Showing posts with label empathy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label empathy. Show all posts

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Not So Overhead Projecting

There are times, in my role as mother, when I'm not the wonderfully empathic, serene, understanding, personification of perfection I'd have you all believe. I know, right? Who could have seen that coming?

It's happening right now, actually. I'm trying to write a post (which usually takes about an hour these days, when you take into account remembering the html, picture finding, and actual writing, but has been known to take five or six hours in the past) within the next two hours so I can hit the time-stamp deadline. The kids are playing behind me, and so far I've asked them to "just f**k up", at which they asked if they got to be hypocrites too...

Ahh kids. Always so completely honest. And blunt. You don't get to be an arse in my house and expect to get away with it. They have dispersed from the lounge, however. They don't want to risk standing on my land mines and have me project my frustration into them a little more.

Had a quick yap with Mr. Me on facebook chat. (Yes he's in another room on another computer doing his own important work; no we can't swap, what are you, mad? I can't write a blog post on someone else's machine!) To which he promptly quoted me U2:

Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief

Well that's apt.

You see, I had decided to write about some projecting that was happening last night.

One of my kids has fears that are irrational. Big fears. I find it impossible to validate them, because I feel they're invalid (they are valid because they are unresolved from a time when validity wasn't in question). So it's basically my fault they're still happening now, and weren't resolved half a dozen years ago, when they would have been more understandable, but unfortunately I was less emotionally aware.

I try now to be more understanding, but I have to fight down my feelings of disgust. And that's a really cruel thing for a kid to deal with, even if he only knows in a subconscious "Mum's not being genuine in her concern" sorta way. So he doesn't come to me with his pain, he goes to Mr. Me, and that triggers me too, because then I feel not good enough.

It's all my own trash-bag of emotional garbage that I'm carrying around, and the projection part is me saying "here, I'm tired, you carry this for a while." It's completely unfair, but I want to do it anyway. We all do from time to time.

Here's an example:

Random small boy and his father are playing in the park. All is well and fun until the small boy falls from a swing and begins to cry. Father is immediately disgusted and ashamed because he was made to feel shame about crying when he was small. Father picks up small boy and tells him he's not a baby and to stop crying. Small boy now feels shame, and his father less so. The father has projected his shame into his son.

It's not the son's shame. It's most probably not even the father's, or his father's. It's hand-me-downs, inherited through generations, and now the small boy gets to carry it in his trash-bag of emotional garbage too.

So last night, it was all I could do to just not pass on my emotional baggage by going to bed early and talking to no one. It's pretty much all I could do before to ask politely to be left alone, even though I'm in a communal room and everyone else has important things they're using it for too. And I wonder how common an occurrence this is, when we feel like punishing our children for things completely outside their field for blame.

There are a lot of very public examples of projection that have been normalised.

I think Prime Minister John Key and his gay red top comment was a good example of projection, which needed to be addressed. Why else but because of his own discomfort would he be so publicly offensive? It's certain he's been well taught in the art of interview, speaking publicly and being politically correct, even if he doesn't think that way, as all politicians must have to reach as high an office as he has. It's all the more obvious because he's trying to rationalise it as well! Someone who makes a genuine mistake doesn't try to do that.

So, if we're going to raise healthy children, we need to get rid of this projection business. We don't have a right to pass on hate and bigotry, or in my case disgust at fear and slow-learning.

Children have enough emotional baggage of their own to carry without carrying ours too.

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Monday, 5 November 2012

To Help or Not To Help

Imagine you're walking down the street with two friends on a calm, overcast autumn day. There's hardly any traffic. A girl you know, about 14 years old, is walking on the opposite side of the road to you, a little bit ahead, travelling in the same direction. None of this is out of the ordinary and you're chatting with your friends.

A car squeals around the corner behind you and immediately, easily breaks the speed limit before sliding to a stop next to the girl. A middle aged woman jumps out and starts pummeling the girl with fists and forearms about her shoulders and head, all the while screaming unintelligibly. The woman then forces the girl into the car, gets in and drives off.

All this takes about fifteen seconds.

What do you think you'd have done? Anything?

Imagine you were 14 years old when you saw it, and the girl across the road was a classmate. Does that change how you think you would have reacted?

It's a true story. I knew the girl, and I knew the middle aged woman was her mother. I also knew that sometimes she didn't live with her mother.

I did nothing. Well, nothing except discuss with my friends what we wished we had done, for the rest of the walk home.

Nothing except stare in horror as a classmate was beaten. Frozen to the spot. And nothing afterwards, because I knew the woman to be this girl's mother. Though it was likely legal behaviour at the time, I still knew it was wrong. My friends and I, we longed to have had super powers to react and to protect.

I think I felt as powerless as my classmate did. In a different way, of course, because I've never been subjected to what she was, and as I say it, I feel a crushing weight that you all might think I'm comparing my experience of watching with her of being the victim. No way. But I did feel completely, utterly powerless. Afterward that day I pretended it never happened, and I wouldn't be surprised if she did the same.

I thought it would embarrass her if I mentioned it, so I didn't.

I thought she wouldn't want anyone to know, so I told no one.

