Of the many qualities that dogs and children share, one of the most important is that they both look to you to create a loving caring home for them to grow in.
In the video, the dog started to bite and that became the focus of the attention. The dog started to live up / down to its owners expectation of it. This is exactly what happens with kids when they act out in response to their environments.
The younger the child, the more sensitive we are to the stress levels of our caregivers, because just as the dog is entirely dependent on its owner for survival, so is the child.
Unfortunately, as children, we don’t know what to do with all the energy that we absorb from our environment. As children we are most sensitive to our parent’s stress levels. It doesn’t matter what they are stressed about, it can be working in a miserable job, needing to care for sick parents while caring for their own and working, their marital problems or unresolved baggage of their own from their childhoods. What they are stressed about doesn’t actually matter, it only matters that they are stressed and this impacts the children in the house.
As children in this situation, we might develop stomach aches, get fussy, clingy, maybe even separation anxiety or start arguing, fighting, hitting, shouting or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Some will become stoic and take on a lot of responsibility and carry others, take responsibility for the welfare of others, at far too young of an age. When we do this, we tend to get labeled as being “strong”, “responsible” which ultimately can be equally damaging as we take on more and more over time until we burn out.
How we end up expressing this energy depends on what we have learned is acceptable in our family and on our temperament. For example, if emotions are completely ignored or dismissed in our family, we are more likely to manifest our stress physically, like headaches, stomach aches etc. If we have seen other people using the family as their emotional trash can, (i.e. yelling at everyone else on their bad days), we are more likely to try that and if we get away with it, stick with it.
The unfortunate response to all of this though, is that the child gets labeled as “sensitive”, “a bug”, “trouble maker”, “a bully”, “clingy”, “anxious” etc. Now the parents/caregivers focus on the child’s behaviour as the problem, and they get to avoid addressing their contribution to it. The parent’s also model to the rest of the tribe (family and friends) the very same story, so now the siblings also tell the child the same story that they are “sensitive” etc and so do the grandparents, family friends, teachers, etc.
When we are told a particular story about who we are, starting at a young age, by people who matter (i.e., parents or primary caregivers), repeatedly and in many contexts (i.e., not just when people are upset with us), it doesn’t take us long to internalize it. Then, we start telling the same story to ourselves and others, who then tell it back to us. Over time, it seems unlikely that our whole tribe is wrong about us, and the story we have about ourselves gets reinforced, and we continue to live up or down to other people’s expectations of us.
When we adopt (consciously or unconsciously) a particular story about ourselves, it becomes our FILTER. A filter directs our attention, makes it so we give more value and weight to the things that are in line with our filter and less to what is inconsistent with it. So we start to ignore or devalue the examples that we are not fussy, sensitive, a bug, etc. In short, our FILTERS shape our experiences, they change our lives!
So what to do about all of this? Every change begins with AWARENESS. What stories do you have about yourself? What were you told?
Does investing in those OLD stories vs your OWN story make you weaker or stronger? What do you want to do about that?
See you next week and for more exciting reading, go to MindfulDragon.com, the first Inspired Living Medical sponsored recipient of our Learning for Life start up money!
MindfulDragon.com is a blog about learning to authentically live a value-based life. In addition to the blog, it is an online environment designed to promote healthy tribes by offering a forum to share inspirations, participate in mindfulness challenges, and access helpful tools (HOOK Cards).
HOOK Cards: Following strategies from ACT, HOOK Cards give you your favourite defusion strategies at your fingertips, when you need them the most. Find out more and get your own HOOK Cards at mindfuldragon.com/tools-for-the-tribe/