STORYTELLING, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

I Hear You, Panic Attack, I’m Listening

Panic attacks.

I get them when I’m triggered.

I get them at 3 am in the morning.

I get them at 5 am in the morning.

I get them when I have to wake up to start my day.

I get them after reading an email.

They scare me and they demoralize me. They bring me to my knees.

My panic attacks can feel like a thousand chaotic voices.

This isn’t good.

That isn’t done.

You aren’t good enough.

What a failure.

When they start, I end up with waves of fear from my futile attempts to ward off the attacks.

I try silencing the voices.

I recoil in terror from all their accusations and predictions of doom and gloom.

My brain vibrates from the yelling and the shrinking, the pointing and the defending.

* * * * *

I’m learning to thank them, yes, appreciate their intention to protect me from — well — danger.

Danger from harm to the core of who I am.

Somehow, I ended up with a blinding fear of criticism about my judgment and decision-making abilities.

I have had to change my attitude of fear of criticism about my past unchangeable decisions.

* * * * *

Now I try to to tell myself:

  • I accept the past
  • I did the best that I could with what I had
  • There are consequences to all decisions
  • The only thing I can do is think about moving forward
  • My new decisions might still not be ideal
  • In the future I will be dealing with the consequences of my choices today
  • A knee-jerk reaction will be counterproductive
  • What’s the one baby step I can take right now that at least moves me in the right direction?

Okay panic attacks.

I’m ready for you.

I’m ready to listen to your warnings.

But I’m going to respond in a calm way to let you know that I can only do my best, that I did my best in the past, and that hounding me about what a terrible person I am is not going to make my life better. It’s making my present and future worse.

But I thank you for trying to protect me.

I thank you for trying to teach me.

So — now that I’ve heard you, I need you to be quiet so that I can figure out what next step to take.

BOOK REVIEW, FOCUS ON YOU, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Complex PTSD by Pete Walker

Without a properly functioning ego, you have no center for making healthy choices and decisions. All too often, your decisions are based on the fear of getting in trouble or getting abandoned, rather than on the principles of having meaningful and equitable interactions with the world.

How does one review a book that is so deeply personal, a book that shifted me from wandering around in despair to starting a healing journey? I know, I’ll write him a thank you note!

Dear Mr. Walker,

During the most difficult time of my life, I started searching the terms “depression,” “anxiety,” “panic attacks” etc. to try to figure out what was going on. I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t seem to find help that actually—well—helped. I also often seemed okay; I know how to fake it very well.

Needing anything from others can feel especially dangerous. The survivor’s innate capacity to experience comfort and support in relationship becomes very limited or non-existent. This is despite the fact that many high functioning survivors learn to socially function quite adequately.

It wasn’t until I found your website that I felt truly understood or even knew what kind of help I needed. I wrote to you and asked if you could take me on as a client. You very graciously answered me immediately with empathy for my suffering but also that you did not have room to take anyone else on. You suggested that I read your book, so I bought it right away and started reading.

That was a time in my life when I thought my brain was permanently damaged and that I would never be able to function normally again. Your book gave me hope and a path. It somehow normalized a lot of what I was struggling with and both reassured me that I wasn’t weak and gave me cautious optimism that it was fixable. Until I read your work, I couldn’t figure out what it actually was.

The inner critic commonly increases the intensity of a flashback via a barrage of… attacks… Flashbacks can devolve into increasingly painful levels of the abandonment depression. One attack can repetitively bleed into another and tumble us further down a spiral of hopelessness. It is awful enough to take a single punch in a fight, but when the punches keep coming, the victim is severely thrashed.

You named a condition that seemed to explain more to me than any other word or phrase. Most of the other terms I was searching just seemed to describe symptoms. Other books just wanted me to be more mindful, feel gratitude, or learn to think differently. None of them were wrong per se (and you make those suggestions too); however, the positive effects of doing those things didn’t seem to last and I couldn’t seem to get to the source of the nonstop triggering from so many potential situations, many of which seemed benign on the face of them. Why was I always so tense and ready to fight? Why did I always want to run away? Why do people scare me, especially if they pooh pooh me or, even worse, if they LIKE me and want to be my friend?