And that's probably how she did think, because when people grow up with that, they think it's all their own fault. That they're a horrible person, otherwise why would awful things happen to them? She probably had it internalised and normalised. She was probably very ashamed. Toxically shamed.

All this happened more than half of my lifetime ago.

I still think about it often: probably about once a month, these days. It made an impression. I'm very haunted by the fact that I did nothing. It's cliche, but I wish I knew then what I know now.

I wish I had known that the way to break through that shame wasn't to pretend awful acts never happened, but to recognise that they were indeed awful acts. To let her know that nothing she could possibly do would deserve being treated that way. That the beating was wrong and it wasn't her fault. That she didn't make her mother do that, no matter what her mother said. You can't "make" a person beat you - it's their choice.

It's the aggressor's choice. Their emotions. Their actions. Their psychological baggage. Not the victim's. All the victim is guilty of, is stepping on a hidden landmine.

But I didn't know then.

I didn't know how important being a sympathetic witness is, but I know now.

It's important for that child being scolded in the supermarket for singing too happily - though you may not feel you can step in, you can make eye contact with the child in a way that lets them know they're not bad.

It's important for the person at your office who serves as your boss's scapegoat.

It's important for that bullied kid at school to know that he's not to blame.

And it's important to know, that even if you can't step in and stop something from happening, that a lot of good can come from letting the victim know it's not their fault.

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Monday, 29 October 2012

Love Letter to FlyLady

Image source. FlyLady's logo from her website. I hope she's OK with me putting it here! :)

It's no secret that I'm a big advocate for gentle parenting and conscious living. It hasn't always been the case, but what has always been the case is my love for personal growth and learning, and that's how I got there.

About six or seven years ago, in the course of discovery on the internet, several people on a forum I frequented raved about this FlyLady website that was, they said, all about how to keep your house clean. My house was pretty messy, not due to lack of ability, or lack of desire, and certainly I didn't feel as though I was a naturally messy person, but because of a niggly trait called perfectionism.

I lived under the shadow of "if you can't do it properly, don't do it at all" and so a lot of things were never done. Not because I was unable to do it well enough to suit me, but because everything became so huge! Sweeping the kitchen floor meant I needed to clean everything above the floor beforehand, because that's the order needed for cleaning - top to bottom. If I wanted to sweep the floor, I'd need a couple of hours to get it done.

I was far more than cynical when I went to check out her website, but I signed up and since, at that time, it was based in a Yahoo Group, I promptly forgot about it. Fast forward a few years and I decided to take another look. People were still raving about it and I hadn't given it much of a chance. And now she sends her emails to any address at all, so I could actually receive them. And read them...

Turns out FlyLady is out there gently re-parenting adults. Yes, she gives definite instructions to follow, which I wouldn't usually associate with gentle parenting, but there is no judgement or criticism involved and her ultimate goal is simply for you to Finally Love Yourself (FLY). There's nothing that takes the pressure off better than the line at the end of all of her emails:
You are not behind! I don't want you to try to catch up; I just want you to jump in where we are. O.K.?
which gives you permission to be at whatever place you are.

She believes in baby-steps and helps you change your mindset from the inner critic that says you're not good enough, to the logical knowledge that a little bit is better than nothing, and lots of little bits really do add up.

Also, it's all free, so that's pretty cool too.

This is just a public thank you, because these ideas have helped with all sorts of manifestations of my perfectionism, not just housework. I would not have even started this blog yet because I'm still learning how to make things work as it is, and I couldn't have started under those conditions otherwise.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

I Love You, But I Don't Give A Rat's Bum!

I had come to the conclusion that being a mother often meant feigning an interest.

Not always. Sometimes your kids have really interesting topics of conversation, things to show and tell and questions to ask. And that's awesome. But how many people have you met that have all the same interests as you?

OK, now how many seven year old kids have you met that have all the same interests as you?

Yeah. S'what I thought. None.

But we love 'em, don't we? And we love that they're excited about things and learning, even if it is about Pokemon (who knows, he could be a future animator or game programmer!) but it never occurred to me, going into this parenting caper, that I'd have to listen to incessant chatter about things I am completely apathetic towards.

Then I realised how fake that was, and if I modelled that fakeness, I'd be teaching my kids that the correct response is to be dishonest. So where to go with it? Obviously we want some middle ground between "I don't care, please don't talk" and "Tell me all about your belly-button lint, I'm enthralled." I want them to know they can talk to me about anything at any time, but for them to also have the empathy to know that some people just aren't as interested in the same topics as they are, and if we want a captive audience, we need to appeal to them.

At any time is also a biggie for me. Yes, I'm available at any time, but I don't want to be woken up so that I can be shown a new colour of nail polish, or be asked through the toilet door if there are any chores they can do to earn money. Surely it's not that time sensitive that it can't wait five minutes?

Sometimes I find myself at a loss as to how to teach these things. And then realise that always, if there's a behaviour that's happening, good or bad, it's been modelled before.

Was it me?

