Mine or Yours?
We all have emotional baggage that comes with us to life events. Even as a therapist, I also have this issue. No one is immune. When working with a client who is extremely upset about a situation, I have them drill down deeper to understand their fears and concerns. A client was very angry that their child is being socially excluded at school by peers. This is a hard situation to stand by and watch, but the reactions seem greater than needed. In the session we drill down, we learn that the parent too was treated the same way as a child. They were angry that this was also happening to their child. They were triggered by their child's situation and reliving their own. By understanding this we can address their trauma so that they can be more present for their own child’s experience.
Overreacting - One good way to start to identify whether the situation is more about you is if you are overreacting. Yes, the situation could be difficult but is your reaction more than it should be? A common thing to be upset about is money. Let’s say your child uses the money you gave them for junk food instead of keeping it for when they need lunch at school. If your reaction is rage and not mild irritation, then maybe it’s triggering a bigger issue. This issue could be worried that you haven’t saved enough money for retirement and you will be living with that child when you are old. You love your child, but living with them when you're a senior citizen might just not be the retirement plan you had dreamed of. Or my overreaction to my son’s sleeping in until the afternoon hours. He’s not experiencing a depressive episode, which will then lead to him not graduating high school or college and then he will never be able to be gainfully employed. Instead, he is just a growing teenager who is tired from the week, so he needs sleep.
Projecting - Another reaction is called projection. We are projecting reactions from a past situation onto the current one. The other night I had a friend tell me about the new recent woes of her teenage son. She was talking about how he was pushing limits about staying out after hours She then spiraled into concerns that he wasn’t doing his homework and his grades were tanking, which then lead him to summer school. Her reactions were appropriate about the situation, but what was interesting was how she ended. In the end, she insightfully realized that she doesn’t want her children to end up like her father who couldn’t keep a job.
Imitating - This is a fun one for parents. We are in a situation with our children and the next thing we know we are acting like our parents. There are many times that I stop myself and realize that I”m sounding too familiar. I do a personal inventory and realize that I’m sounding just like my dad. I love my dad, but there are things that I didn’t agree with that he did when I was a child. It irks me when I hear myself doing them. I go to my kids and apologize for that “grandpa moment”. Then I try it again with my voice. It’s so easy to slip into becoming our parents. We did spend lots of time with them.
How do we stop these types of reactions? The first step is to take a moment and think through our reactions to the situation. I do a self-inventory. I ask myself questions like did I overreact? Am I being triggered? What is it about this situation that has me so upset? What am I worried or fearful about in this situation? If I could understand my fears and concerns, then I can put them aside as they are my issues. This gives me room to focus on my child’s issues. If it’s hard to separate your issues from your child’s you might want to consider talking it out with a friend or someone that has a little more distance from the situation like a therapist. I’m always here for you.