|Q: When trying to embrace my daughter (age 13) during stressful times, I began to realize that she has created crises over and over to receive that kind of love and attention. It ended up whenever I had a plan and it didn't include her (work, coffee with a friend, etc.), she'd have a crisis (feel sick, kick the wall and insist on a trip to the E.R., lock herself in her room). Then, when I started to include her in everything, she'd sabotage it (push the table over in the restaurant, break equipment at work, ruin clothes in stores at the mall, etc.). I felt like I was being completely controlled and "trained" to focus only on her all of the time. How do you manage that in moderation?|
A: There are several dynamics going on in the relationship between you and your daughter. First, let's look beyond the behavior to determine why children "create crises." The voice of this type of behavior is saying,"I need to feel loved and I need to have attention so I know I won't be lost in this world!"
Behavior is the language of our children. As adults, we communicate verbally and miss the voice of our children because these behaviors interrupt the flow of our day and are often so nerve grinding, we can't listen to them!
Your daughter is expressing that she is insecure in her attachment relationship with you. When you leave home without her, the acting out or sicknesses begin. Although I do not have her exact history, this tells me that she has experienced severe abandonment in the past. She is terrified of you leaving her…it feels like you won't ever come back.
Her perception and fear of you leaving her is more than just an idea -- it is her reality. Our thoughts become our reality. Try to relate to her fear in a situation in your life. If you were convinced, for some reason, that your husband would be injured in a car accident on his way to work, you would do EVERYTHING in your power to keep him from leaving the house. You might yell in desperation to get him to understand the seriousness of this issue. You might even feign an illness in your efforts to have him stay home with you.
This is your daughter's story. Her fear of losing you is driving these behaviors.
Then, when you took her with you, I have a feeling that she was with you simply out of desperation on your part. However, even though she was with you, I suspect you weren't really with her 100%. You didn't want her there because this was supposed to be your time to take care of yourself and you felt like you didn't have any other choice but to take her with you.
This is all understandable, and unfortunately, happens too many times to parents simply out of their own survival. However, we need to look openly and honestly at the dynamic that is created in such a scenario.
So you take her with you, all the while, the monsters of resentment, anger, regressive attitude of "whatever," and intolerance raise their ugly heads. These stressors become barriers to your connection with her. You are physically with her, but not emotionally engaged and not paying attention to her from an intrinsic, core level within you.
Your daughter is very intuitive; she can sense the barriers of your resentment and your state of survival. If you are in a place of survival, you cannot be in a place of unconditional love for someone else.Your focus is on you, leaving no emotional space for your child and rendering you unable to respond to your child in an authentic and personal way.
Due to her intense fear of losing you, she needs you to connect with her at every level possible. This means connecting with her through your metacommunication (your tone of voice, timing of your responses, inflection in your voice, your physical touch, your body posture and body language, your facial expressions, your eye contact, etc.). It takes using all of your senses to fully be in relationship with your child in order to create security with a child who is so overtly insecure.
When you're unable to do this, the result is that your daughter is left feeling even more unsafe, unprotected, and insecure. At this point, you are now in a public place and she is sensing your disconnect and, additionally, she becomes overwhelmed and threatened by being in a new environment. She shifts into a place of complete overwhelm and her behaviors are out of control. The mother/daughter connection is lost, so efforts to regulate her and calm her prove futile.
You become stressed and the public humiliation is making the hair on the back of your neck rise. Your thought process goes something like this, "She's ruining my time, again! I should have just left her home!" Disaster strikes once again.
There is a better way. Understanding this dynamic, let's look at what can be done to create security for her. We know that children become secure when they feel accepted, approved, validated, and acknowledged. It will take having some experiences with her, just the two of you, to create this security.
It can be as simple as a "Girl's Night Out" and driving down to have ice cream or something special in a quiet and calm environment, just the two of you. It isn't about the ice cream, though. It is about your relationship with her. It requires you to be authentic and fully present with her.
She is old enough to be able to express her fears of you leaving her. Point out what would happen in the past when you left. Let her know that you now understand that these behaviors were signals of her being so scared of you leaving. Apologize for not "hearing" her. Commit to making it different with her. Help her to express her fears when you are both calm and regulated. It will help diffuse the ignition of acting out behaviors the next time you leave without her.
Validate her fears. Acknowledge how scary it must feel every time you leave home without her. Accept her reaction to your absence. Reassure her that you want to make this better for her.
The next time you have to leave, spend at least 15 minutes of one-on-one time with her prior to leaving. Set up a plan for her to call you when she feels scared. Make your time away from her short at first. Prolonged absences can be too overwhelming to her regulatory system. You can begin to build on these times away, but start slowly.
Remember that children heal through relationships. Therapeutic worksheets, behavior charts, and logical consequences don't promote in-depth healing. It takes you being 100% present in relationship when you are with her in order for her to begin to feel safe when you're not with her.
Be sure to check out our resources on our website to keep yourself refueled as a parent in this difficult situation! I've created our resources and our webpage to support you: www.beyondconsequences.com
|Heather T. Forbes, LCSW|
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.