The person who never wrote in her textbooks could not stop writing notes in your book. The person who thought she could never sit through an entire book ever again read your book from cover to cover. The person who never reads the appendices in books pored over the toolboxes.

In summary, your book was exactly what I needed when I needed it and helped me heal and turn my life around. Thank you for what you do.

Sincerely,

Sherry

LOVE FIRST, PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Future-Proofing Our Children

Wealth is an Advantage

The rich invest in their legacy for beyond their own death. They believe in it so much, they often sacrifice precious present time with their loved ones to create financial advantage for their descendants because they know that in any competition, an advantage better positions them to succeed.

Wealth is about creating a safety net for the future of our children. It increases opportunities and reduces hardships. Wealth gives a person more choices, allows them to make riskier decisions, and gives them a cushion to land on in times of failure or hard times. In other words, wealth is an advantage, it is future-proofing our children!

What Does That Have To Do with Parenting?

As parents, we want to give our children stability, safety, freedom from suffering, advantage, and wealth. We want to give them tools to control more of their lives so that they can be strategic and intentional, rather than reactive or defensive. However, what if the very act to provide them the best ends up impacting them negatively as well?

Unintended Consequences

Focusing only on financial advantages (money, education, houses, and cars) may backfire. Why? Because too much emphasis on achievement over connection may result in high pressure, relational conflict, self-esteem issues, etc. We want to give our children advantages, but if the way we do that creates intense and ongoing conflict with our children, we may be harming our connection with them instead and negatively impacting their emotional health.

When conflicts with our children put a dent in their confidence about what they like, what they are good at, what they would like to experiment with, what they think they can build, how they see themselves, etc., etc., they stop thinking about how to enjoy themselves, they are no longer curious to learn, and they focus on how to either please or escape us. 

Another Way

Success in life is not just measured by financial wealth. Success is when a person is resilient enough to overcome challenges. A person can only be resilient if they have had the chance to try and fail, learn and practice, and then do and improve. They need the opportunity to develop their own judgment and test their own theories. They need to be okay with not being perfect — they need to know that mistakes are part of the learning process. 

They need to know that they are accepted by their parents no matter what, win or lose, so that they learn to accept themselves regardless of what they achieve. The voices of their parents become the internal voices they hear as adults. So the voices need to help them get through challenges rather than berate them for not being good enough.

Future-proofing our children also includes what voices we leave in their heads — not just the house or money in their bank accounts!

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW

Untigering Parent

Visit the Untigering website, preview a chapter of her new book, and listen to our interview below.

As a Chinese-American and daughter of a pastor, Iris Chen played by the rules and succeeded, but felt that those (impressive) achievements didn’t quite have meaning in her life. She is now on a journey of Untigering which she defines as Gentle Parenting and Unschooling. Always thoughtful and insightful, Iris has brought together a community of parents from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds to share with and learn from each other.

Untigering with Iris Chen

When I first realized that I was parenting my children in a way that *I* didn’t want to be parented, I went on a search at the University of Google. The concept of Untigering quickly jumped out at me and I immediately became a fan of Iris Chen’s and joined the community she was building on Facebook. What surprised me most was how many people related to what I was going through… and that they weren’t all Asian American! They came from all over. We really are more alike than different. While she writes and speaks from her own experience of being Asian American, there are common elements for all of us unlearning and unprogramming in order to build an approach that works for our own unique family. (You can access a preview of a chapter from her book: Redefining Success: An Untigering Parent’s Guide to Our Beliefs About Success, How We Came to Them, and How to Change Them.)

