years. This is coming from a parent of a 5 year old and 2 year old. (So a new parent). When my son was a newborn, I changed his diaper in the hospital. I already surpassed my father because he never changed a diaper in his life.

      Me too. My own dad was emotionally missing in action throughout my childhood. That made me determined to be as different a dad as possible to my own kids. For a while I thought I’d succeeded. Then my kids got to be adults and began giving me feedback about what sort of father I’d actually been and I realized my best efforts had fallen short, that in my own way I’d been as narcissistic and self-preoccupied and emotionally unavailable as my dad had been. Why? Because I was unconsciously basing my choices on what the Kid inside me needed, like safety or validation or approval.

      We have to remember that we’re mostly unconscious. During a lecture Joseph Campbell once drew a circle on a blackboard and then added a tiny notch at the top. The circle, he said, represents the whole human being, and the notch represents the part that’s conscious. Most of us aren’t fully aware of why we feel what we feel or do what we do.

      My feeling is that you can’t live in the past because you lose out on the present and the future. Your adult life is what you make out of it, not what your parents did to you. That’s just my opinion.

      I agree. But I also believe that an important part of making an adult life – one where you can live in the present instead of the past — is developing an adult understanding of what happened to you as a child and how it shaped your personality and perceptions.

      We ignore that stuff at our peril. “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it,” as Santayana put it. And as a therapist whenever I meet someone stuck in old feelings or patterns of behavior, I know it’s because they’ve been ignoring their Kid and what happened to it.

      But let’s get back to this family member. Can you elaborate on the argument you had with them because that would help understand it a bit more. Why did you get so angry? Why did you let it bother you where you couldn’t sleep? You said yourself you don’t really care about what this person thinks about you.

      Looking back, I think my main feeling was not anger but anxiety, and that my anxiety came from feeling helpless. I kept trying to imagine some way of resolving our conflict but couldn’t think of one, because I simply couldn’t imagine a conversation in which this person listened to my feelings and understood and accepted them. This reminded my Kid of how I felt when I was unable to get what I needed from my alcoholic father and depressed codependent mother. The resulting panic was what kept me awake all night.

      I hope I answered your questions. If not, write back.

      • alisonlowrie

        Hi Steve
        Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head for me.
        When my inner kid gets triggered it mostly because I feel helpless and unable to deal with a situation with another person. I have a strong urge to ‘be responsible’ and fix the situation and other person – make them ok.
        Scares me rigid every time. Cold shivers too.
        At least now I don’t beat myself up for feeling overwhelmed and give myself, my kid, permission to ‘fail’ and not feel able to fix stuff. To be human knowing that I’m good but not that good!

        • Steve Hauptman

          Thanks, Ali.

          For me, inner Kid work begins in the moment we first understand where those feelings of fear and helplessness come from — not from the present situation, but from what it reminds us of, and not from the person we are now, but from the kid we once were.

          Oddly enough, there can be great comfort in realizing that I’ve been living in a trance, that I’m not really weak or inadequate but simply hypnotized, and that waking up from the trance is possible.

          .

  • Mike Trahan

    Thanks for the quick reply. I read everything you wrote, but still think it’s an excuse. I’m only 36 years old but I have an old school way of thinking. Like “suck it up.” I think it’s important to learn from the past. I’m not saying to completely forget what happened, but to use it as a positive. A “what not do this” list. I grew up in an abusive household. My father was an alcoholic whose use to be physically abusive to my mother and myself. Also with my 3 other siblings. Any little thing would set him off. Fast forward to when I became an adult and married, I knew it was wrong to do anything like that to my wife. I couldn’t imagine ever doing something like that. My mother was emotionally unavailable when I was a child because of what was going on in the house, so she never did motherly things with us kids. She never read a book or sang a song to us before bed. I’ve learn as an adult with children that it’s important to read at night to them. My parents never that the 3 words “I love you”. As adult, I say it everyday to my wife and kids. So my point being is that you need to learn from what your parents did. Because when you get married and say your vows, it’s not all about you anymore. And that gets amplified when you have kids. Being an active father is the most important job in the world. I know I won’t have any regrets.
    Your fight with your family member reminds me of how me and my father in law interact. Ive known him for 17 years (well not actually known him) since I started dating his Daughter. Her and I been married for the last 9 years. Early on in the relationship, I would go to her house and her father would lock himself either in his room or office and wouldn’t come out and say hi and talk. I thought it was kind of odd. I know I would like to get to know the guy dating or marrying my daughter. But I took this as he was socially awkward. Time went by. My in laws are not in their late 60s. No retirement in sight. I know they are struggling financially. My mother in law watches my kids a couple of times a week. So as a thank you, over the years my wife and I figured we would help them out. We purchased a washing machine for them two years ago. And then their microwave went. We replaced that. We
    Bought a new TV for them. Each time we did that, my mother in law was very grateful. Either in person or on the phone. My father in law on the other hand never called or thanked us in person. Instead u thought all of those gifts were just for his wife. Not him. But they were helping them both out financially. Now the most recent event got heated. We purchased them a new stove. My mother in law has been complaining that the stove doesn’t work right and it can become a fire hazard. My wife and I purchased them a stove. We called my in laws and told them that I will delivered in 2 days. My mother in law once again was touched. She thanked us in person and on the phone numerous times. My father in law who was home when we called, didn’t get on the phone. Instead waited several hours and sent my wife and I a text “thanks for the stove, my wife is touched”. That’s all we got. That angered me cause of the past my wife and I been so generous to the both of them and my father in laws ego got in the way. I think he was upset that he couldn’t provide like he should.
    My relationship with him will never be good. We are too completely different people. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years of what not to do also. I learned that marriage is about compromise. Not one sided. There’s give and take. Not always take. One member of the relationship can’t always do everything while the other person takes care of himself. My wife and I do everything together.
    I guess what really angers me about my father in law is that I’ve tried over the years. I treat his daughter with respect and I’m a great provider for her. We are financially comfortable from this point forward. We are open to dialogue with each other. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me. But instead my father in law doesn’t see it like that. As a father to a daughter myself, I would be extremely happy if she found a man that would support her and be her rock. But my father in law only thinks about himself and how it affects him. Not his daughter’s feelings. I think he too worried about his inner kid.
    That was a lot of rambling but to sum up what I was saying. I still dont believe that we should focus on our childhood. Learn to grown and move on. Because at the end of the day. Nobody gives a shit about your childhood.

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