There have been times, I'm certain, that I've callously interrupted what the kids were doing: pulled them away from a game so I can go out shopping or bill paying or visit a friend or relative or any number of things they have no interest in. Because I'm "bigger and more important" you see. This is the default setting of pretty much all new parents. And if it's not, we're weaned into it because little babies don't really have a lot of preferences in that way, and it becomes habitual just to say "let's go" and expect it to happen.

I also remember often interrupting a game just to "remind" them of things they should do, or to ask them if they'd tried on those new, blue shoes yet... something that may be completely uninteresting to them or not time sensitive, because I unconsciously considered myself bigger and more important.

The idea that I'm bigger, and therefore more important, created second class citizens of my children.

That's not just.

I don't want them growing up believing anyone is second class, not because of their age, or because of their skin colour, or religion, or because of any physical or mental capabilities they may or may not have.

It's true, there are things I must do that are very important. It's also true that my children are the responsibility of myself and my partner and so there will be times when they have to do things they'd prefer not - so to us all in life. But there should never be times when preferences aren't listened to and considered. Very rare are the times when negotiations can't be entered into: generally, yes I can wait fifteen minutes for you to finish your game of Monopoly, and I'm sorry I didn't discuss this with you earlier.

From experience, kids get much better at these negotiations with time and practice, or they can be born into it (which is so much easier, you wouldn't believe it!) but when there are slip ups, the only way to deal with it is without hypocrisy. To politely ask for your personal or psychological space back (in an age appropriate way) and remember you're probably the one who modelled it in the past - you or a teacher they had no choice but to spend six hours per day with, but that's a story for another day.

Ahh, what I love about this blog is that I start writing about a problem and then as I'm writing, I find the solution and write that down too. I think that's what I've done here, so thank you so much for listening! You give me a reason to regularly sit down and get inside my own head for a bit, and I appreciate it.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The World Is Bored With Your Problems

We've all said it. I can't actually remember a time when I've said it, but I can sure remember feeling it, then feeling guilty about that. And before I really started paying attention to what came out of my mouth, ie, before impressionable little people entered my life, I'm sure it would have been something tactless, empathyless former me would have spouted.

"I'm totally over hearing about (insert latest natural disaster/war here)"

I've heard it plenty, and it's always said with complete obliviousness to the merest idea that others might be feeling empathy for the continued suffering of victims. Or even that the victims may still be suffering and there's a chance that they'll never "get over it."

It's a wobbly old world. This time 2 years ago, I was probably holding onto a door frame and waiting for yet another aftershock to pass. "The Big One" hit that morning - a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, just 10 kilometres deep and we considered ourselves lucky!

Nobody died.

Lucky indeed; the quake happened at 4.35am and most people were in the relative safety of their beds. Boy did it make the news though!

People weren't unaffected. Liquefaction rivers drifted through dining rooms, water was undrinkable (for those that even had any), the power was out, sewerage lines broken and shops and petrol stations were understandably closed for business. But we knew people cared. Of course they did. It was new news and for that day, there was a whole television station (maybe two!) dedicated to constant updates on the well being of Christchurch citizens. We were in a state of emergency, and people cared. For a bit.

Just about six months later, it happened again, but this time in the daytime and we did not consider ourselves lucky. It killed 185 people. Injured thousands. But we knew people cared; search and rescue teams from all over the world flocked to Christchurch and we felt cared for and loved. Everything that could be done, was being done.

Three weeks along and it was Japan's turn. A magnitude 9 quake followed by a tsunami. A complete tragedy - never ever have I felt for the victims of a natural disaster more than this, with our own so fresh and recent in my mind. I was very pleased to know New Zealand's own SAR team immediately went to help as theirs did for us. I watched it nightly on the news and thought often about the people there.

Then it happened.

I overheard it around the end of March while walking down the street. A street in my town! Where we couldn't walk near some of the buildings for safety's sake, and the roads were still decorated with cracks and liquefaction!

"I'm totally over hearing about that tsunami"

I'm glad it wasn't one of my friends, or even acquaintances.
I don't think I could have remained friends on those terms.

"I'm totally over hearing about (insert latest natural disaster/war here)"

It affects me when I hear it.

I'm not short on problems of my own, some of which may seem pretty trivial, others less so. And they don't always play nice in my head, which has led to depression (crying in the bottom of the shower because it feels too hard to turn the shower off and get dressed kinda depression), self-medicating with food, and self-hate. THIS IS OBVIOUSLY NOT THE FAULT OF THE PERSON SAYING FLIPPANT COMMENTS. There has to be fertile ground there already for tiny seeds like that to grow into brambles from hell. But it seems that every so often, no matter how much I try to sweep up those seeds, some will get lodged in a crack somewhere and take root. I start thinking Did I talk too much about what's going on for me at the moment? Are they totally "over" hearing about me too? My current problems are nothing compared to tsunami/drought/wildfire/hurricane victims... and I dial back the depth of my conversations with them to just trivialities. I can't help it.

Paranoid? Maybe.

Except now my friends are an empathetic bunch. A lot of my long time friends always have been, but I have managed to just drift away from some who might just be "over" hearing about anything that isn't them. I believe my world is a more optimistic place because of it.

Do flippant comments affect you?

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Top photo supplied by Chris Watson.
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