In our podcast, Iris touches on numerous topics:

  • Obedience: Coming from a cultural and religious background that meant strict rules and the expectation is that you’re do as your told, she knew that she was going to do things differently with her kids. It was difficult, because she defaulted to an authoritarian style of parenting and had a tendency to demand obedience.
  • Acknowledging Past Trauma: It is very important to explore our own wounds, our past trauma, not for blaming purposes, but to move forward. She could see that our personalities responded to our parenting and social conditioning and what she was doing was harmful to her children. She got back in touch and got to know herself. This is very hard! It is unnatural and there is a lot of work to be done.
  • Learning: The world is changing so rapidly. The content that kids learn in third grade become irrelevant. Instead of focusing on content, we should be giving them the skills for how to learn. She sees learning as a life process… learning in many different ways, not just in school. She points out: as adults, we are constantlyg learning new things in organic ways. We should allows kids to learn that way too.
  • Curating Own Lifestyle: Living in China for 16 years, they were able to curate their life and culture, not American, not Chinese, a Third Culture. They created the family and community culture they wanted. It gave her the freedom to say, this does not work for our family, can we create something new? It gave them the freedom not to fit in a box. We often don’t question things when we are in it, because ‘that’s just the way things are’.
  • Achievement and expectation: We shouldn’t focus on the outward markers of achievement to prove that we’ve made it. For her, those achievements didn’t end up meaning anything. When she no longer had anyone telling her what the standards and expectations were, she was at a loss… did not know how to manage time and what to do with life. As she got older, she had to get back in touch with what she loved to do.
  • Consent-based living: It’s not just about education. It’s about relationships and parenting. It’s about how to honour our children. Unschooling isn’t just about education. It’s consent-based. It’s not coercive, not about ‘sit down and pay attention to what I have to teach you’ says someone with authority and a lesson plan. It’s a way of living and relating with each other with respect and consent.

Her Key Message: Know and love yourself.  All the details will stem from that one place where we know who we are and can know and love and accept who we are.  Everything should come from a place of unconditional love.

FOCUS ON YOU, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Raging at Kids is Signal: Need Self Care!

For the first few years of my kids’ lives, I thought that yelling at them was my way of disciplining and teaching them. But over time, I came to notice that 1) I wasn’t consistent in what I yelled at, 2) I had some specific triggers, and 3) while some things might have made a little sense to yell about, other issues were way too small to be mad at. Lastly, the fear and pain in their eyes were wrong. I hurt and scared them! As their mother, the one person who loves them most in the entire world, the one person who would do anything at all to keep them safe… *I* was causing them pain and they feared me.

It got me thinking.

And it got me digging.

It got me working on this issue.

I’d like to say that I quickly came to the conclusion that I could fix this by never yelling at them ever again, but it’s not quite that easy. There are so many levels of this and it’s very hard work to sort things out. But ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that something wasn’t quite working. And, while I was doing the best that I could, something needed to change.

Uncontrollable rage is never about the children. It’s about us as parents. It’s about our own insecurities and fears. It’s about our lack of control and our past traumas. Rage is what we turn to when we feel like there’s nothing else we can do. It’s our way of throwing temper tantrums. The problem is that rage literally does nothing to solve the problem at hand. If anything, it only makes things worse in the long run. It damages the relationship we have with our kids; they lose trust in and respect for us.

Raging at our kids doesn’t make us terrible people. It just means that we don’t have enough energy, headspace, or wherewithal to skillfully deal with the challenge in front of us. We feel so helpless that we can only rage.

It’s really a signal to stop and breathe. It’s time to remember the bigger picture. It’s a moment to love yourself and your kids. Once you find your equilibrium, then you can reconnect and communicate. It doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve a scolding or discipline. It doesn’t mean they don’t still need your guidance. It’s doesn’t mean you can’t be mad about what they did (or didn’t do). It just means you need to make sure that you are responding appropriately and thoughtfully rather than reacting in a knee-jerk manner.

But… when was the last time you had enough sleep? When did you get lost doing something you loved to do? When did you put yourself first? When did you pamper yourself? When did you have alone time to regenerate and rebuild your resilience?

If your answer is “I don’t remember…” then give yourself a break. You are running on empty and none of us are at our best behaviour when we don’t take care of ourselves. And guess what? The most vulnerable people around us suffer when we run ourselves to the ground!

So, without judging yourself for that rage, will you join me in taking care of ourselves first so that we can be the best version of a parent for our kids?